Viridiana, (1961) directed by Luis Bunuel tells the story of an aspiring nun who believes she has been raped…twice. On its surface a movie about a girl whose uncle wants to marry her, and then convinces the girl that he has raped her might not seem like a first choice for a Friday night, and it shouldn’t be. It is far from a feel good film, yet Viridiana is a masterpiece in its own right. The film focuses on the character of Viridiana, a young, sexually repressed virgin, whose good intentions ultimately lead to destruction. Throughout the film Bunuel challenges social conventions and ideals upheld by the Catholic Church at the time.
In the film Viridiana turns the home of her deceased uncle into a sanctuary for the poor and depraved. The woman has a good heart and truly wishes to help the destitute, but as the film goes on to illustrate good intentions only get you so far. The movie serves as a warning against the dangers of charity. Viridiana’s act of penance and good will leads only to more suffering. In one of the most telling scenes of the picture a man observes a dog tied to a cart, he feels bad for the dog and purchases it from the cart owner. As the man then walks away having done his good deed, he fails to take notice of another dog tied to another cart. This idea that there is always another dog, that things cannot be changed, runs throughout the piece. It is most clear in the characters of the beggars. Viridiana wants to change them, but they quarrel, ostracize a man who they believe has leprosy; defile her home, and even her own body. They are what the world has made them, and it cannot be changed even with the best intentions.
At its core Viridiana is a film about female sexual repression. Viridiana has devoted her life to Christ, and is intent on entering into a cloistered life of celibacy in a convent. However, the confusion surrounding the possibility that her own uncle has raped her forces the girl to abandon the life she had planned. Jorge, Viridiana’s cousin becomes a driving force as the two develop a flirtatious relationship. Viridiana seems for the first time to feel herself yearning for the company of a man. There is almost this sense that Viridiana deep down wishes to be raped. She wants to be liberated from the constraints of celibacy, and free to fulfill her own sexual desires. By believing she has been raped for the second time she is set free of the oppression of her faith. She no longer feels the need to guard herself because she has already fallen out of grace, which provides her true salvation. In the final scene Viridiana knocks on Jorge’s door in the night, he opens it and lets her in. Inside are Jorge and a female friend. Shimmy Doll is playing on the record player, and the room is charged with sexual tension. The scene subtly implies that Viridiana has gone to the house to sleep with Jorge, and finally satisfy her true desires. It ends with the image of Viridiana, Jorge and his female friend sitting at the table playing cards; there is a clear sense that something more is going to happen.
Viridiana was met with virulent controversy in its home country of Spain, and was eventually banned from distribution. Bunuel obviously intended to cause uproar and he succeeded. It is a film about human suffering, and the fact that the world will never change. It can be read on many different levels, and should not be confined to any one perspective. Bunuel was truly a master of his craft and had a penchant for creating controversial and provocative films no matter what the content.