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samedi, 05 septembre 2015

Lars von Trier’s The Idiots


Lars von Trier’s The Idiots

The Idiots (Idioterne) is not an accessible film, and neither is it is easy to digest. The sexual content is so extreme that The Idiots is rated the same as any pornographic film in the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Norway, and several others. The depiction of mentally disabled individuals, both real and those merely acting as such, is alarming and controversial. During the screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, film critic Mark Kermode was removed from the venue for exclaiming, ‘Il est merde!’ He was responding less to the actual quality of the film, and more to its remarkably provocative and unsettling subject matter.

TheIdiots-213x300.jpgLars von Trier, of course, thrives on such reactions. His aim is to disturb and unnerve, to stir the viewer out of his seat and out of his comfort zone. This is done not simply for the ‘shock value’ in itself, as there is no legitimate artistic worth in managing to provoke or enrage the audience; instead this is done in order to communicate something through the shocking material. By knocking the viewer out of his ordinary perspective, where everything is comfortably perceived and organized according to a familiar worldview, Lars von Trier can assault him with a new perspective, a new challenge that might threaten his old way of viewing reality.

This is truer of The Idiots than any other LvT film, and that includes the psychological horror of Antichrist and the raw sexual trauma of Nymphomaniac. This is due to the highly abrasive nature of the film’s narrative, which tells the story of a group of people who act like they are mentally retarded as a form of rebellion against what they understand to be a constrictive, conformist, and sterilizing society. Their antics, which they call ‘spazzing,’ include going into town to sell Christmas ornaments that they have made, going to the pool to create mischief with the other swimmers, and eating at restaurants only to spazz and leave without paying.

It is during the last antic that the group comes into contact with Karen, a seemingly ordinary person who becomes drawn and intimately attached to the spazz community over the next two weeks. Karen initially provides the neutral perspective of the group, the backdrop of normality to their witting insanity; she is very curious, though, and constantly questions the reasoning behind their activities, allowing the viewer to get a keener understanding of what they do. She firstly represents the ignorant audience who nevertheless desire to know more, but later, as we will see, she represents the fulfilment of the ‘spazz way of life.’

The group is led by a man named Stoffer, who is clearly the one who takes their mission the most seriously, ostensibly giving it an ideological basis and a higher cause than merely acting like idiots. Karen asks Stoffer why they do what they do, and Stoffer replies, ‘In the stone age all the idiots died. It doesn’t have to be like that nowadays. Being an idiot is a luxury, but it is also a step forward. Idiots are the people of the future. If one can find the one idiot that happens to be one’s own idiot . . .’ Stoffer finds in idiocy an outlet for what bourgeois society has repressed or camouflaged, namely a kind of personal creativity that does not accord with social normalcy. It is a new freedom, one which was obviously unavailable in a more brutal time, but which is presently imperative in an era that prizes comfort, material luxury, and ostracizes everything that is not conducive to ‘making one’s way in the world,’ i.e., becoming rich and popular. Stoffer asks meaningfully, ‘What’s the idea of a society that gets richer and richer when it doesn’t make anyone happier?’ Stoffer’s idea is instead to make one happier regardless of riches.

The means of achieving this are chiefly to ‘find the one idiot that happens to be one’s own idiot,’ a demonstrably individualistic and interiorized path that cannot help but hearken back to the Dionysian nature of the Breaking the Waves heroine, Bess. The idea is to determine the other side of oneself, the side that society has dispelled and rejected from its embrace. It is in this sense that we are reminded of C. G. Jung’s conception of the ‘shadow,’ or the secret personality that is imbued with our darker elements, with everything that has been evicted from and cannot fit into conscious life. Stoffer’s aim is essentially to reconcile modern man with his shadow self in a radical way; he aims to reintegrate man with his inner darkness to create something that is once again whole, independent of outer definitions and social parameters. When one character wakes him up, telling him that another spazzer is breaking things on the property, Stoffer responds, ‘Sheds are bourgeois crap. Smashing windows is obviously part of Axel’s inner idiot.’ The smashing of windows is an act that is socially reprehensible, but, since it allegedly exists as part of Axel’s ‘inner idiot,’ his ‘shadow self,’ it is perfectly acceptable in spazzer society.

