Reno has to finish his painting to pay off his debts and so that he can continue to paint. While art has become his compulsion, as a working-class artist, he needs to sustain his living as well. His need to create becomes a point of desperation, especially as all other aspects of his life, girlfriends, bills and the city itself continually get in the way of his ability to focus on the work at hand. While we feel that he’d be perfectly happy if he could devote his life to painting and painting only, that is an impossibility. The consequence of that limitation emerges as rage and violence.
“The Driller Killer” launched Ferrara’s career and also was a stepping stone in a variety of other films that portray the artist at work. In films like “Dangerous Game” or “The Blackout,” he explores filmmaking and the blurred lines between what is being lived and created. His movies also feature painters, dancers and actors. Art supplies his characters with work and also offer a reflection on how they see and experience the world.
Since 2014, Ferrara has released three interconnected films, “Pasolini,” “Tommaso” and “Siberia,” that critic Neil Bahadur has coined as his “reflexivity” trilogy. The films explore the life, work and dreams of three interconnected characters and their art. Willem Dafoe, a frequent Ferrara collaborator, stars in all three.
With “Pasolini,” Ferrara explores the many facets of Pasolini’s life, including elements of an unfinished movie. Set after his controversial production, “Salo: 120 Days of Sodom,” “Pasolini” showcases an artist who, beyond even the content of his work, offends fascists and the power class merely by existing as a gay Marxist poet. In the film, Pasolini’s mom and sister discourage him from pushing things any further, fearing for his life. Pasolini, though, refuses to stay silent.
“Pasolini” stands out in Ferrara’s filmography as a rare instance where his characters are deified. Pasolini makes the ultimate sacrifice in the name of art and living. His art doesn’t get muddled with rage or chaos like Reno in “The Driller Killer;” it is calculated and pointed. While aware of his continued outspokenness’s potential consequences, he chooses to live according to his own terms. A much different expression of free will than Reno, Pasolini makes the ultimate sacrifice, his life, in order to exist freely as an artist.