Theorem is brilliant. The plot is absurdly straightforward. An upper-bourgeois Milanese family live a frigid, statuesque existence. One day, in the midst of a torpid house-party, a handsome and charismatic stranger (Terence Stamp) walks in as if out of nowhere and hangs around. He makes love to each and addresses their various emotional sicknesses. Then almost as soon as he’s arrived, he goes away; being returned to the world as it was prior to the stranger, they react violently in different ways.
To me at the surface level, Theorem works as a kind of strange, other-worldly, almost holy sex comedy. What happens is amusing and the libido is explicit: the family and the maid lust after the strangers’ body (e.g. the bony severity of the maid’s countenance when she surveys his groin whilst raking the leaves). This need for sexuality and its satisfaction is the film’s primary theme.
This survey takes in the first half of the film; the second half traces the reaction of the family and the maid, where they individually respond to the gratification with revelation, shock, creativity, self-indulgence and guilt. Each of these is making its own point, I think, most markedly in the factory owner forgoing civilization and heading for the desert (amusingly contextualised by the films bookend scenes outside the factory, with the press interviewing the workers making what they will of it).
So Theorem studies our sexual drives and how fundamental they are to the politics of our society: those of the family, those of bourgeois economics and their place within our acceptance and use of Christianity.
Technically, it’s a beautiful film. The setting is gorgeous and Pasolini’s direction is spare and clear. It does drag a bit in the second half, particularly in the sequences where the maid travels home, but Theorem is a surprisingly moving film.