This opposition between consciousness and the shadow is present not only in the individual sense, where the characters play out this drama in themselves, but in the collective sense as well. What this means is that the bourgeoisie, which is invariably treated as a great evil and as something to be rebelled against, represents the conscious side, and the spazzer society represents the shadow side; they are the ‘reservoir of darkness’ that has spilled out from respectable society, and has come to life after society has failed to suppress it. They even use society’s own tools against it, inverting the logic of social machinations to serve immoral ends. In one scene, for example, Stoffer has one of the spazzers pretend to have tripped over a loose cobblestone near a well-to-do homeowner’s property, then pesters the man to pay them off in order to avoid a lawsuit. When the wealthy man asks whether the spazzer didn’t simply trip on his own rather than a loose stone, Stoffer answers, ‘Are you saying they drag their feet? that they are clumsy?,’ which forces the man to retreat, unwilling to be responsible for anything that might be considered ‘politically incorrect.’ Stoffer considers this to be a victory over the ‘fascist’ system that he hates, contemptuously gazing into its soul and mocking it.

There are other scenes, too, that reveal other ‘victorious’ moments against other, more typical members of society. The house where they are staying, for example, is that of Stoffer’s uncle, who has entrusted Stoffer to sell it. When he visits the house, he remarks that he take better care of it, saying that, ‘These floors have been waxed every day for fifty years,’ which of course exemplifies the hated bourgeois attitude. Later on, coming into possession of caviar, Stoffer shows his group how to ‘eat it the way they eat caviar in Soelleroed [their town],’ stuffing it into his mouth as though he were a child eating chocolate. Allured by the antics of her new friends, Karen also learns to spazz, and though she meaningfully does not participate to the same extent as the others, she says that, ‘We’re so happy here. I’ve no right to be so happy.’

II (Major Spoilers)

The ‘paradise’ of Soelleroed is largely an illusion, however, as the final third of the film reveals. It is in these segments that the real darkness of the shadow comes out, which altogether reflects the failure of Stoffer’s mission to reconcile it with their conscious lives. This is as manifest in Stoffer himself as in any of the others. In one scene, for instance, a city official arrives at the house to offer them a government grant and a new location where they might stay, somewhere that is further away from normal society and which therefore makes it harder for them to intrude upon normal people. Stoffer of course reacts violently to this, ripping off his clothes and chasing the official all the way back to town naked, screaming ‘Fascist! fascist!’ the whole time. The others drag him back to the house, but they have to physically restrain him, strapping him to a bed overnight as he has reverted to a purely irrational state, succumbing to an episode that was formerly merely an act.

Another character, too, after the girl he fell in love with is stolen away from the house by her father, chases after him, running into his car, gesturing wildly and speaking nonsense. Affected so deeply by his feeling for her, he is no longer able to bridge the gap between his conscious self and the primitive he used to play at but has now become reality. This is not a successful integration between consciousness and the shadow; this is the conquest of the former by the latter, resulting in the personality regressing to something animalistic and instinctual. Stoffer’s experimentation in human happiness has failed, because there is no longer anything human in his subjects.

There are more obvious instances of this darkness, too. After the night which Stoffer spends in straps, they have a party, and at the end of the party he requests a gangbang. Most of his fellows willingly participate, but some do not; this leads Stoffer and another to chase one of the unwilling women down, essentially raping her in a violently disturbing scene of spazz sex. It is significant that Karen retreats from this scene altogether, abstaining from the evil that has infiltrated the rest of the ‘shadow group.’ It is even more significant that she is not raped, for she has maintained her own sense of self in contradistinction to the others; her personality is still intact while those of the others have been overwhelmed and utterly ransacked of their humanity.

Nearing the end of the film, Stoffer comes to doubt the sincerity of his fellow idiots, suspecting that this is all just some sort of game to them. He orders them to play ‘spin the bottle,’ with whomever the bottle points at having to demonstrate his commitment to the cause by spazzing in ‘real life’ places such as at work or at home with the wife and kids. The first fails completely, refusing to spazz in front of his family; he elects a normal life instead of the idiot life and the mistress he kept among them. The second opts to spazz in front of an art class he will be teaching, but he fails as well, causing Stoffer to storm out of the class, saying, ‘You love this middle class crap. These old dames use more make-up than the national theatre.’ The teacher, Henrik, says, ‘I had no pride in my inner idiot.’ The shadow self was just an illusion for them, something to play at in an insubstantial expression of inward identity.

