Luis Bunuels L'Age d'or is a masterpiece of Surrealist film, a severe critique on the culture, especially that of traditional and of bourgeoisies, in which people are not free to explore their own pleasure. Bunuels artistic attack on all cultural beauty is told by juxtaposition between terror (violence) and desire. Even just for this point, I have to say the film is one of the best Surrealist art ever made, since concurrence of the contradictory is resolved into a surreality, an absolute reality, that is a fetishism in this film.
In the sequence of founding of Rome, people gather at the seashore hear a scream of a woman. She is wrestling with a man in the mud, as if he is trying to rape her, but her face is flashing with ecstasy. When people separate them and take her away from the Man, his mind shows an illusion of her sitting in a toilet with a burning toilet paper. The shot of lava of volcano follows to depict his sexual desire for her, but also the image of excrement inspires the idea of death.
While the two police officers (?) drag the Man to a police station, he is aroused by an advertisement of powder puffs, and the screen shows a womans finger caressing a fluffy object, which stimulates the masturbation sequence. On his way, the Man also gets excited with the image of female legs with stockings and with a female face.
The Mans fantasy leads us to the next scene where the Woman sits on the sofa playing with her fingers with a bandage. Her mother asks, Have you got a bandage hand? which suggests that the act of masturbation has taken place a moment ago. Indeed, the bandage finger she rubs is a substitute for a male penis, which is more obvious in the later scene of her doing nails. The moment she senses the appearance of her love, the same bandage appears on her finger, which indicates the erection of a penis.
We can find these scatological and fetishistic perversions throughout the film, which is mainly expressed through the Mans sexual activity. It would be interesting to mention this obsession with low part of the body or human activities in relation with Surrealist ideas of mixing highs and lows of culture, art, and society to dissociate us from the conventional system of meaning.
Another fantastic sequence is to be found close to the end where two lovers are off to the garden, finally alone and free to reach out for each others body. They sit on the benches, and start sucking on hands of the other almost neurotically. The Man caresses the face of the Woman with his hand without fingers. Here, cut-off bandaged hand implies a castration of penis. When they lost themselves in each others arms, a foot of a statue catches Mans attention. As he stares at the foot, almost seems like completely forgets about her existence, a servant appears to tell him that there is a telephone call for him. Frustrated, the Man leaves, and now the Woman starts to caress and to lick fingers of the statue foot in a very erotic way. The irony and the most strong criticism on the bourgeoisie culture lies in this scene, where the Woman is kissing the lowest part of the artwork, which stands at the highest part in the bourgeoisie culture created in sacrifice of peoples true desire and natural feelings. Yet, the face of the statue does not carry any emotions, dissatisfied and indifferent. After the Man hangs up the phone bewildered, the other person is nailed onto the ceiling with his shoes on the ground.
L'Age d'or is not a film I can analyze in this short essay, and Bunuels liberating assault on traditional cultural value can be taken as a strong objection to church for oppressing peoples desire and feelings. I did not go far as to deal with some interesting language plays, and focused on relations between violence and eroticism, and on some perverse fetishism in analyzing. Like many other Surrealist films, the film is aimed at the unconsciousness of the audience by drawing signs, which affects their reception, in other words, by evoking the marvelous. The transformation occurs in bringing two opposite ideas both within the images and within spectators mind. This rather aggressive transformation of the reality is the key to the disassociation from the fixed ideology and myth within the culture.
Reference: The Image and the Spark : Dulac and
by Sandy Flitterman-Lewis
Manifesto of Surrealism 1924 by Andre