The Conformist

The Conformist is a famous second world war movie by Bernardo Bertolucci, though it is not a war movie as such. The movie weaves an interesting drama around a Fascist operative who is forced to eliminate his own professor by the Fascist regime of Mussolini.

The beauty of the movie lies in its portrayal of complex images of incidents which happen in an apparently disjointed manner, with the hero (!) of the movie not driving any action but being tormented by his own psychological problems. It is beautiful photography and sophisticated direction, with the actors and actresses delivering effortless performances in their appointed roles. Everything seems so genuine in the imagery of the movie.

It always fascinates me when movies emphasize the importance of childhood events and humiliation in explaining their impact in later life. I can understand the criticality of social isolation due to the wealth of the family of our hero (!) and the sexual assault by his driver on our hero when he was a young boy. But, the human psyche is so fragile that it cannot handle the aftereffects even after a long, long time. This movie (amongst many others) shows how the hero suffers and almost becomes impotent in dealing with future events, and subjugates himself to the Fascist commands of his controller who keeps tailing and driving him around.

Complex movie, no doubt about it. Enjoyable, well not really. You have to look for meanings behind those images. You have to understand the motives of the director. You have to derive the causal connection between a dinner and the next day events leading to double murders.

Why does our hero sacrifice his human values in defence of the Fascist regime ? To seek “normalcy” in his own life ? Does it mean that people during that era sought normal lives and were willing to sacrifice anything, in this case including one’s own Professor whose guilt against the regime is not firmly established ? Even if it is, you don’t go and kill your teacher. So dictatorial regimes could hold one’s persona and values hostage and exert leverage on a person to achieve its goals, while the person reaches a level of zero emotions when executing even a murder ?

Amazing ! This is what happened in the first four decades of the 20th Century, and is even now happening in countries which are run by a dictator. What do we do about such control by Fascist regimes on the lives of human beings who wish to just conduct their normal lives ? None whatsoever.

So, The Conformist is actually a deep portrayal of the need to conform. Conform to a political regime which orders one to conform to its philosophy, systems, dictates, et al. Also, conform to a social regime which forces one to live a normal family life while continuing to conform to the political regime.

So, one’s life becomes a useless automated emotion-less play – and that is what happens to The Conformist.

Worth seeing. As hailed by many, it is a classic movie.


Vijay Srinivasan

6th September 2015


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