Caligula: The History of Sex and Power



Caligula (1979) is a biographical film about the rise and fall of the Roman Emperor Caligula. This film, which is still banned from Canada and Iceland, shocked the world with its explicit portrayal of the emperor’s cruel and salacious escapades.This film is filled with nudity, sex, kink, incest, drag, bestiality, prostitution and murder. The movie tells the tale of Caligula’s grandfather, Emperor Tiberius, a mad man who suffers incurable venereal diseases. Tiberius enjoys swimming with naked youths and watching degrading sex shows that often include children and deformed people. Caligula observes his grandfather’s sadism with fascination and horror. After Tiberius’s death Caligula becomes enraged with power and starts adapting his grandfather’s twisted ways. Throughout the film there are scenes that involve Caligula having sex with his sister and younger step brother, orgies, and homosexual sex. The film depicts this as a norm for this empire. The people of the palace are free to walk around and work while naked. There are oral sex acts performed in hallways throughout the castle and orgies formed on command by the emperor. The movie ends by three senators of the Roman senate leading the  assassination of Caligula, his wife and newborn daughter on the steps of the palace, leaving their bodies in front of the palace for the citizens to mock.

One significant scene in this movie involves Caligula crashing a wedding of his most beloved soldier. He forces the newlywed couple into the palace’s kitchen and forces the bride to get naked on the kitchen table on all fours while Caligula rapes her in front of her husband. The wife was a virgin which made Caligula enjoy the rape even more as he uses his fingers to wipe the blood from the woman’s inner thighs and smiles with pride and pleasure. Caligula demands the husband as well to get on the kitchen table on his fours and rapes him while the woman cries in a puddle of blood from her vagina.

Another scene in this film showed Caligula’s pleasure for murder. In his palace there is a machine called the Wall of Death. It is a moving wall with spinning blades on the bottom. The people being executed stick their heads through a hole on the ground and get beheaded by the moving blades. Caligula is shown to be throwing food at the prisoners. In the video, though with no sound, Caligula comments, “If only Rome had but one neck..”. This scene shows how powerful and evil he really is.

Caligula’s adventurous sex and murder acts reminds me to Georges Bataille’s “Story of the Eye”. First I noticed looking at the movie’s poster of a coin with Caligula’s face with blood coming from his eyes, I automatically paired that up with the eyes being a symbol in Bataille’s book. After watching the movie I believe the poster’s symbolism of the blood dripping from the eyes being Caligula’s evil and deadly vision of Rome. The book “Story of the Eye”, however, mentions the gouging of eyes and using them for sexual pleasure. But these two stories are not very far from each other. Throughout the film Caligula takes sexual pleasure from humiliating, raping and having absolute power. This lies a similarity with Simone and the Englishman. They traveled seeking pleasure by participating in outrageous sex acts, raping, humiliating and gaining power over people. The rape scene of the newlywed couple in Caligula was similar to the rape scene in Bataille’s story in the church in Spain. Even though the difference in these scenes are that Simone seduced the priest and Caligula ordered the soldier and bride be fornicated both scenes have a religious intertwining with them. Marriage is a very religious and sacred sacrament to the Catholic church, especially the wedding night where the woman is supposed to lose her virginity to her husband. Caligula proved his power as a “god” by destroying that sacrament and taking away the virginity of the bride from the husband. Simone also destroyed that sanctity of the church and the sacrament of reconciliation by seducing the priest in the confessional and then murdering him in the church and using the priest’s eye as a sexual object. Simone, the Englishman and Caligula all showed power by degrading the most powerful thing of all, religion, as if saying that the fear of God or a higher being can not even stop them from doing what they want. Both stories portray that sex and power go hand in hand.

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