The postman skips across the lawn of a beautiful house in Milan waving his arms around and heralds the arrival of a visitor. The opening sepia tones become saturated with colour as the visitor, (Terence Stamp) moves in with the family and one by one becomes the object of their desires. In sexually liberating them he soothes their doubts and anxieties while exposing the angst, dissatisfaction and frustration that they feel within themselves and their lives and reveals the sexual tension and disquiet in the household.
Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1968, Theorem uses a combination of fake newsreel interviews, realist drama showing familial tensions and something more fantastical and mythic to show the transformation of the family. It’s spiritual and sensual, physical and metaphysical, serious and jokey as each member of the family (which includes their maid) experiences some sort of revelation or epiphany.
But then as suddenly as he arrived it’s time for him to leave – can the family make sense of their lives without him or will they fall apart? Each of the characters’ reactions is explored individually and each is surprising and spectacular in its own way.
This is such an odd film, I found it difficult to pin point or know exactly what it’s about. It’s a very quiet film with very little dialogue and an eerie score by Ennio Morricone that combines some pretty heavy Mozart with light ’60’s dance music that evokes the period and strangeness perfectly; and there’s a lot of gazing; into the distance, into eyes and onto pairs of trousers lying on the floor. And who exactly is the visitor? Although the liberation and freedom he initially brings seems to suggest him as a ‘saviour’ his gaze straight into the camera and the creative and destructive chaos he leaves behind seems more devil than angel..
Is it a religious fable? An existential allegory? or a mischievous satire? I don’t know. That the sons homosexuality is liberated on the one hand but the daughter’s creative flare for photography is taken from her as she descends into a catatonic state seems to ask if we’re more scared of our creativity than crave it. At the end, when the father has shed his city suit and naked lets out an almighty scream I did think that I had been asked more questions than I had had answered or was even expecting.