Sátántangó Explained (Tarr, 1994)

Satantango doctor

There are many people who think the end is the beginning. It is not. At least not in the diegetic sense. The end is exactly as the doctor describes: 13 days after he is hospitalized. That is, 13 days after the events which begin the film: Futaki wakes up and stares out the window, hides when Mr. Schmidt arrives home, returns to foil Schmidt’s plan to take off with Kraner with the workers’ money.

This sequence leads to the point where they all meet at the bar and wait for the messiah, Irimias, to return from ‘the dead’. It is a day which is repeated at least four more times, from different perspectives: 1)Meanwhile… Irimias and Petrina travel to town.. 2)Meanwhile… Halics et. al hang out in bar.. 3) Meanwhile… Estike kills cat then herself with rat poison after passing by the bar… and, most important to this thread, 4)Meanwhile, the doctor logs notes in his books and then heads out for more palinka (fruit brandy), running into Estike along the way, seeing Irimias/Petrina/Sanyi on the road from afar, and passing out in the woods.

He is later seen in the last chapter of the film, having returned from the hospital. He states that Mrs. Kraner has been good, everything is as he left it. This is because, unbeknownst to him at this point in time, Mrs. Kraner has left with the rest of the lot. He hears a bell toll and thinks he is hearing things or that his hearing has gotten worse. He leaves his home, despite his disabilities, out of passion. He talks about the townspeople’s passivity, but he is not passive. He is alive. He returns with full knowledge that his hearing is okay, and rests wearily in his chair sighing that he believed for a moment that the bell he heard were the heavens calling his death. In this moment he fears death.

Now, remember the earlier segment with the Doctor? We see Futaki from the Doctor’s perspective; the shot is literally a POV through his binoculars. He notes that Futaki looks out the window as if he fears death. Put this note in context with the experience the Doctor has in the later segment; the bell toll is a symbol of the fear of death. Once the doctor realizes this, and realizing acutely the fact that he will die soon, he boards up all distractions (literally) and he settles down to begin writing his book, a book based on notes he has taken of the humans around him, a book that begins with reflection upon that dire look on Futaki’s face as he stared fearfully out the window as if hearing upon a knell (bell calling his death).

He writes this 13 days after the narrator omnisciently describes the event happening. The doctor’s observation is in line with the harmony of life/fate/connectedness of people. His authorship is yet another form, amongst so many throughout the film, of time repeating, of circles completing, and of things remaining stagnant, unfulfilled, and eternal in spite of the seemingly ephemeral nature of time.


Read review of film here.


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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