The Exterminating Angel

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The Exterminating Angel
The Exterminating Angel (film).jpg
Directed byLuis Buñuel
Screenplay byLuis Buñuel
Story byLuis Buñuel
Luis Alcoriza
Produced byGustavo Alatriste
StarringSilvia Pinal
Enrique Rambal
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byCarlos Savage
Distributed byGustavo Alatriste
Release date
  • 16 May 1962 (1962-05-16) (Cannes)
Running time
93 minutes

The Exterminating Angel (Spanish: El ángel exterminador) is a 1962 Mexican supernatural surrealist film, written and directed by Luis Buñuel, starring Silvia Pinal, and produced by her then-husband Gustavo Alatriste. The movie follows a group of wealthy guests finding themselves unable to leave after a lavish dinner party, and the chaos that ensues afterward. Sharply satirical and allegorical, the film contains a view of the aristocracy suggesting they "harbor savage instincts and unspeakable secrets".[1]

It is considered one of the best 1,000 films by The New York Times,[2] and was adapted into an opera in 2016.


During a formal dinner party at the lavish mansion of Señor Edmundo Nóbile and his wife Lucía, 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 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 composure and guide the guests through the ordeal. One guest, the elderly Sergio Russell, dies, and his body is placed in a large cupboard. Later, Béatriz and Eduardo, a young engaged couple, lock themselves in a closet and commit suicide.

The guests eventually manage to break a wall open 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 tells Nóbile that one of his patients, Leonora, is dying of cancer and accepts a secret supply of morphine from his host to keep her pain under control, but the supply is later stolen by siblings Francis and Juana. Ana, who is Jewish and a practitioner of Kabbalah, tries to free the guests by performing a mystical ceremony, which fails.

Eventually, Raúl suggests that Nóbile is responsible for their predicament and that he must be sacrificed. Only Dr. Conde and the noble Colonel Alvaro oppose the angry mob claiming Nóbile's blood. As Nóbile offers to take his own life, a young foreign guest, Leticia (nicknamed "La Valkiria") notices 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 discovers 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 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.



Social class[edit]

Though Buñuel never stated what the symbolism represents, leaving it to the viewer's understanding, American film critic Roger Ebert wrote a lengthy interpretation of the film's 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]

Scholar Robert Stam notes in his book Reflexivity in Film and Literature: From Don Quixote to Jean-Luc Godard that the film "is structured on the comic formula of a slow descent from normality into anarchy...  The "Exterminating Angel" executes a mission of social justice, an apocalyptic laying low of the noble and the powerful."[3]

Influence on horror genre[edit]

Samuel Pierce, writing for the horror film website Bloody Disgusting, notes The Exterminating Angel's influence on the contemporary horror film, writing: "Within the film's already fascinating plot, there's plenty of poignant social commentary that will be just as familiar to horror fans. Though the film can be interpreted a number of ways, many of its themes are undeniable and as relevant today as they ever were. We see isolation drive madness. We see tribes form in times of strife. We see murder become more and more appealing. More than anything, however, The Exterminating Angel explores the hypocrisy of the social elite and the thin strands of society that keep them from utter depravity."[4]

Though considered a precursor to many contemporary horror films, some critics have classified The Exterminating Angel as a horror film itself: Jonathan Romney of The Guardian considers the film a straightforward "claustrophobic horror story."[5] Film scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum also classifies The Exterminating Angel as a "comic horror film."[6]


The film premiered at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.


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.[7] At the 1963 Bodil Awards, the film won the Bodil Award for Best Non-European Film.[8]

Home media[edit]

The Criterion Collection released The Exterminating Angel on DVD on 10 February 2009.[9] A Blu-ray edition was subsequently issued by Criterion in November 2016.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Roger Ebert, The Exterminating Angel,, 11 May 1997.
  2. ^ "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
  3. ^ Stam 1992, p. 185.
  4. ^ Pierce, Samuel (28 May 2020). "Luis Buñuel's 'The Exterminating Angel' and its Ties to Modern Horror". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  5. ^ Romney, Jonathan (1 April 2017). "How Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel became opera's most surreal soiree". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Rosenbaum 1995, p. 51.
  7. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Exterminating Angel". Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  8. ^ "Amerikanske film". Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  9. ^ Spurlin, Thomas (11 February 2009). "The Exterminating Angel". DVD Talk. Retrieved 21 August 2021.
  10. ^ Cole, Jake (11 December 2016). "Review: Luis Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel on Criterion Blu-ray". Slant Magazine.


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