“Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it’s the truth. It won’t go away because we cover our eyes”  – Bruce Sterling .

Sterling was writing about Cyberpunk in the Nineties but this quote came back to me after the grueling experience of watching Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final film : Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma) which was made in 1975.

Sterling was explaining the reason for strong imagery in Sci-Fi novels; Pasolini’s movie is no futuristic fantasy but an aspect of the modern world we’d all prefer was a fiction.

The film is a powerful and uncompromising polemic exposing the depths of degradation human beings are capable of and Pasolini’s own brutal murder before its release ironically served to confirm this.

The British Board of Film classification says it “contains strong violence, sexual violence and scenes of torture and degradation”,  but even this strong warning seems an understatement.

The movie transposes the Marquis de Sade’s eighteenth century novel, 120 Days of Sodom, to Mussolini’s  fascist republic of Salò on Lake Garda at the end of World War Two.

The setting and events are exaggerated for dramatic effect but the film draws its inspiration from well-documented Fascist crimes against humanity.


The horrific scenes so graphically depicted are  also examples of the commonplace cruelties and abuse of power that are not confined to fascism.

The movie shows a systematic programme of rape, torture, mutilation and humiliation of 16 young victims (8 male, 8 female).

Their suffering is made more ‘entertaining’ for the sadistic protagonists by a ritualised series of gruesome initiation ceremonies including being forced to eat excrement,  put on dog leads and fed scraps of food.  As with hardcore pornography, the  sexual acts are reduced to the level  of detached, emotionless mechanical bodily functions.

It is undoubtedly a courageous and unique movie but  ultimately the crudeness of the allegory  and the extremity of the images just  left me feeling sickened.

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