Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou Themes


Un Chien Andalou can be understood as a treatment of various forms of trauma, beginning with the opening trauma of Buñuel's slicing the Woman's eye. In fact, each subsequent trauma in the film can be seen as a commentary on this original trauma: an original trauma that the film has repressed, and yet which, with each subsequent depiction of violence, especially violence to the body, keeps bubbling up to the surface. Other subsequent instances of bodily trauma include: (1) the First Man's collapsing in the street on his bicycle; (2) his twice witnessing ants crawling out of a hole in his hand; (3) the androgynous figure's encountering a severed hand in the street; (4) that figure's subsequently being struck by a car; (5) the First Man's sexually assaulting the Woman; (6) the First Man's shooting the Second Man; (7) the deconstruction of the bodies of both the First Man and the Woman (with his mouth disappearing, and her armpit hair appearing in place of his mouth); and (8) the appearance, at the end of the film, of the First Man and the Woman buried up to their torsos in sand. In fact, the continual reappearance of the striped box can be read as a symbol of the return of this repressed trauma, with its stripes mirroring the downward thrust of Buñuel's blade at the beginning of the film.


Like their colleagues in the surrealist movement, Buñuel and Dalí set out to make a film that would reproduce the logic of dreams. In particular, this allowed them to explore how repressed thoughts can resurface in dreams through such mechanisms as what Freud called 'condensation' and 'displacement'. In condensation, several repressed thoughts are combined into a single element, which can then be unpacked through the psychoanalytic interpretation of a dream. We can see the unpacking of several condensed ideas in the series of dissolves following the First Man's seeing ants crawling out of a hole in his hand: a woman's armpit on a beach, a sea urchin, and a severed hand on the street. In displacement, impulses attached to one object are attached to another, thereby censoring something uncomfortable about one's thoughts about the former object. Thus, the Woman's fears of the First Man (who had earlier sexually assaulted her) can be understood as displaced onto the death's-head moth on the wall of the apartment.


Un Chien Andalou registers the breakdown of traditional gender boundaries characteristic of the 1920s Parisian avant-garde, and of post-World War I European society more generally. This is most obvious in the case of the androgynous figure seen poking the severed hand in the street: Fano Messan, who plays the figure, dresses in the garçonne style of the 1920s, with a bob haircut. But this theme also appears in the film's exploration of the breakdown and instability of bodily identity. For example, when the First Man appears without his mouth, it is soon replaced by the Woman's armpit hair (which she has herself lost). Furthermore, the domestic space that the First Man and the Woman appear to share is fraught with tension over gender roles and assumptions of power, culminating in the man's sexually assaulting the woman.


From the opening shots of Buñuel's slicing the Woman's eye, Un Chien Andalou establishes a close association between violence and spectatorship: as though to watch others is to do violence to them, or to risk having violence done to oneself. Thus, later instances of trauma in the film typically implicate spectators in some way: the androgynous figure is surrounded by spectators on the street (and watched from above by the First Man and the Woman) as that figure pokes the severed hand with the stick, and, subsequently, as that figure is run over by a car; also, when the Second Man appears dead in the wooded park he too is surrounded by a group of spectators. More generally, the film is unusual in having characters face the camera (such as the Woman's directly facing the camera just before her eye's being sliced), a technique rare in narrative cinema of the 1920s. Also, the film scholar Elza Adamowicz has noted affinities between Un Chien Andalou and 'the magical fantasmagoric images of fin-de-siècle entertainment', familiar to both Buñuel and Dalí from their childhoods, which were often characterized by a male magician performing on a female subject (Adamowicz 78, 80).

Bourgois Domesticity

Much of Un Chien Andalou takes place inside a domestic bourgeois space, namely the Paris apartment apparently shared by the First Man and the Woman. We get a clue about the significance of this kind of space for the film early on, when the Woman is shown looking at a book, which she leaves open at an image of Johannes Vermeer's painting The Lacemaker, a painting also (like many of Vermeer's paintings) depicting a woman alone in a bourgeois domestic interior. The film in part depicts a struggle (between the First Man and the Woman) for dominance in this interior, in its most extreme form in the First Man's sexually assaulting the Woman and her defending herself from his assault. At the end of the film the Woman apparently enjoys relief from this dynamic struggle, and from the oppressiveness of the interior, as she steps out onto the windy beach, greeting her lover. But this appearance of relief turns out to be false, as the final shot of the film shows the First Man and the Woman again together, now buried up to their torsos in sand. Buñuel returned to themes of domestic conflict and domestic abuse in his film Él (1953).

Sexual Repression

Among the ways Un Chien Andalou registers a form of repression is how, for it, depictions of sexuality are often accompanied by violence or death. Buñuel himself said, "I also have always felt a secret but constant link between the sexual act and death. I’ve tried to translate this inexplicable feeling into images, as in Un chien andalou when the man caresses the woman’s bare breasts as his face slowly changes into a death mask. Surely the powerful sexual repression of my youth reinforces this connection" (Adamowicz 65). Indeed, this very assault begins just as the First Man becomes aroused after watching the death (by car) of the androgynous figure in the street. Buñuel is especially attentive to the role religion plays in enforcing such repression: for example, in the two Marist Brothers who are attached to the chords, weighing down the First Man and thereby preventing his further assaulting the Woman.

Silent Cinema

Un Chien Andalou is in part a deconstruction of the traditional film "grammar" of silent cinema. This largely consists of its using the techniques of silent cinema (iris shots, dissolves, slow motion, soft focus) in surprising or unexpected ways: for example, when a shot of a sea urchin dissolves (without narrative explanation) into a iris shot of a severed hand in the middle of the street. Moreover, the film scholar Elza Adamowicz has noted ways in which the film borrows directly from earlier silent cinema, particularly silent comedy: (1) the expressions (or lack thereof, as when he collapses on his bicycle) of the First Man recall those of the silent film actor and director Buster Keaton; (2) the scene of the First Man's pulling the chords attached to pianos recalls a scene from the Keaton film One Week (1920), in which Keaton tries to pull a piano into a house at the end of a rope; (3) and the film's playfulness with intertitles recalls some of Keaton's own such experiments, such as a scene in his film The Paleface (1922) in which a shot of Keaton kissing a woman cuts to the intertitle "Two Years Later," which then cuts back to Keaton kissing the same woman (Adamowicz 73). Moreover, the trauma to the eye at the beginning of Un Chien Andalou recalls other instances of trauma to the eye in earlier silent cinema, such as the rocket's landing in the eye of the Man in the Moon in George Méliès's A Trip to the Moon (1902), and the woman's being shot in the eye by the guards in Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925).