Simon stands atop a pedestal, unworthy and unwashed, seeking divine grace but instead finding the apathy of organized religion, his sacrifice an impotent curse from a deity who requires devotion above reason. Director Luis Buñuel crafts a superb condemnation of religious belief as the priests and congregation, faced with absolute proof of divine guidance, remain selfish and ignorant: while Simon is physically isolated atop this pillar, it’s the people below who are spiritually isolated from each other, seeking power and respite from suffering without payment in kind.
The film begins with the church elders worshipping Simon and showing their gratitude by building him a taller and grander tower to pray upon, a recipe for moral corruption. Buñuel is sublime in his mockery of religious ideals as a double amputee begs to have his hands back, and with a few words they have miraculously appeared; the first thing the man does with his “new hands” is smack his children as they wander off listlessly. This subtle insight shines light upon the truth of intelligent non-deistic belief: god must hate amputees because there is not one documented case of a severed limb being restored by prayer, though many claim to be healed of other maladies.
Soon, a beautiful woman with the devil’s tongue attempts to entice Simon from his saintly perch but each time he refuses. Finally, in wonderfully surreal imagery only Buñuel can imagine, a coffin propels itself across the wasteland and she captures Simon in a moment of weakness and transports him (via a metal coffin: a huge jet plane) to a beatnik nightclub. Newly shorn and smoking his pipe, grooving to some funky rhythm, he finally tastes the essence of humanity and struggles to return: but in his absence, someone else has already taken his place.
Final Grade: (A)