The Exterminating Angel (film)

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For the Jean-Claude Brisseau film, see Les Anges Exterminateurs.
The Exterminating Angel
The Exterminating Angel (film).jpg
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Produced by Gustavo Alatriste
Written by Luis Buñuel
Starring Silvia Pinal
Enrique Rambal
Distributed by Gustavo Alatriste
Release dates
  • 1962 (1962)
Running time
94 minutes
Country Mexico
Language Spanish

The Exterminating Angel (Spanish: El ángel exterminador), is a macabre comedy, written and directed by Luis Buñuel, starring Silvia Pinal, and produced by her then-husband Gustavo Alatriste. It contains a view of human nature suggesting "mankind harbors savage instincts and unspeakable secrets".[1]

It is considered by Mexican film critics as the 16th best film of the Mexican cinema and one of the best 1000 films by the New York Times.[2]


In 1960, General Francisco Franco had invited Luis Buñuel back to Spain after his long exile in Mexico since the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Franco asked him to direct a movie of his choice. Buñuel wrote and directed Viridiana, the first film he made in his native country, which starred Silvia Pinal and was produced by her then husband, Gustavo Alatriste. Released in 1961, the film sparked controversy both in Spain and the Vatican, and as a result all existing negatives were ordered to be destroyed. The film, won the Palme d'Or at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival,[3] and copies of the film that had been shipped to Paris survived and were subsequently distributed. Viridiana would be re-released in Spain 16 years later, in 1977.[citation needed]

Following the Viridiana scandal, Buñuel returned to Mexico. He kept his production team and decided to make another movie starring Pinal. The film, originally called The Outcasts of Providence Street, was renamed The Exterminating Angel after Buñuel picked it from an unfinished play his friend José Bergamín was writing at the time. The film was released in Mexico in 1962, and was just as controversial as its predecessor had been.[citation needed]

Buñuel worked with Pinal and Alatriste in a third film released in 1965 called Simon of the Desert, the third film of the Buñuel/Alatriste/Pinal film trilogy.


During a formal dinner party at the lavish mansion of Señor Edmundo Nobile and his wife, Lucia, the servants unaccountably leave their posts until only the major-domo is left. After dinner the guests adjourn to the music room, where one of the women, Blanca, plays a piano sonata. Later, when they might normally be expected to return home, the guests curiously remove their jackets, loosen their gowns, and settle down for the night on couches, chairs and the floor.

By morning it is apparent that, for some inexplicable reason, they are psychologically, but not physically, trapped in the music room. Unable to leave, the guests consume what little drinks and food are left from the previous night's party. Days pass, and their plight intensifies; they become thirsty, hungry, quarrelsome, hostile, and hysterical - only Dr. Carlos Conde, applying logic and reason, manages to keep his cool and guide the guests through the ordeal. One of the guests, the elderly Sergio Russell, dies, and his body is placed in a large cupboard. Much later in the film, Béatriz and Eduardo, a young couple about to be married, lock themselves in a closet and commit suicide.

The guests eventually manage to break open a wall enough to access a water pipe. In the end, several sheep and a bear break loose from their bonds and find their way to the room; the guests take in the sheep and proceed to slaughter and roast them on fires made from floorboards and broken furniture. Dr. Conde reveals to Nobile that one of his patients, Leonora, is dying from cancer and accepts a secret supply of morphine from the host to keep her pain under control. The supply of drugs is however stolen by Francis and Juana, a brother and sister. Ana, a Jew and a practitioner of Kabbalah, tries to free the guests by performing a mystical ceremony, which fails.

Eventually, Raúl suggests that Nobile is responsible for their predicament and that he must be sacrificed. Only Dr. Conde and the noble Colonel Alvaro oppose the angry mob claiming Nobile's blood. As Nobile offers to take his own life, a young foreign guest, Leticia (nicknamed "La Valkiria") sees that they are all seated in the same positions as when their plight began. Upon her encouragement, the group starts reconstructing their conversation and movements from the night of the party and discover that they are then free to leave the room. Outside the manor, the guests are greeted by the local police and the servants, who had left the house on the night of the party and who had similarly found themselves unable to enter it.

To give thanks for their salvation, the guests attend a Te Deum at the cathedral. When the service is over, the churchgoers along with the clergy are also trapped. It is not entirely clear though, whether those that were trapped in the house before are now trapped again. They seem to have disappeared. The situation in the church is followed by a riot on the streets and the military step in to brutally clamp down, firing on the rioters. The last scene shows a flock of sheep entering the church in single file, accompanied by the sound of gunshots.


Though Buñuel never states what the symbolism represents, and leaves it for the viewer to come to their own understanding, one critic, the late Roger Ebert, wrote a lengthy dissertation of his interpretation of the films symbolism, which includes the following paragraph; 'The dinner guests represent the ruling class in Franco's Spain. Having set a banquet table for themselves by defeating the workers in the Spanish Civil War, they sit down for a feast, only to find it never ends. They're trapped in their own bourgeois cul-de-sac. Increasingly resentful at being shut off from the world outside, they grow mean and restless; their worst tendencies are revealed.' [1]



This film received the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award of the international critics and the Screenwriters Guild at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.[4] At the 1963 Bodil Awards, the film won the Bodil Award for Best Non-European Film.[5]

Cultural references[edit]

  • A 1995 episode of the sitcom One Foot in the Grave is called "The Exterminating Angel", in reference to a scene in the episode in which a large number of characters are trapped in a conservatory (though unlike the film, they are physically locked in).[citation needed]
  • A 2002 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled "Older and Far Away" references the movie when a set of characters are unable to leave a house after a party. Initially the characters seems to be psychologically unable to leave, but later the characters desire to leave but are physically unable to due to a spell.[citation needed]
  • In the 2011 film, Midnight in Paris, the main character, Gil travels back in time to 1920s Paris and suggests a story to a perplexed young Buñuel about guests who arrive for a dinner party and can’t leave.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roger Ebert The Exterminating Angel, May 11, 1997.
  2. ^ The Film Critics of the New York Times (2004). "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 March 2010. 
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Viridiana". Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Exterminating Angel". Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  5. ^ "Amerikanske film". Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  6. ^ Voss, Brandon (2014-10-14). "Stephen Sondheim Is Working on a New Musical". The Advocate. 

External links[edit]