Copyright 1998 by Gregory and Maria Pearse
Quo Vadis?
The Fate of Pier Paolo Pasolini
"Where are you going, my youth?
Where, my life?"
(from Pasolini's Oedipus Rex)

   To this day the photos of the burnt, mangled corpse of Pier Paolo Pasolini lying on the beachside in Ostia, Italy are still among the most shocking images one could ever see. How could such a vivacious, multi-talented individual, who some have ranked among the greatest artists of this century, have met with such a gruesome end? The answers can be discerned only if one forgoes traditional conclusions (and the prejudice that usually accompanies them.) For it is the considered opinion of some that Pasolini simply met his fate. After all, this director - whose first film, Accattone, begins by proclaiming "IT'S JUDGEMENT DAY!" and whose last film, Salo - The 120 Days of Sodom, is perhaps the bleakest, most repugnant vision of humanity that anyone has ever committed to film - seemed to be on one continuous downward slide towards self-destruction.
    And yet, one would be hard pressed to find anyone, who had more of a profound reverence for the natural world around him. No other director comes to mind, who so often pointed his camera upwards. Through cinema Pasolini sought to express his conviction that the sacred quality of life is to be found not in any religion, but in life itself, in its naturalness. "All is sacred," so used to say this self-professed atheist. When asked at a press conference in 1966 "Why do you deal with religious themes, you yourself being an unbeliever?", Pasolini replied: "If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief." No religion could express the depth of his feeling for the sacred naturalness of life - and so he prefered to renounce them all. His unique contribution to the TruthQuest is in taking the concept of holiness out of the religious context and placing it where it belongs: in everyday life. This perception of the natural sacredness of life enabled him to make such films as Accattone, Gospel According to Matthew, Hawks and Sparrows, Oedipus Rex and Medea. In them the sacred quality is poetically conveyed by the very naturalness of the cinematic language.
(from Pasolini's Medea)
    It is more than interesting to contemplate the fact that it fell to the lot of an "atheist" to make the best film on the life of Christ. This graphically shows us that what is decisive for a man's fate is not his outward designation of belief or disbelief, but his INNER state of being (his secret longing for something more than what this world has to offer.) Pasolini himself observed this phenomena, when he related how, during the shooting of the Gospel According to Matthew, he made a conscious decision to make this film "from the believer's point of view" and how later, upon viewing the film, he recognized, all of a sudden, that he actually made it "from my own point of view." It is this kind of self-honesty that distinguishes Pasolini from other filmmakers.
    It is, therefore, with honest intentions (and not for the sake of sensationalism) that Pasolini took his search for the meaning of life into the territory of sex and violence. From this as well we can draw a valuable lesson for ourselves: one is free to take one's quest in any direction, but NOT without becoming subject to its consequences. The forces thus unleashed will come back to and overpower the spirit, who made the unwise choice and persisted in that choice. The returning reactions will then oppress and bind the spirit, making it more difficult for it to take its quest once more in an upward direction. The choice of direction is therefore critical for every seeker of Truth. The longer one chooses to seek in a downward direction of base instincts and/or trivialities, the weaker and more oppressed his spirit becomes. If one ignores this feeling of spiritual oppression and persists on this course, his spirit will eventually become so weak that he will be unable to exert his free will to get himself out of the mire (and may even no longer see any need to do so.) In essence, he will have enslaved his free will and wasted his spiritual strength by seeking for too long in the wrong places.
     "The more conscious I was of 'the good and the beautiful,' the deeper I sank into the mud, and the more likely I was to remain mired in it. But what struck me was the feeling I had that, in my case, it wasn't accidental, that it was intended to be that way, as if that were my normal state rather than a sickness or depravity; so that finally I lost all desire to fight my depravity. In the end, I almost believed (perhaps I even did believe) that it actually was my normal state." (Dostoyevsky - Notes from the Underground)


     This is, essentially, what happened to Pasolini; both his art and his life testify to that. Pasolini himself noticed something of this. Renouncing his Trilogy of Life, he commented that he used to feel that the young were beautiful and that their bodies were beautiful, but now he felt that they were ugly and that their bodies were also ugly.
     Beauty belongs to the spirit alone. The body must serve as a tool for the spirit. If the body is elevated to an unnatural position of dominance over the spirit, then only distortions in perception, thinking and living can result. As long as Pasolini was seeking in an upward direction, trying to find through his cinema the connection with the Natural Holiness of All, he saw that everything, including the body, was beautiful and had a purpose. Once he abandoned the upward path, he became entangled in low propensities and obsessions and lost all connection with the naturalness and true meaning of life. His world and his films became ugly and sank into the abyss of darkness and despair. At the end of his film Teorema, Pasolini captures this state by showing an unclothed man running through a desolate landscape, screaming into the void.

"At times the man, shuddering at the alienation between the I and the world, comes to reflect that something is to be done. As when in the grave night-hour you lie, racked by waking dreams - bulwarks have fallen away and the abyss is screaming - and note amid your torment: there is still life, if only I got through to it - but how, how?..."
(from I and Thou by Martin Buber)

     In order to successfully advance on our TruthQuest, there is no need to reveal the body - there is, however, every need to reveal the spirit within us. Let us take that as a lesson learned from Pasolini on our quest with us, and in doing so we will also be helping him in his struggle to return to true life.