Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

The most disturbing movie I’ve ever seen, both in content and the hard truths it presents.

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is a not-too-far-fetched allegory about four  libertines toward the end of Italian fascism. These four powerful men kidnap eighteen young men and women and transport them an isolated house in the countryside. During the titular 120 days they spend there, the men rape, assault, abuse, and dehumanize the youth in increasingly vile and horrifying ways. One of the most memorable scenes is one in which a libertine defecates on the floor, and forces one of the women to eat it. The camera does not look away.

This is one of many squirm-in-your-seat moments that never seem to give up in this movie. When the visuals of the film aren’t stimulating your gag reflex, however, the dialogue and mood of the film are just as troubling. An older woman who helps runs things at the house cheerfully recounts stories of her youth, in which she too was subjected to terrible acts. Now, as an older woman though, she laughs it away and accepts it as perfectly normal.

Such is a recurring theme throughout the film. As the 120 days progress, the victims become less like themselves and more like the captors who subject them to such cruelty. The movie begins with all the youth on equal ground but by the end, they turn against each other, even torturing and raping each other. They fulfill one of the film’s most profound quotes, “Nothing’s more contagious than evil.”

Salo is not an easy film to get through and it’s not one I would necessarily recommend. It is not for everybody and nothing can really prepare you for it. If you do have the stomach for it, however, it is certainly worthwhile and thought-provoking. It is a testament to how powerful, albeit shocking, film can be.

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