Stoffer himself comes no closer to the reconciliation between the shadow and the ego. Instead of being the romantic and anarchic hero revolting against the oppressive bourgeois system that he likes to consider himself, he  is infact a representation of it in its inverted sense; he is the ‘other side of the same coin,’ reflecting the absence of a genuine morality that extends to both the ‘middle class’ and the bohemian individualism. His ethos is fundamentally the same as that of his bourgeois uncle: ‘In reality, the acceptance of the shadow-side of human nature verges on the impossible. Consider for a moment what it means to grant the right of existence to what is unreasonable, senseless, and evil! Yet it is just this that the modern man insists upon. He wants to live with every side of himself — to know what he is. That is why he casts history aside. He wants to break with tradition so that he can experiment with his life and determine what value and meaning things have in themselves, apart from traditional presuppositions’ (C. G. Jung, ‘Psychotherapists or the Clergy’).

Stoffer is the epitome of the ‘modern man’ in that he wants to throw off all social inhibitions, not merely those of the 20th Century middle class, but the entire framework of human society. His revolt is the same as the student and hippy revolts of the sixties, revolts which were ultimately codified into the same bourgeois vassals that they originally reacted against. This is what makes Stoffer the superficial counterpart to the bourgeoisie; this is what makes him its useful idiot.

Karen is the only one who  volunteers to spazz in her own life. Taking along her friend Suzanne for company, Karen returns to her home, somewhere she has not been for two weeks. We soon learn that her son had died, and that her son’s funeral was the day after she joined the group. Her husband comes home, and they sit down to eat – and Karen drools and dribbles at her food, which causes her family to stare, and her husband to hit her. Suzanne takes her hand, and they leave together, smiling naively, innocently.

Earlier in the film, Karen says to Stoffer, ‘I just want to be able to understand why I’m here,’ to which he replies, ‘Perhaps because there is a little idiot in there that wants to come out and have some company.’ While that is true in a certain, limited sense, it is truer to say that Karen’s ‘little idiot’ needed to come out to save her conscious self. Besieged by an impossible grief and a mother’s mourning, Karen’s ego longed for an escape route from the world’s immense difficulty. That she alone found it amongst all the idiots testifies both to the extent of her trauma and her extraordinary capability of dealing with it; she alone could make real sense of what the idiots were only playing at. Their reactions (aside from Stoffer, who was overcome by his own shadow) were conditioned by their belonging to the bourgeois order, something from which they recoiled in theory, but which they nevertheless could not do without; Karen’s reaction, on the other hand, was conditioned by a more profound disorder, which demanded an extreme process in order to be able to cope with it. Her struggle was far more real than that of the others, which is why she was the only one to find the solution to it.

The Idiots reveals both the positive and the negative scenarios that are the consequence of a Dionysiac revolt against the Apollonian dream-world. In order to ‘revolt successfully,’ to truly indulge in Dionysian fruit, the individual’s actions must be founded on something universally real that transcends particular circumstances; he must determine himself based on who he really is rather than merely a perception or a projection of who he is. This is where most of the idiots failed: ‘The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge’ (C. G. Jung, Aion). The idiots never really became conscious of their shadow; they acted it out either as a meaningless game that allowed them an illusion of rebellion against their bourgeois lives, or, in the case of Stoffer, as a license to perform whatever irrational and pernicious acts that occurred to him, as long as they did not agree with the prevailing social order. They never addressed the shadow as a ‘moral problem,’ as something that directly influences the person; they addressed it as a ‘social problem,’ and thus remained chained to the illusions of Apollo’s dream-world.

Karen alone represents Dionysus as the purveyor of dynamic, uninhibited truth. She refused the moral violations of the other idiots, she refused their pretensions of abandoning society, and she refused their needless and unlawful interdictions with the rest of the town; in a word, Karen rejected rejection, and she did so because her rebellion was founded on an affirmation of self rather than on its negation. Unlike Stoffer, who loses control when he is confronted with that which he hates and fears most (the bourgeois city official), Karen maintains perfect control as she releases her inner idiot in front of her family, again exemplifying a personal command that eluded the others.

