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But Why Is It Called The Exterminating Angel?

Nice essay about a great film, perhaps Bunel’s best. But can anyone tell me why the name The Exterminating Angel?

The plot is easy to summarize, though the characters’ motivations remain mysterious. Buñuel describes it as “the story of a group of friends who have dinner together after seeing a play, but when they go into the living room after dinner, they find that for some inexplicable reason they can’t leave.” For equally inexplicable reasons, after preparing dinner for the guests, all but one of the servants feel compelled to flee the mansion. Trapped in the living room, the guests soon begin to panic. The narrative places us in the same position as the guests, puzzling over why they can’t leave, how they might escape, and what it all means.

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10 comments to But Why Is It Called The Exterminating Angel?

  • Gs

    Dramaturgical pretense?

  • P.

    There’s something about accusing somebody of being theatrical while also outdoing them by incorrectly using the word ‘dramaturgical.’ Really is.

    As for the title, when he’s not directly referencing a character or a textual source (Viridiana, Tristna, Belle de Jour, et al), Buñuel will frequently resort to senselessness, sometimes a kind of senselessness that seems to suggest some deeper sense even as it has none, like Le phantôme de la liberté or Un chien andalou or L’age d’or. What, after all, is the titular ‘discreet charm’ of the bourgeoisie? Or the obscure object of desire?

  • Michael

    I haven’t seen the film, but I imagine the title refers either to the angel that murdered the firstborn of all the Egyptians (Exodus), or maybe the angel that slaughtered Senacharib’s army in their sleep (Book of Judges).

    So there may be some connection between a dinner party and the Passover meal. But being trapped in a living room, unable to leave? Beats me.

    • spencer shears

      That’s what I was investigating. You’re right. there’s a DH Lawrence line ‘It is the three strange angels/admit them, admit them’. Also the angels that visited Lot in Sodom (and had an odd reception by some unfriendly townfolk) and the angel who held the sword up to Baalam as he was about to go and curse the Jews at the pay of Ba’alak, and lets not forget the angel who stood at the entrance of Gan Eden to bar Adam and Eve’s return AFTER they had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby losing ‘Life’ (cross reference Baudelaire ‘Litany of Satan). Biblical ‘angels’ cerubim, seraphim, oophim etc (all the various layers in the pantheon) are NOT renaissance putti!!! Anyway, I was asking because I’m calling my new company ‘Exterminating Angel’ because I, like angel Mikhail, Exterminate Clutter. No, I’m not a nice guy who holds these crazy hoarding hands and pretends to ‘organize’. I call in dumpsters and clean the place out, just wanted to make sure that ‘Exerminating Angel’ didn’t have any neonazi skinhead stuff attached.
      Da Svetanya
      Spencer Amos Shears

  • Birne

    IMDB has this to say:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056732/faq
    Luis Buñuel had originally called it The Outcasts of Providence Street. Then, renaming it El ángel exterminador after he had seen the name from an unfinished play in which his friend José Bergamín was writing at the time.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056732/trivia
    The title was taken from a friend of Buñuel, José Bergamin, who was writing a play with that title but never finished it. When Buñuel wanted to title his film, he asked for the rights of the title from his friend, but he answered that there was no trouble, because it was taken from the Bible, the Book of Revelations.

  • Matt

    The Exterminating Angel is a name for the angel Abaddon, the angel of the abyss and king of the locusts in Revelation 9:7-11. The text of the Vulgate gives him 3 names: in Hebrew Abaddon, in Greek Apollyon, in Latin Exterminans. That might suggest that Buñuel himself is the angel, casting the characters into an abyss of their own decadence – with no possibility of exit.

  • Richard

    Un Chien Andalou is not, I would argue, senseless. You might accuse him of obscurity with that one, but not senselessness. The Andalusian dog of the title is reportedly Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca, Bunuel, and Dali were “friends” for a time, but then, as the story is told, Bunuel and Dali paired off, so to speak, and ganged up against Lorca, mercilessly making fun of him for, among many other things, his “feyness” (and you can read that as “his homosexuality”; I do). Lorca, whom they saw as a bit of a “hillbilly,” if you will, or “gypsy,” had also spent the early part of his career celebrating the Andalusian folk songs, dance, and art, and the cante jondo (deep song) and romancero gitano (gypsy ballads).

    At any rate, Un Chien Andalou is a coded attack on Lorca. Some sources (the ubiquitous, and, um…often ridiculous?) Wikipedia states that Lorca “perhaps erroneously” “interpreted it” this way.

    Some say Lorca was in love with Dali; at any rate, their attachment/friendship is usually described as “passionate” and quite intense. That is, until Bunuel came along and apparently stepped in between them.

    This is perhaps way off point, but I for some reason felt the need to at least “defend” that title. Cruel? Perhaps. Senseless? I would disagree.

  • Richard

    P.S. Jacques de Sores as source of that particular title makes complete sense to me in light of the film.

  • [...] The Raft Of The Medusa, but another writer friend of Buñuel’s had used The Exterminating Angel (a reference to Abaddon (in Hebrew), or Exterminus (in Latin) who was the King of the Locusts in Revelations, and [...]

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