Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Movie Review: the Most Shocking and Controversial Film of All Time

 Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom: Pier Paolo Pasolini's Perturbing Masterpiece Examining Power Relations"

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom Movie Review
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    On November 2nd, 1975, the world lost Pier Paolo Pasolini, an acclaimed Italian filmmaker, poet, and political figure. His tragic murder, believed to be orchestrated by the mob, remains shrouded in mystery. However, overshadowed by the shocking circumstances surrounding his death, Pasolini's final film, "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom," stands as a haunting testament to his artistic vision.

     Despite its controversial and disturbing content, this cinematic masterpiece offers a profound exploration of power dynamics and societal corruption. Delving into the depths of fascism, consumerism, and the human psyche, "Salò" remains a significant and influential work of art.

    Plot and Symbolism:

    "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom" is an adaptation of Marquis De Sade's notorious novel, set in World War II Northern Italy during fascist occupation. Four corrupt fascist libertines gather nine teenage boys and girls, subjecting them to four months of sadism and depravity. 

    The film's graphic portrayal of psychological and physical abuse, sexual exploitation, and extreme violence aims to serve as a metaphor for the relationship between oppressor and oppressed. Pasolini believed that sadomasochism was an inherent aspect of humanity, representing the arbitrary nature of power and its ability to manipulate and dehumanize.

    Salò, Movie Details

    Film Name

    Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

    Release date

    10 January 1976


    Pier Paolo Pasolini


    •  Ezio Manni
    • Paolo Bonacelli
    • Giorgia Cataldi
    • Aldo Valletti
    • Umberto P. Quintavalle
    • Liana Acquaviva

    OTT Platform


    Running Time

    1h 57m


    • Horror
    • Drama
    • War

    Production Company

    Alberto Grimaldi, Produzioni Europee Associati

    The Nonexistence of History:

    Pasolini challenges the notion of history as a progressive process, asserting that certain social practices and power dynamics persist throughout time. "Salò" takes place within the confines of a secluded location, devoid of temporal markers. This deliberate absence of historical context emphasizes the timeless nature of violence and fascism. Pasolini suggests that power supersedes history, rendering it insignificant in the face of oppressive forces. By stripping away historical specificity, the film highlights the omnipresence of power and its ability to corrupt and subjugate.

    Critique of Fascism and Modern Leftist Movements:

    While fiercely opposed to far-right fascism, Pasolini also critiqued the leftist movements of his time. In "Salò," he portrays the fascists as hypocritical intellectuals who engage in justifications for their acts of violence and depravity. 

    By juxtaposing the fascists' discussions of Baudelaire and Nietzsche, Pasolini exposes the dark underbelly of sexual liberation and its exploitation by leftist intellectuals. However, the film primarily ridicules the fascists and their ideology, highlighting their disregard for moralistic principles they supposedly oppose. Pasolini depicts them engaging in taboo acts, exposing the hypocrisy within their authoritarian nature.

    Influence and Controversy:

    "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom" is renowned for its extreme and unsettling content, making it one of the most controversial films ever made. It took nearly a decade for the film to gain wider availability, and its graphic depiction of abuse towards minors continues to provoke anger and controversy. Nevertheless, renowned filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Gaspar Noé recognize its artistic merit and consider it a seminal work in cinema history.

     The film's unfiltered portrayal of violence has influenced subsequent subgenres of horror, such as "torture porn," and has been recognized as an auteur production. Despite its disturbing exterior, "Salò" remains a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of power dynamics within society.


    Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom" transcends its controversial reputation to become a profound and unsettling study of power relationships. By utilizing extreme imagery and subverting historical context, Pasolini exposes the inherent sadomasochistic nature of humanity and criticizes both fascism and the contradictions within leftist movements. 

    While the film continues to elicit strong reactions and divide audiences, its artistic significance and lasting impact on cinema cannot be denied. "Salò" serves as a testament to Pasolini's complex and multi-faceted artistic legacy, reminding us of the profound depths to which human nature can descend.

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