Review of Teorema

Teorema (1968)
8/10
You'll need a theory
26 September 2020
I had a lot of issues with this one at initial watching. Many of the things that happen in Theorem are too enigmatic and don't seem to make any sense first time around.

I came to Theorem having never heard of Pasolini, his films, writing, religion, sexuality or politics. Secondly, I don't know anything about 1960's Milanese society. Thirdly, although I know my scriptures I don't have enough of a grasp of the religious or "saintly" and the way Catholicism in Northern Italy manifests itself. All of these placed me at a disadvantage. By the end I was disatisfied. I needed more. This is the weakness in the film; it needed, for me at least, an expansion and an explanation.

So, I rolled immediately straight into a second viewing - this time with the commentary switched on. This improved matters considerably and I am now able to say something meaningful about this interesting film.

Theorem is a metaphysical study. It's a study of the way 5 characters deal with powerful upwellings from within themselves. I think this is the best interpretation - my best theory about what's going on.

I'm not interested in director Pasolini's politics, religion, sexuality or driving motivators. When I watch a film I want a story, strong characters well acted and I want good cinematography. Theorem has these and it possesses the key element of requiring the viewer to search for explanation. In this respect Theorem is highly intriguing.

Pasolini is making a range of statements; some are obvious, some are not. For example, the servant maid character is literally raised up, while the rich family is effectively destroyed. The daughter respects her father but the brief imagery presented leaves us considering whether there may be something else. She is destroyed. The son is essentially weak; something has seduced him but it's not clear what or actually why. No matter - his former life is destroyed and he leaves it behind. The story of the mother is basically one of falling; she falls into ruination. At the end she actually is in a pit - and all of this for no particular reason. The father figures' story is more complex; he is "saved" in order to execute a "higher" purpose - but when he has he then nevertheless is in despair. Again - there is no reason why any of this is takes place.

By far the best etched and most interesting character is that of the servant maid. Hers is the most engaging of the individual stories. Although she is raised up - she too ends up in a pit - albeit a completely different kind of pit to the one the mother finds herself in. It's worth watching Theorem just to follow her journey.

The Terrance Stamp character is almost superfluous but the whole piece revolves around the effect of whatever he, or it, has on the 5 characters. A powerful influence but so lightly treated that he is almost not there at all. Subtle.

Theorem also contains a hidden gem in the Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Overall Theorem deserves careful viewing. It would be far too simplistic to see it as some kind of sexual repression/awakening piece, it's much more sophisticated than that. This is a good film but be advised - you'll need a theory.
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