Speaking of her return home, where she demonstrates her restored personal strength, she says to the idiots, ‘We’ll see if I can show you if it has all been worthwhile.’ This follows a farewell in which Karen expresses an open, authentic love for many of the idiots, and repeats her avowal of happiness to have been amongst them.  Karen’s family, cold, unfeeling, and uncomprehending of what it must be for a mother to lose her son, failed to ease her grief; it was only in her introspection, the confrontation with her ‘inner idiot’ as a lifeboat that carries her from the drowning ego, that actually saves the ego. By acknowledging her despair in this radical context, she could dilute and eventually sublimate it into something far more positive, to the extent that, all things considered, she does not even know why or how she can be so happy. In this sense, the freedom of Dionysus is attained not as a rejection of Apollo, but as a victorious affirmation of the reconciliation between the unconscious and the conscious; while the rest of the idiots founded their shadow-search on a rejection of Apollo, Karen had to be rejected by him instead. This is what led to her final freedom; this is what made it all worthwhile.

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jeudi, 14 juillet 2011

Lars von Trier & the Men Among the Ruins

Lars von Trier & the Men Among the Ruins

By John Morgan 

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

lars-von-trier.jpgThe flap caused in May 2011 at the Cannes Film Festival by Danish film director Lars von Trier is no doubt destined to share the same fate as other racial-toned public outbursts from celebrities in recent years, when the lies hiding the realities of modern life in the West are momentarily torn back so that the tensions lying underneath are savagely revealed. I am thinking, of course, of such incidents as the Michael Richards “nigger” incident at a comedy club in 2006 or Mel Gibson’s drunken “Jew” outburst to a policeman during the same year, among others.

Like all sensational news stories, they flare up briefly (but brightly) and then vanish without a trace into the enormous dustbin of forgotten tidbits of popular culture – until they are needed by some group to remind everyone of what an awful human being the perpetrator is. The celebrity in question apologizes profusely, supplicates himself and begs for forgiveness, and then usually does some sort of penance in terms of public service, religious counseling and/or rehab. We’re all well familiar with the drill by now.

Of course, other than the fact that they are committed by celebrities, there is nothing particularly significant about any of these incidents, especially considering that similar remarks are made by millions of ordinary people every day. And I myself don’t usually see much value in analyzing them for deeper significance. However, in the case of von Trier, I think it’s worth taking a closer look.

For those who don’t keep up with the doings of the European film world, von Trier was at Cannes in May to present his latest film, Melancholia. I have been unable to see it yet, but it’s an end-of-the-world story which apparently contains a lot of Wagner and influence from German Romanticism. Being an admirer of both, it certainly sounds worth viewing.I generally prefer von Trier’s earlier work, which was quite thoughtful and haunting, as opposed to his more recent films, which tend to delve too much into degeneracy and effects designed purely to shock the audience, and even outright pornography. Perhaps Melancholia will be an exception.

During a press conference, von Trier was asked about the influence of German Romanticism on the film, and he went off on a long and rambling digression [2] which included, among other topics, statements about his sympathy for Hitler and Albert Speer and during which he even claimed to be a Nazi. He also stated that he had “thought he was a Jew and then found out that he was a Nazi,” a reference to the fact that he had grown up believing that his father was a Jew only to be told as an adult that this man was not his actual father, and that his biological father was, in fact, a German Catholic. He was quick to disassociate himself from any perceptions of racist connotations in his remarks, saying that he had nothing against Jews (although he referred to Israelis as a “pain in the ass”).

The Festival, eager to prove its credentials within the ranks of the police of political correctness, overreacted as quickly as possible, declaring him persona non grata, despite ever-increasingly fawning apologies and retractions from von Trier in subsequent statements to the press. (Amusingly, he attempted to pass the whole thing off as his misunderstood “Danish sense of humor.”)

I do emphasize that von Trier’s remarks should not be taken at face value. This is not the first time that he has created a stir through outrageous behavior at Cannes, and it’s entirely possible that this was a publicity stunt to generate interest in the film that may or may not have backfired (von Trier has not seemed particularly upset by Cannes’ reaction). Even if his remarks were not preplanned, it’s unwise to read too much into off-the-cuff statements made by artists.

