Sunday, April 12, 2009

Caligula (1979)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Wow. What a film. You know, for the reputation it gets, I thought it was quite good. Caligula is, obviously, a dramatized depiction of the rule of the infamous Roman emperor Caligula, and the story is a great demonstration of the way that absolute power corrupts absolutely, with the added twist of insanity. A lot of the film seems to embrace absurdism and pure hedonism, but at its heart it's the tale of a man who became God - or so he thought.

I think it's a great story, and the rampant deviance and sexuality is quite refreshing. In fact, the movie opens with the title card "Pagan Rome", and it goes all out in depicting the popular image of pagan "debauchery". Public orgies, rape, incest, hints of bestiality ("take my horse to his own bed")'s got everything. In fact, you may have heard the controversy over the porn scenes spliced into the movie. There are, indeed, a couple places where the sexuality goes way beyond what's necessary. You can clearly tell, in these instances, that the sex is changing from either plot-driven or atmosphere-generating (both used extensively throughout the film), to a point where it's just shameless pornography. And, despite what reputation I may have for what I like to see in a movie, I thought the film would have been much better off without those particular scenes. I have no problem whatsoever with the sex being there, it's just that in those cases it becomes the emphasis, and goes from "interesting movie sex between characters" to "cheap porn sex between extras".

So yeah, I don't want to give off the wrong idea, because I'm thumbs up on most of the sex in the movie. It's just those couple instances where it just goes too far, and it takes away from the movie itself. Which, minus those porn parts, I feel is a really strong and enjoyable movie. Great characters. Caligula's sister was hot. I'm kind of disappointed they didn't end up getting married. "And now for Caesar's wedding gift!" Boy, Caligula totally went insane. Anybody fancy a game of "Almighty Caesar says..."?

I'd love to be more liberal in my recommendation of this film, but the bottom line is, you're not gonna like it if you're offended or in any way dislike explicit violence and sexuality. But if that doesn't bother you, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Caligula has an entertaining and epic story to tell underneath all that. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

"Give him enough rope, he'll hang us all."

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