‘God never dies’: Buñuel and Catholicism

  • Author(s): Michael Wood
  • When: 1993-02
  • Where: Renaissance and Modern Studies
  • Al the beginning of Luis Bunuel's film Nazarin (1958), a barrel organ can be heard grinding out an old tune, a wheezing accompaniment to an evocation of life in a Mexican slum. The words of the song are not discernible but the film's credits tell us that it is called 'Dios nunca muere' ('God never dies'). There is a sense in which the argument implied by such a title may be deeper, even for an atheist, than Nietzsche's famous proclamation of its opposite; and it is this sense I with to explore in this essay, tracing the dark and ironic dialogue with faith to be found in Dames films. For the believer, of course, God cannot die, and the most direct meaning of the song will represent a pious answer to unbelief. For the militant or optimistic atheist, God can and should 'die', the old fiction will be laid to rest as humanity's faith in it lapses—if, as Nietzsche would add, humanity is up to its new tasks, if it can cope with the godless world it has built. But there is another atheism, which is Runnel's, and in part Nietzsche's too. Whether God can or should die is not the issue; what matters is that He does not, or has not. 'I'm afraid we are not rid of God', Nietzsche writes, 'because we still have faith in grammar'.' Bunuel's films display, among other things, particular faces and habits of this lingering grammar. even when their subject is not ostensibly religious. Certain of them are ostensibly religious, however, and I shall concentrate on those. After a look at Bunuel's references to Sade as the atheist par excellence, I consider the movement of images and thought in three films: Nazarin, Simon del desierto (1965), and La Voie Lactee (1969). Viridian (1961) belongs with these works, but its religious preoccupations are an deeply entangled in sexual ones that it requires separate consideration, which. apart from a quick look at the film's most celebrated frame. I leave for another day.

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