The Oedipus Complex In Pasolini’s Movie


Many ancient plays still inspire artists, musicians, and other people related to art, and Sophocles’s Oedipus the King is one such tragedy. Thus, in 1967, a movie named Oedipus Rex, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, was created. It is noticeable that Pasolini inserted a prologue situated in current times but connected with the tragedy’s events. This insertion of the prologue, which has a specific purpose, is not the only interesting change to the well-known tragedy. In Oedipus Rex, Pasolini alters the character and perception of the main character and applies Sigmund Freud’s ideas, adding the Oedipus complex to the movie.

Oedipus Rex by Pasolini

After making the movie, Pasolini explained some important aspects he added to the picture in his interview with Jon Halliday. According to the director, he aimed “to re-project psychoanalysis onto the myth” (as cited in Rota, 2015, p. 42). To accomplish this, he decided to alter Sophocles’s text and add new facts, scenes, and interpretations aimed at defining the Oedipus complex. Pasolini also ensured that “the dramatic content of the tragedy would not be lost in a didactic essay on Freudianism” (Rota, 2015, p. 42). Overall, the main idea behind Pasolini’s re-projection was to make Oedipus intentionally unconscious of his deeds, while in the original play, he is naively unaware of them. Consequently, in the film, the essence of Oedipus is different: he does not want to follow the vicissitudes of fate anymore.

It is evident that Pasolini needed to modify the way the audience precepted the king. In order to do that, the director inserted Oedipus’s narrative before the events of Sophocles’s tragedy. As early as the young man presents on the screen, the Freudian framework begins to shape his character and the events in general. In this scene, Oedipus participates in a tournament and does not want to admit defeat; he then ends up fraudulently obtaining the crown of leaves. This scene is greatly analyzed in the article by Rota (2015). According to the author, the audience is forced to admit that Oedipus craves success at the cost of morality from the very beginning (Rota, 2015). Pasolini’s Oedipus is not just a protagonist who defies nature but also a man who refuses to recognize his loss in consideration of his social position and the crown which symbolizes it.

It is hard to disagree that such a portrayal of Oedipus as a deceiver does not correspond with Pasolini’s idea mentioned in the interview. In his speech, “the director described Oedipus as an ‘innocent’,” but a detailed examination of Pasolini’s work demonstrates that his innocence stems from a lack of moral knowledge (Rota, 2015, p. 43). Consequently, the researcher notices that the main character “is declared innocent because he still does not know the consequences of his actions, a sort of Nietzschean hero who, like a child” (Rota, 2015, p. 43). In contrast, the innocence of Oedipus in Pasolini’s work lies in the fact that the main character has no distinction between good and evil.

As a result, Pasolini’s comments on innocence serve only to strengthen the film’s Freudian framework. In fact, one of the features that persuaded Sigmund Freud to accept Sophocles’s play as proof of the existence of an Oedipus Complex was the portrayal of Oedipus as amoral (Rota, 2015, p. 44). The film ends with a rather interesting depiction of Oedipus. In the epilogue, he can be understood as a marginal character who has nothing but music to orient in the world. The physical surroundings of the epilogue, Bologna, and then the house from the beginning underscore the personal aspect of the piece, just as they did in the prologue. As Pasolini noted in his conversation with Halliday, the flute is a metaphor for Oedipus becoming a poet in this personal situation (Rota, 2015). After letting go of his ambition for power, the protagonist has evolved into a social observer who, with the help of Ninetto Davoli’s character, surveys modern society from its peripheries. As Pasolinis’ twin, Oedipus has ultimately transformed into Teiresias, who was blind and prophetic, helpless and conscious.


To draw a conclusion, one may say that Pasolini’s interpretation of Sophocles’s well-known tragedy is quite an interesting and successful attempt to review the main character’s essence. The director provided a different view of Oedupus’s moral characteristics and motives by adding Freudian and Nietzschean frameworks. As a result, the Oedipus complex is added to the movie, but the latter does not turn into a didactic essay on Freud’s ideas.


Rota, E. (2015). Oedipus has a complex: Pasolini’s Freudian Tragedy. Studi Pasoliniani, (9), 39-54.