Pasolini's first novel Ragazzi di vita (1955) dealt with the Roman lumpenproletariat. The resulting obscenity charges against him were the first of many instances where his art provoked legal problems. Accattone (1961), also about the Roman underworld, also provoked controversy with conservatives, who demanded stricter censorship.
He then directed the black-and-white The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964). This film is widely hailed as the best cinematic adaptation of the life of Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui). Whilst filming it, Pasolini vowed to direct it from the "believer's point of view", but later, upon viewing the completed work, saw he had instead expressed his own beliefs.
In his 1966 film, Uccellacci e uccellini (literally Bad Birds and Little Birds but translated in English as The Hawks and the Sparrows), a picaresque - and at the same time mystic - fable, he hired the great Italian comedian Totò to work with one of his preferred "naif" actors, Ninetto Davoli. It was a unique opportunity for Totò to demonstrate that he was a great dramatic actor as well.
In Teorema (Theorem, 1968), starring Terence Stamp as a mysterious stranger, he depicted the sexual coming-apart of a bourgeois family (later repeated by François Ozon in Sitcom and Takashi Miike in Visitor Q).
Later movies centered on sex-laden folklore, such as Boccaccio's Decameron (1971) and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1972), and Il fiore delle mille e una notte (literally The Flower of 1001 Nights, released in English as Arabian Nights, 1974). These films are usually grouped as the Trilogy of Life.
His final work, Salò (Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, 1975), exceeded what most viewers could then stomach in its explicit scenes of intensely sadistic violence. Based on the novel 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade, it is considered his most controversial film. In May 2006, Time Out's Film Guide named it the Most Controversial Film of all time
As a director, Pasolini created a picaresque neorealism, showing a sad reality. Many people did not want to see such portrayals in artistic work for public distribution. Mamma Roma (1962), featuring Anna Magnani and telling the story of a prostitute and her son, was an affront to the morality of those times. His works, with their unequaled poetry applied to cruel realities, showing that such realities are less distant from us than we imagine, made a major contribution to change in the Italian psyche.
The director also promoted in his works the concept of "natural sacredness," the idea that the world is holy in and of itself. He suggested there was no need for spiritual essence or supernatural blessing to attain this state. Pasolini was an avowed atheist.
General disapproval of Pasolini's work was perhaps caused primarily by his frequent focus on sexual mores, and the contrast between what he presented and publicly sanctioned behavior. While Pasolini's poetry often dealt with his same-sex love interests, this was not the only, or even main, theme. His interest and approach to Italian dialects should also be noted. Much of the poetry was about his highly revered mother. As a sensitive and intelligent man, he depicted certain corners of the contemporary reality as few other poets could do. His poetry was not as well-known as his films outside Italy