Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel, 1929) is a lovely piece of surrealist film.
As with much surrealist work, it’s incredibly layered with many meanings and themes. Sexual desire, specifically male desire, is one of the most obvious themes appearing in Un Chien Andalou. The male lead depicted in a zombie-like state groping a woman speaks to the overriding power of male sexual desire, and the perceived lack of control that men have over it.
This scene segues into him struggling to drag donkey carcasses and two (rather bemused) priests, representing the baggage of society and its expectations. It neatly contrasts the id of primal desire against the superego of morality and societal correctness.
Buñuel’s also obviously fascinated by the parent-child relationship. The man is initially presented in a feminine outfit, perhaps representing the maternal influence on a young boy’s pscyhe. However, when another (dominant) male figure arrives, he bruskly strips this frippery off our lead in a paternal, authoritarian manner. The conflict between gentle mother and strict father is firmly established.
However, this paternal figure is revealed to be none other than our male lead himself, seemingly representing the urge of a young man to strike out on his own away from the influence of his parents (and especially his mother). But ultimately the first (younger?) version shoots and kills the second (older?) version. To me, this represents yet more internal conflict, the fight between what we are and what we believe that we must be. In many ways this conflict drives the entire film, the repression and release of our inner desires and urges.
As an aside, it’s interesting that all the points raised here relate the male lead, I’ve hardly mentioned the female lead at all (in fact I only mentioned her here as an object of male desire). This is in itself a validation of Laura Mulvey’s theory on the Male Gaze – it’s not just men who objectify women, we do it to each other without even realising it.
Buñuel, L., (1929) Un Chien Andalou, Les Grands Films Classiques
Mulvey, L., (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen, 16 (3), pp.6-18