̶ And you, Sprague, what were you like at my age?
̶ I was like Terence Stamp in Teorema.
̶ I love that film!
It was at once strange and seductive, as if in taking off my panties I had unveiled reality.
̶̶ So you were the stranger, the saint, the guest? she asks.
̶ Did you make love with men?
̶ No. But if their desire, unbeknownst to them, was homosexual, I was the one who’d reveal it.
̶ Did you make love with the mother, the maid, the daughter?
̶ Yes. But I myself didn’t know my secret. I was simply silent and available. The girl always gave the signal.
Mystery returned to the world: Naked, I assumed my desire and felt free to play with identity.
̶̶ Did you read Rimbaud in the garden, like Terence Stamp?
̶ I did.
̶ And did you always wear white?
̶ No. But I wore the equivalent: black.
̶ And did you become an actor in others’ erotic scenarios?
̶ Yes. I let them use me. I was simply there, passive until it was time to perform.
̶ Mysteriously present in their intimacy?
̶ And afterwards, after making love, were they transformed?
̶ They were. They couldn’t go on living as they’d lived before.
̶ My father had no love to give me. We never got along. What he really wanted was a son. Looking back, I see I became a tomboy just because I was trying to get closer to him.
Her kohl-rimmed eyes intensify her boundless trust in me. I’m not wearing white, but I feel like Terence Stamp in Teorema.
̶̶ Not once did he ever hug me. When I would put my arms around him, he would pull a face and tremble in horror.
̶ You’re an idiot, Sprague, and you have to write your book as the idiot you are.
̶ Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?
̶ No. More like your beloved Terence Stamp in Teorema.
̶ I see.
̶ It’s who you are, Sprague. You’re one of a kind.
The waiter took us for brother and sister, Iskra and I. Her hair’s as black as mine, her eyes as green. Guess that allowed him to overlook my southern complexion and her Slavic pallor, her youth and my youthfulness. She’s doing a PhD in plant science at Sofia University (mutant seedlings with aberrant circadian rhythms). Spent two years at Sheffield University. Speaks English with a Yorkshire accent! We met in the Botanic Garden. She was sitting on a bench, crying. I sat down beside her. Didn’t say anything, just reached out my hand. She took it. (I wasn’t wearing white, but that’s how it happened.) When we parted five days later, it was a strange goodbye.
Have you noticed Akiko’s been eyeing you? Is she struck by your beauty, intrigued by your demeanour, as you sit on the sofa beside me, legs flexed, stockinged feet on the footrest? I like her allure, her high cheekbones and free-flowing hair. I like the contrast of her loose cardigan and stretch-knit top, the subtlety of black on black. I like her black ankle boots, her black skinny jeans, her black eyes and black hair. But I’m not in a black mood. In fact, I’m feeling as luminously white as Terence Stamp in Teorema. Is that why innocence and honesty, in the conversation that followed, dispensed with the armour of irony?
In Sprague’s list of his ten favourite films that he gives Marietta as she leaves him, Teorema is number 5.
The environs of Milan, a wealthy family in a mansion: Paolo and Lucia, husband and wife; Odetta and Pietro, the children (respectively in their late- and mid-teens); Emilia, the silent, middle-aged maid. Into their household comes ‘the Visitior’, a beautiful young man. Like a moth to the flame, each member of the family is attracted to the mysterious guest; enigmatic, their desire wells up and seeks him to satisfy it.
First, Emilia. Observing the visitor reading in the garden, she feels her attraction to him and is overcome by a feeling of transgression. (How do we know this? In Teorema, the silence of the images is as eloquent as the actors’ body language.) She runs inside, stands before a mirror surrounded by pictures of the saints, and takes off her earrings. Back outside, raking up the leaves, she is again overcome by the visitor’s presence; as she stares at him, tears flow from her eyes. She runs into the kitchen and begins to gas herself at the stove. The Visitor rushes to her rescue, gets her to her bedroom, and—at her invitation—makes love to her.
Next, the son. Unable to restrain his desire, he draws back the bedsheets as the Visitor sleeps, waking him. Acutely embarrassed, he apologizes. The Visitor joins him in his bed.
Next, the wife. Disrobed, she lies back and awaits the Visitor. Returning from a walk in the forest, he is touched by her embarrassment before him. With the same tenderness he’d shown the maid and the son, he makes love to her.
Next, the daughter. Relaxing in the garden, she runs inside and returns with a camera to photograph the Visitor. She then takes him by the hand, leads him inside to her bedroom, and shows him her photo album. In their bubble of intimacy she bares her breasts to him. We imagine the rest.
Finally, the husband. Bed-stricken by his troubling desire, he recovers after some care by the Visitor. They drive out into the country. The husband mentions his moral concerns, and the confusion he feels. Stopping for a drink, they box playfully. Further out in the country, the Visitor lies down in the winter vegetation by a body of water. The husband approaches. We imagine the rest.
The angel-postman who’d announced the Visitor’s arrival returns with a letter announcing it’s time for him to depart. Husband, wife, daughter, son, maid: Each conveys to the Visitor (the maid by lavishing kisses on his hands) the fact that he has made a radical break in their life, making it impossible for them to be as they were before.
The Visitor leaves. Emilia becomes a mystic, touched by miracles, and is buried alive at her own request. Odetta becomes catatonic, the caress she’d given the Visitor sealed in her fist as she lies rigid on her bed. Pietro becomes an artist, and discovers the truth of that condition. Lucia cruises the streets of Milan in search of young men; as they make love to her, she only misses the Visitor more. Paolo, having given his factory to his workers, roams naked upon volcanic slopes, the ash on the wind making a cloud of his cry.
Free of morality, beyond good and evil, the Visitor restores desire. Neither fool nor saint, he is the stranger who allows our self to be less false, our efforts to end in a better failure. But when he leaves we’re on our own. Individualized. Alone.
This is the theorem of Teorema. As demonstrated by Pasolini, it makes for a brilliant film. And a fine companion piece to that other Pasolini masterpiece, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.