Simon of the Desert was the last film that Luis Buñuel made in Mexico before settling comfortably into the “late period” that birthed Belle de Jour, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, The Phantom of Liberty, etc. Inspired by the life of the ascetic saint Simeon Stylites, the film’s title character has a fixation on divinity that has compelled him to sit atop a pillar for six years, six weeks, and six days. Despite his attempts to bring himself closer to heaven by climbing an even higher pillar, he continues to witness human atrocities such as sodomy, zoophilia, incest, and gluttony, among others.
Buñuel encouraged audiences and the press to not dwell on his atheism, which he thoughtfully attempts to clarify with Simon of the Desert. The juxtapositions of religious signifiers with darkly humorous images do reflect a view of sainthood’s aims as misguided and unattainable. But Buñuel follows these with an ending sequence that, while supposedly the result of the filmmaker running out of money, pushes his concerns beyond the purely religious and into broader ideas about false superiority and modernity. It’s all arguably less confrontational than Un Chien Andalou, although that’s largely because of how much Buñuel had refined (but not downplayed or eliminated) the avant-garde tendencies that distinguished surrealism in its heyday.
— Garret Kriston