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Case Number 11905

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The Milky Way

Criterion // 1969 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // August 21st, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Dylan Charles thinks all reviews should be irrational, since real life is irrational.

The Charge

Credo quia absurdum.

Opening Statement

Luis Bunuel's works often challenged the authority of the Church. In The Milky Way, Bunuel takes a look at the heretics and their heresies, the people who fought and died for their beliefs. In a chaotic and surrealistic film, Bunuel expertly depicts reality.

Facts of the Case

Two French pilgrims living in our time make their way to Santiago de Compostela, a religious site in Spain where millions had journeyed to see the body of St. James. The pilgrims transcend space and time to get to their ultimate destination—and not in some philosophical, stoner way either. They literally bump into people in the road who are from multiple eras.

The Evidence

When the end credits began to roll, I admit I was, well, confused. What in the nine hells just took place here, I asked myself. And I became worried. Was I losing my touch as a reviewer? Was I unable to comprehend the basic themes of a film? And then I remembered the WR: Mysteries of the Organism fiasco. I've always been incompetent! Should I give up on the works of Bunuel and resign myself to an eternity of reviewing the entire collective works of Troma Films?

Luckily for my self-esteem, Ian Christie's featurette reassured me that I was not alone in my confusion. It is a difficult work to interpret. The pilgrims, wonderfully played by Laurent Terzieff and Paul Frankeur, are our main guides through The Milky Way, but this is not always a constant. They pass the story off to others along their pilgrimage as Bunuel explores the multiple heresies of the Catholic Church.

Bunuel and writer Jean-Claude Carriere explore the major mysteries that Christianity has attempted to deal with throughout the ages—from the Holy Trinity to whether or not man truly has free will. The philosophical and theological debates of history are re-enacted in literal form. The debate on free will, in fact, is shown as a duel between a Jansenite and Jesuit. As they cross swords, the pilgrims enjoy lunch on the sidelines and offer their own observations on whether or not man is free to do as he wishes.

It is hard to tell, if we only consider the film on its own, if Bunuel has a single point to make about the nature of religion or man's attempt to figure out his place in the universe. At the very least, it is fascinating to see the actual debates that have taken place. Everyone from the Gnostics to the Marquis de Sade gets to voice their opinion in one way or another. Always, the pilgrims guide us through history and dogma. They never choose sides, but always just move on, unaffected by the sometimes petty squabbles.

The ending is ambiguous, leaving the viewer with little to go on. But really, that's life. As "Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God" points out, Buenel disliked the attempts to force rationality in film, seeing as how very little rationality exists in real life. The irrationality that plays out through The Milky Way mirrors the history that it acts out for us. And now I've entered Over-Analysis Territory. Point is, Bunuel left a lot up for interpretation here, depicting countless arguments that are never resolved, never finished. Can God be divided into three parts? Is it transubstantiation or is Christ merely contained within the host? Bunuel potentially argues we may never truly know.

And that's the fun of it.

I don't think Criterion could have ever provided enough extras for this one. I kept wanting to know more about the topics, more about Bunuel himself. But what they have still manages to trounce the features most other companies offer on their discs (Lionsgate, I point my finger of accusation at you). There are two interviews, one with film historian Ian Christie and one with Jean-Claude Carriere, who helped write the screenplay with Bunuel. Both give a lot of help in interpreting what's going on and without them, this review would have been a lot shorter. For those still wanting more, there's the aforementioned "Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God," which has interviews with the actors involved in The Milky Way, more Jean-Claude Carriere, and some clergy.

Closing Statement

If you can't tell, I'm smitten with both The Milky Way and Criterion. Bunuel captures much of the nature of religion and the arguments and debates it creates—and leaves up a great deal to the viewer. I like any filmmaker who respects his audience's intelligence. Although, considering it took me three times to actually spell "intelligence" just now, I may not the perfect audience for The Milky Way.

Criterion has once again done a stellar job of presentation, which makes them awesome. What a weak ending for a review.

The Verdict

Bunuel and his film are found guilty of heresy and shall be burned at the stake until dead. Good movie, though.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 90
Story: 90
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Criterion
Video Formats:
• 1.66:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
• English
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Drama
• Foreign

Distinguishing Marks

• Video Introduction by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere
• New video interview with film scholar Ian Christie
• "Luis Bunuel: Atheist Thanks to God," a documentary featuring several of Bunuel's close friends and collaborators
• Original theatrical trailer
• A booklet featuring new essays by Carlos Fuentes and Mark Polizzotti, and an interview with Luis Bunuel


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