Watching Salo is one of the most difficult things any normal human being can pull off--and not just because the bootleg DVD format is the only way to find it. It is full of some of the most horrific acts of torture, rape and perversion to ever be captured on film; in context, it makes movies like Texas Chainsaw and Ichi the Killer tame by comparison. It has a simplistic plot: four men, fascists leaders in Italy, take a small collection of kidnapped children along with a few perverted women and a couple of soldiers and proceed to reenact every dark version of cruelty they can come up with. Standard male/female intercourse is the only thing to be prohibited. As the fascists become tired with anally raping and emotionally brutalizing their often nude captives, meals of human feces become the norm, and the movie closes on horrific acts of physical torture (one of which is portrayed on the front of the DVD in this very review.)
Why was this movie made? What purpose does it serve, and to whom was it expected to find an audience? Merely watching the film is as much as can be expected--getting a "message" or "the point" seems to be an exercise in confusion. While the film is a little too expensive and (technically) well-made to be just a straight piece of pornography for (one hopes) an infinitesimal niche market, it strains all human reason to imagine that this film was ever believed to be even watchable to a mass audience. The film is so nakedly cruel, so cynically devoid of any sense of morality that it becomes, by the end, almost impossible to believe that these villains could be so evil. At no point does any of the men responsible show any sign of remorse, nor do they ever question what they are doing. While this may have been part of Pasolini's rage at fascism, the movie is too clearly obsessed with focusing solely on the violence and perversion to be fully dealt with as a political allegory. Fascists are, after all, human beings: by ignoring this and presenting them so demonically, it makes it impossible to truly fear them.
Salo has been referred to as "one of the most intellectually toxic films ever made." Here at the Factual, we have to concur. And we also have to tell you that, no, you don't need to watch it--which we're sure that you already knew.