David L. Overbey
It is the fact, process and results of obsession and desire which are under dissection [in Cet Obscur Objet du Désir]. As the title indicates, the object of that desire, while not unimportant, remains obscure, for it may be that within this context the very frustration of desire is desire's true objective. If that is indeed the case, Cet Obscur Objet du Désir indicates that Buñuel has begun to despair; his characters here no longer wrestle against the forces of repression and frustration but collaborate and embrace them….
Far from creating a fascinatingly romantic image of desire á la Dietrich [as Josef von Sternberg did in The Devil Is a Woman, based on the same novel], Buñuel destroys that very idea…. [Two actresses who play Conchita] are used interchangeably, arbitrarily, with one often beginning a scene and, after a brief cut away, the other finishing it. The point is not so much that the lover sees the beloved in a multiplicity of guises, as that, once he has 'decided' to desire her, he probably doesn't see her at all. The almost surrealistic melting of one woman into another serves to unnerve us and to make the object of desire even more obscure. In being thus distanced from the object, we are forced to find the lover and his love more than a little ludicrous….
While [Mathieu's fellow travelers] condemn Conchita's emotional and sexual terrorism (she is, after all, an 'object' removed from the first-class carriage), they ignore their own and that of religion, economics, psychology, law, marriage, motherhood, virginity—all of which are subjected to Buñuel's satirical scrutiny. Their reaction to the acts of literal terrorism is a smug complacency and deluded 'understanding', or, that failing, a cry for violent repression….
It is never possible, nor even desirable, to build too exact an intellectual scheme based on individual 'symbols' in Buñuel's films. Obviously, he works less with strictly formulated theories and structures than with almost instinctive images growing naturally from the narrative. Still, it is difficult not to connect recurring patterns of objects between one film and another. That burlap sack which Mathieu carries (similar to one slung over the shoulder of a passing workman glimpsed momentarily midway through the film) reminds one immediately of the burden pulled by the man in Un Chien Andalou . A heavy load of social and moral values, perhaps. That one load is comprised of nightgowns and the other of piano, pumpkins, priests and donkeys is beside the...
(The entire section is 637 words.)