Quick Film Guide: The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Bunuel, 1974)

Le Fantôme de la liberté
Directed by Luis Bunuel
France, Italy

Luis Bunuel followed his Oscar-winning film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with another gem of surrealist cinema: The Phantom of Liberty. Here, he explores the idea that humans are trapped by social codes and structures and, as the title suggests, that freedom is just an illusion.

The Phantom of Liberty is inspired by events from Bunuel’s own life, though each is altered and distorted, and featured within a narrative Susan Suleiman suggested as based on “a principle of infinite suspension.” It moves forward via the chance encounters of its diverse cast of eccentric characters, and every sequence is suspended by the intervention of yet another sequence, with many of them left unresolved.

Thus, the film’s narrative structure is integral to the filmmaker’s final message that freedom exists in the imagination. In other words, it is the narrative form Bunuel employs that suggests that imagination is the thing that allows us to knock down the structures we’re trapped in. This is not only represented by the way in which The Phantom of Liberty knocks down narrative conventions, but also in the way it represents such taboo subjects as pedophilia, execution, incest, religion and more.

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