Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954) may be the most shocking film ever made by the great filmmaker—precisely because it isn’t shocking at all. Those coming to the movie expecting to encounter Buñuel’s usual brand of surrealism will invariably be shocked to find instead a fairly straightforward version of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel. There is a dream sequence that is at the very least a little peculiar, but overall what Buñuel offers up is pretty much, well, Robinson Crusoe—almost as if he wanted to prove that he could make a normal movie if it suited him. It certainly suited the Mexican film industry folks, who gave it several awards, and for that matter won star Dan O’Herlihy an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Crusoe.
This isn’t to say that the film is without its subversive side. Buñuel’s take on the story is often grounded in a moral ambiguity concerning the nature, and indeed, the existence of God. (This is, after all, Buñuel we’re talking about.) The surprising thing about this is that Buñuel stops shy of mocking Crusoe’s religious beliefs, but in so doing forces the audience to examine their own beliefs on the topic. In the end, it’s hardly a major Buñuel work, but it’s equally not one to be casually dismissed.