Patterned loosely after the picaro novels of the Spanish Renaissance, The Milky Way follows two itinerants, amiable, friendly fellows…. [They] participate as spectators in periodic episodes illustrating various formalistic squabbles on points of dogma in the life of the Church: the divinity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, the Eucharist, the Existence of Free Will, the Origin of Evil … the whole tiresome bag. It is doubtful if this line of silly medieval chatter could at best be forged into significant thought-provoking questions under the conditions of the world today. In the hands of an aging reforming zealot, they turn into instruments of torture more like the tools of the Inquisition he so roundly condemns. (pp. 28-9)
Characterizations are minimal and rudimentary. The two itinerants emerge less as personalities than as a Greek Chorus of bumblers who give neither emphasis nor counterpoint; the social Establishment types are shown largely as mild-mannered imbeciles; the clergy and the faithful—mostly petit-bourgeois mediocrities—seen consistently as stupid and insensitive, obscurantist and unimaginative, uncharitable when not outright cruel, pettifogging, superstitious, and corruptors of the young.
For symbolism-buffs, The Milky Way is at least a good sampler of Bunuel's established fetishistic motifs…. And there are also a few incursions into elementary surrealism, as when the father at the school picnic (the children reciting a piping chorus of anathemas) starts at a volley only imagined by the young clochard —who had just day-dreamed the firing-squad execution of a Pope; or as in a later scene at the Spanish Inn when an obtuse and sweating priest is shifted constantly...
(The entire section is 414 words.)