The most famous of images from Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel's slicing the Woman's eyeball in the first scene can be understood as a symbol of spectatorship, and its close association (from Buñuel's perspective) with violence. First, it is a symbol of the violence that Buñuel aims to inflict on his audience, announcing (through the image of the sliced eyeball) his intention to shock them. Second, it is a symbol of the kind of violence essential to filmmaking itself, as Buñuel's positioning himself as the man with the razor recalls the act of cutting (in editing) important to film's conveying meaning through montage. Third, it symbolizes trauma beyond its own individual case, as it announces the theme of trauma to the body to which the film will return in later instances.
Vermeer, "The Lacemaker" (Symbol)
When the Woman tosses a book on the desk (upon the arrival of the First Man on the bicycle), it opens to an image of Johannes Vereer's painting The Lacemaker (1669-70). This image, by a painter that Dalí admired, can be understood as a symbol of the kind of bourgeois domestic space in which much of the film takes place—specifically, in the film, a Paris apartment. Indeed, the painting depicts a woman working alone in exactly such a closed interior. The appearance of this image announces the importance of that kind of space to the relationship between the Woman and the First Man, and presages how much of the film will consist of a dynamic struggle for dominance within that space between those two characters.
The displaced armpit hair (Symbol)
During another moment of dynamic struggle between the Woman and the First Man (just after the Woman sees the death's head moth on the wall), the man appears to wipe his mouth away, leaving a blank space on the bottom of his face. The Woman, agitated at this, applies lipstick to her own mouth, only to see that now, in place of the man's mouth, is her armpit hair. (She examines her armpit and finds her hair missing.) With this she sticks her tongue out at the man and leaves the room through a door that opens onto the beach, where she greets her lover. The displaced armpit hair can be understood as a symbol of the dynamic struggle between the Woman and the First Man in their shared domestic space, where boundaries between one person and another become blurred, to the point where they even exchange body parts. Relatedly, it can also be understood as symbolizing the breakdown of gender boundaries also explored, for example, in the scene of the androgynous figure poking a severed hand in the street.
The cords attached to slabs, melons, Marist Brothers, and pianos with donkey carcasses (Symbol)
During his sexual assault of the Woman, as the Woman protects herself in the corner using a tennis racquet, the First Man reaches down to pick up two cords, which turn out to be attached to two slabs, two melons, two live Marist Brothers, and two grand pianos with rotting donkey carcasses on them. These items thus inhibit the man in his assault, and most of them can be understood as forms of moral constraint, particularly that expressed in religion. Thus, the two slabs are similar to those that appear in representations of the Ten Commandments, and the two Marist Brothers represent the authority that such figures had in Buñuel's and Dalí's Catholic upbringings. The dead donkeys, the last items impeding the sexual assault, represent the close association that Buñuel found between sexuality and death. Indeed, in his autobiography Buñuel says that death "constituted the dominating force of [his] adolescence." He adds, "I remember walking one day in the olive grove with my father when a sickeningly sweet odor came to us on the breeze. A dead donkey lay about a hundred yards away. [...] The sight of it both attracted and repelled me" (Buñuel, My Last Sigh, Chapter 2).
The striped box (Motif)
The box with diagonal stripes is the one motif that explicitly occurs throughout the film. It is first seen around the neck the First Man when he is riding the bicycle. Later, the Woman places the box, along with the white linens, on the bed in the apartment. Still later, the policeman marshaling the crowd around the androgynous figure is also holding the striped box. After placing the severed hand in it, he gives it to the androgynous figure, who is holding it when run over by a car. (At least the figure is holding the box in closeups. In long-distance shots, in an apparent continuity error, the box is on the ground.) Then, the box is again on the First Man when the Woman finds him in the room just after thinking she had escaped from his sexual assault. The box is also among the items that the Second Man tears off the First Man, throwing it over the balcony. Finally, the Woman and her lover find the box (together with the white linens) in tatters on the beach (perhaps the effect of its being thrown out the apartment by the Second Man). Since the diagonal stripes on the box recall the downward motion of Buñuel's razor in the first scene, each re-appearance of the box can be understood as a return of the repressed trauma of the Woman's having her eye sliced.
Un Chien Andalou Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Un Chien Andalou is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.