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Film / Oedipus Rex

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Oedipus Rex is a 1967 film from Italy directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

It is—no prizes for guessing—a telling of the myth of Oedipus, most famously dramatized in the Ancient Greek play Oedipus Rex aka Oedipus the King. The film is a straightforward depiction of the myth, except for the fact that the opening scene is set in Fascist Italy of the 1920s. But we still have Laius (in the modern setting an officer in the army), who is jealous of his wife Jocasta's attention to their baby son, even before he becomes aware of a prophecy that the infant will grow into a man who will kill him and then have sex with Jocasta.

At this point the film's setting changes to the ancient world, as a servant abandons the baby on a mountain to die, per Laius's orders. But the baby is rescued by a passing shepherd, and given to the childless King Polybus of Corinth and Queen Merope (Alida Valli, in a small part) of Thebes. Oedipus grows to adulthood as the beloved son of the king and queen, but he hears a disturbing rumor that he is not their natural son but in fact a foundling. He goes to the Oracle of Delphi to ask about this, only to hear a far more disturbing prophecy: that he is doomed to kill his father and have sex with his mother. Distraught at this, Oedipus leaves Corinth immediately. After some random wandering, he meets King Laius of Thebes at a crossroads...

Silvia Mangano plays Jocasta. Oedipus was played by Franco Citti, who had a small role as a Sicilian Mafia foot soldier in The Godfather (he's one of Michael's bodyguards).


  • Abdicate the Throne: Oedipus does this in rather spectacular fashion, by stabbing out his eyes.
  • Adopted into Royalty: Oedipus, although he doesn't know it—with tragic consequences.
  • At the Crossroads: The symbolic turning point in Oedipus's life, when he kills his biological father at a crossroads.
  • Blind Musician: Apparently Oedipus's new job at the end of the story, after the Messenger gives him a flute.
  • Blind Seer: Tiresias, the blind seer, who is asked why Thebes has been struck by plague and answers matter-of-factly that it's because the gods are punishing Oedipus for killing his father and boinking his mom.
  • Book Ends: The end of the film has Angelo lead a blind Oedipus to the very meadow where Jocasta was nursing him at the beginning of the story.
  • Circling Vultures
    • Vultures are circling in the sky as baby Oedipus lies on a mountaintop.
    • Vultures are circling again at the beginning of part 2, as the bodies of plague victims are rotting outside of Thebes.
  • Conflict Ball: So just why does Oedipus kill Laius and four of his five servants? Later Oedipus claims that it was because Laius insulted him, but in the movie it comes off as Oedipus just picking a fight.
  • Creator Cameo: Pasolini can be seen briefly as a high priest of Thebes.
  • The Creon: The original was the Trope Namer. After Oedipus accuses him of wanting the throne, Creon replies calmly that he'd rather be the king's sidekick, that he's content to enjoy the cushy lifestyle of the royal court without actually being the king and having the responsibility.
  • Dies Wide Open: Laius should have hired more/better guards.
  • Doorstop Baby: A shepherd picks up Oedipus after Oedipus is abandoned on a mountain.
  • Downer Ending: Jocasta kills herself. Oedipus is left a wandering blind man (in 1967 Bologna, somehow).
  • Driven to Suicide: After seeing that Oedipus will not be able to get past what happened, Jocasta hangs herself.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: This happens a lot towards the end of the story, like when Jocasta tells him that prophecies don't always come true, because there was a prophecy that her son would kill her husband, so Laius abandoned the baby on a mountainside...
  • Eye Scream: The famous ending in which Oedipus puts out his own eyes with a dagger after seeing Jocasta dead.
  • Fanservice Extra: A random moment on Oedipus's journey away from Corinth has him stop in a crumbling roadside building, only to see a woman, presumably a prostitute, wearing nothing but a loincloth.
  • Gainax Ending: The ending leaps forward a few thousand years, even past the Fascist Italy opening, to find Oedipus a Blind Musician in modern-day Italy—blind even though his eyes look just fine and un-stabbed.
  • Impairment Shot: Blurred vision from Oedipus's POV as he staggers away from the Oracle, after the Oracle gives him that super-depressing prophecy.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: One might think that this would be obvious for an Oedipus story, but Sophocles's play basically corresponds to only the second half of this film, when Oedipus starts investigating the mystery after plague hits Thebes. In this film Pasolini takes a straight approach to the story, starting with Oedipus's birth, abandonment by Laius, and adoption.
  • Mystical Plague: Oedipus's desire to help his people after plague strikes Thebes is what leads him to find out the unpleasant truth.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Laius reacts to the prophecy by abandoning his son on a mountainside, thus allowing him to grow up without knowing who his father is.
  • Our Sphinxes Are Different: Unlike the Sophocles play and indeed most Sphinx stories, in this film Oedipus defeats the Sphinx in combat instead of answering a riddle.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Oedipus is not happy about this.
  • The Scream: Oedipus screams after finding Jocasta dead, and the scream plays on the soundtrack as the camera cuts to a shot of the palace of Thebes, and then to shots of mountains outside the city.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Laius abandons his son on a mountainside, allowing him to grow up without knowing who his true father is, and thus allowing the prophecy to be fulfilled.
  • Setting Update: Sort of. The opening scene is set in Fascist Italy. The last scene is set in the modern day. But the rest of the film appears to be set in the appopriate Ancient Greece time setting.
  • Silence Is Golden: The first fifteen minutes of the movie, namely the whole Fascist Italy part where Oedipus is born, then abandoned, has no dialogue except for some background muttering and toddler Oedipus saying "Mama" a couple of times.
  • Surprise Incest: Oedipus marries Jocasta without knowing she's his mother, only to be unpleasantly surprised when he realizes the truth.
  • Too Important to Walk: Jocasta is carted out on a litter to meet Oedipus, after Oedipus slays the Sphinx and frees the city.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The Oracle of Delphi tells Oedipus this straight up.