The narrative structure is hung on two Edgar Allan Poe tales "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" and "The Premature Burial" and features a character developed around the philosophies and politics of Marquis de Sade. Anyone familiar with Svankmajer's work will anticipate the dark themes, surrealist imagery, and stop motion animation that run amok in this film. Essentially, I interpreted it as a political work, much like de Sade's essays written just before the French Revolution, Svankmajer lays out questions of personal freedom, acceptance of normalcy, and getting a laugh out of shocking bourgeois sensibilities.
The main character is snapped out of night terror fits throughout the film. He fears the fate and label of inherited insanity brought on by his mothers funeral. I found the repeated sequence of him awakening suddenly quite effectively used to establish questions of the hero's sanity, as well as the reality of the world he is awaken to. Each scene is sandwiched by short sensual plays acted out with animated chunks of raw meat. This film is NOT vegan, however I especially appreciated the disembodied tongues copulating, if I am allowed to separate my own personal beliefs for the sake of discussion.
If I had any critical observations to make, I felt that the stop animation perhaps could have been integrated into the film with a little more finesse. The main story was strong enough that it could have stood on its own without the short plays, except perhaps to add a strongly disturbing graphic element to the social commentary of the film.
As Svankmajer commented in the prologue of the film, it is a horror movie, but the horrors presented seem to be more of the brutalities of oppressive absolute beliefs and the violence of a ruling class. But I may just have a strong stomach.