#8: Theorem (1967)
The opening scene of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Theorem (1967) sees a crowd of journalists quizzing a man who’s just gifted his factory to the workers. Is this a ‘general world tendency’?, they ask. Will everyone be turned into the bourgeoisie? There is a playfulness in the use of jargon in this seemingly whimsical opening, but it also introduces one of Pasolini’s obsessions: the fall of the working class into bourgeois values of quick thrills and vapid consumerism. This early crowd contrasts with the crowd above: one is the highly-mediated modern world, the other authentic peasant existence. It is no coincidence that in the first crowd the faces are lost among the bustle, and in the latter they peer stoically into the camera. For Pasolini, those eyes, untouched by cosmetics or television, see the real future; those peasant bodies, worn but tough, contain the possibility of communism.
Pasolini often tacks something wistful onto Marxist theory. The nostalgic edge is so striking that sometimes it’s easy to miss the materialist analysis. One of the theorems of the film’s title is ‘primitive accumulation’: the capitalist class is formed through the seizure of property during the late stages of feudalism. But alongside this we have the notion that once a bourgeois becomes a bourgeois, they can no longer recapture the spiritual feeling of peasant life – a form of life that Pasolini is not above romanticising. According to Pasolini the crux of the film is this: ‘a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is wrong’. Even when they give away their power they’re still wrong as they gazump the workers’ chance at self-emancipation.
What leads to this factory owner handing over the means of production? A beautiful visitor (Terence Stamp, brilliantly cast) holidays with him and his family, beguiling them one by one. When he leaves, they are distraught. The mother comforts herself through casual sex. The son seeks meaning in painting. The daughter succumbs to a bed-ridden malaise. The maid is the only character to emulate the transformative power of the visitor. She goes back to her home village where she levitates and cures the sick, and she’s soon worshipped as a saint. Above we see the villagers who’ve come to pay homage. Of course, Stamp’s stranger is a messianic figure, and the family are trying to grasp his grace. He’s also a queer figure: the visitor’s arrival ruptures the family unit, and prompts each member to reconsider their relationship to the body and sex.