Exibit A: The brief written response to the Pasolini movie Edipo Re, which i had to watch for my grad seminar. Written at midnight. Of questionable academic merit.
I Couldn't Look Away, It Was Like a Train Rex
When Pasolini first showed his movie Edipo Re in 1967, audience members no doubt wondered what the Italian director would do with the ancient myth. After the movie had ended, most of them were probably still wondering.
The first noticeable change in the story of Oedipus is the resetting of the tragedy in modern Italy, or 1960's Italy at any rate. However, the story only lingers there long enough for Oedipus' father to begin to resent the usurpage of his wife's attention before the setting inexplicably changes to what seems to be the African bush, circa the beginning of civilization. I found this to be disappointing, personally, because I was wondering how he was going to handle things like receiving the oracle and killing somebody in the road without being arrested, not to mention the fight with the Sphinx. The answer to this question was apparently that he was not going to handle it at all, but rather exchange the piazza for sand and large hats.
Speaking of the hats, they were something else. Since several of the rather bizarre headwear sported faces, the clear implication to me was that the hats were replacing the masks of the original tragedy, just like the in opera we saw the photographs of the other day. On the other hand, after murdering various people and stealing their headwear, one could make the case that Oedipus really only married Jocasta so he could get his hands on the royal hat collection. One might furthermore imagine that Oedipus would notice that the last king's best party hat looks suspiciously similar to the hat of that guy he killed on the road, but alas, he seems too distracted by the hat's golden glory to note such niggling details.
Throughout the movie, in fact, Pasolini does not portray his Oedipus as the sharpest spear in the phalanx. One of the first things we see him doing as an adult is cheating in a footrace and then pounding the real winner into the dirt. To me, this does not a sympathetic protagonist make. Between the shouting and the killing with a dull potato peeler, I cannot say that I was rooting for this guy at any point. He also displayed a complete inability to not arrive at Thebes, despite numerous close-eyed twirlings. Pasolini apparently believes that Oedipus is a man of screaming and violence and not much else, if the scene with the Sphinx is any indication. No riddles for this hero, no intellectual ponderings; for Oedipus there is only charging the man while shouting and then beating him to death (a solution which the Thebans had clearly discarded as being far too obvious) in a fit of rage no doubt brought on by jealousy over the Sphinx's superior hat.
The story then continues more or less faithfully to the original myth for a bit, until Jocasta and Oedipus actually begin to piece together the truth of what has happened. Pasolini has Oedipus go off alone to confirm the story rather than the shepherd coming to him, in a scene remarkably like his trip to visit the oracle earlier in the movie for another ill-fated bit of self-discovery. Perhaps the explanation for this is that there is no backstage for Jocasta to escape to for her suicide, so she must do it while Oedipus is actually away from the palace. In a movie, as opposed to a staged tragedy, the only way to be 'offstage' is to be where the main character is not.
In the end, Pasolini returns to 1960's Italy without any further explanation and adds the character Angelo solely for the purpose of playing football with local boys. I fail to see what these abrupt changes of setting are adding to the film, other than a sense of enigma that Pasolini has failed to achieve through normal means, such as subtle characterization.
The final result is a movie that seems to be more of a catharsis for some psychosis of Pasolini's rather than for the audience, but surely some moral might be extracted for public contemplation. Perhaps that avoiding your fate is impossible, or that if you want your heir exposed right you should do it yourself, or even 'when the going gets tough, the tough scream and steal hats'.