Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (or Theorem) is arguably one of the filmmaker’s most sacred works.
At first, it all seems deceptively simple, like some crude art-house sex comedy. Before you know it, you’ve had a profound cinematic experience.
A strange visitor (the magnetic Terence Stamp) shows up at the home of a bourgeoise family. Their lives are routine and somewhat colorless. These are not individuals who are accustomed to change. But everyone notices when this visitor arrives.
Over the course of a few days, The Visitor proceeds to seduce the mother, the father, the son, the daughter, and the maid. Afterwards, and with little warning, The Visitor leaves, but only in the physical sense. Each sexual encounter brings with it a kind of awakening.
The Visitor’s absence sets off a chain of increasingly bizarre events. The maid returns to her hometown and begins to perform miracles. At one point, she levitates. The son realizes his potential as an abstract painter. The daughter slips into a coma, and the mother begins to seek out sexual fulfillment with younger men. The father sells the factory that he owns to the workers, before stripping naked and wandering the desert, screaming in agony.
Everything happens so quickly in Teorema. It’s all very straight forward, yet undeniably intellectual. Have these people changed for better or for worse? Who is to judge their fate? It is better to feel pain, despair, longing, and pleasure than to feel absolutely nothing at all. Was The Visitor an angel? A god-like presence sent to free these mortals from the shackles of their own smug complacency?
Pasolini leaves more than enough room for interpretation in Teorema, a film that effortlessly – and controversially – combines the sexual with the spiritual. Where some will see the film as a pointless exercise in mere provocation, others will walk away enlightened. This reviewer falls into that latter group.