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The startling 1929 surrealist silent film Un Chien Andalou made by Luis Buñuel in collaboration with Salvador Dalí is now a deeply unsettling video game. If the infamous eye slicing scene makes you recoil at its memory, wait until a digital moon soundtracked by hideous stretching noises morphs into a gaping oculus, and your only release from its revolting gaze is to slash it down the pupil.
The Tender Cut by No, Thanks Games was released for free this month for Mac and Windows. Developed by the Russian team of Ilya Kononenko and Yuliya Kozhemyako, The Tender Cut was started at a game jam last year built around the theme of phobias. Now with music by Shawn Claude Jones inspired by the original Richard Wagner accompaniment, the game takes eerie elements from the claustrophobic apartment and balcony “il était un fois” scenes in the film and turns them into an adventure into the odd. A death’s-head moth flutters out from a checkered box, ants crawl from a hole in the wall, and a rotting severed hand appears where you least want it.
As Kononenko and Kozhemyako explained to Hyperallergic over email, the interactive format forces you to be an actor in the story instead of a viewer, experiencing it from the other side. They also emphasized that projects like this one can be bridges between gaming and the arts, noting that they’ve gotten a lot of “let’s play” gamers on YouTube who had never heard of the film. However, they stated that they’re not trying to explain or expand on Buñuel’s work, rather to make something that’s self-contained that can be a different experience.
The small details of The Tender Cut are impressive, including the furniture and design of the balcony echoing that of Un Chien Andalou, and the queasy conclusion taking you to the deceptive calm of a beach. At the end, fuzzy television screens show what you missed while clicking and experimenting with objects like a key trapped behind a painting, a cigarette lighter, and yes, a razor that you can restlessly sharpen. It only takes about 20 minutes to play — roughly the length of the film — but in the monochrome world you gradually feel more off-balance, more unwell, until that abominable eye emerges and through a repellant blade you are free. Maybe it doesn’t leave you understanding Buñuel’s film anymore than when you started, but it does show how his imagery is still formidable almost a hundred years later.
The Tender Cut by No, Thanks games is available to play for free on Mac or Windows.