One is reminded that even Salvador Dali once praised Hitler as a “Surrealist innovator,” which caused him to be rejected by André Breton and the Surrealist establishment – not that it did much to hurt Dali’s reputation. Artists, by nature, understand the world in poetic terms, and through analogy or empathy with the extremes of existence. Thus to read any sort of genuine political conviction into von Trier’s words would be a serious mistake.

Still, when I read about the affair, I couldn’t help but to remember his one film – my personal favorite of all his works – that actually does deal with the subject of Nazism and Germany in considerable depth – his 1991 film Europa [3]. The film was initially renamed Zentropa for its North American release, to avoid having it confused with the Holocaust film Europa, Europa which was also in circulation at the time. Zentropa is the name von Trier continues to use for his own production company to the present.

(I should warn readers that my discussion requires that I describe certain elements of the plot, and if like me you prefer to not know the plot of a film prior to viewing it, then you might wish to do so before reading the rest of this essay.)


LvTEuropePoster.jpgEuropa is about a young American man born of German immigrants, Leopold Kessler, who travels to occupied Germany in late 1945, just a few months after the end of the war – an idealist and pacifist who, having deserted the American military during the conflict, now sees it as his mission to “show a little kindness to Germany” in order to “make the world a better place.”

His uncle reluctantly finds him a job as a sleeping car conductor for the Zentropa Railways, a venerable old company which, like the rest of industrialized Germany, suffered near-total devastation during the war, and which now struggles for acceptance by kowtowing to the victorious Allies. While working on the train, Leopold meets Zentropa’s heiress, Katharina Hartmann (Hartmann was the name of von Trier’s biological father), and they quickly fall in love, drawing Leopold into the heart of the ongoing conflict between the Germans and their American occupiers.

Europa is a brilliantly understated work. When one compares it to the clumsily obvious Hollywood films of today, it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Von Trier dared to set it in the same ruined landscape as two cinema classics which were actually made while the ruins of the Axis were still smoldering – Roberto Rossellini’s 1948 film Germany Year Zero, which is about a young boy trying to survive in the ruins of Berlin (there is even a passing reference to it when Europa’s unseen narrator, Max von Sydow, refers to 1946 as “Year One”), and Carol Reed and Orson Welles’ 1949 film The Third Man, which examines the criminal underworld of occupied Vienna. Even though Europa was made more than 40 years after these films, it holds its own and clearly draws from these predecessors.

As in Germany Year Zero and The Third Man, the particular events of the war and the Third Reich are never openly referenced or discussed – you will never hear the word “Hitler,” for instance – but they permeate every scene, so much a part of the background that they become as silent, yet omnipresent, as the camera itself.

In true noir fashion, Europa is filmed mostly in black-and-white, and every moment of the film takes place at night. The film was also unique for its time in that some scenes show color and black-and-white simultaneously, an effect achieved in the pre-digital 1991 through the use of back-projections.

For the purposes of this essay, however, I do not wish to focus on the film’s artistic brilliance and technique so much as its story. The plot hinges upon Leopold being unintentionally and meekly thrown into the middle of a conflict between the Werewolves, the American occupation forces, and the Hartmann family, which dutifully supported the Nazis during the war – including, we are told, in transporting Jews to the concentration camps – and is now attempting to ingratiate themselves with the occupiers.

Simultaneously, we get glimpses of the struggling German population, unconcerned with political matters as they simply try to find a way to survive in the devastated land. The results of Allied bombing are shown to have been truly horrific. Snow falls inside a church that has had its roof blown off. Nearly every wall in Germany seems to have holes blasted in it. It is the Germany of Savitri Devi’s Gold in the Furnace [5] and Defiance [6], which describe her experiences in Germany in the immediate post-war era, when life for ordinary Germans was a daily humiliation, and when the legacy of the National Socialist period was still fresh and German attitudes had not yet settled into the imitative political correctness that prevails there today.

The Werewolves were a paramilitary force developed during the final months of the Third Reich that was intended to fight the Allies from behind enemy lines, in uniform, as they advanced through Germany. They were named after a group of German guerrillas from the Thirty Years’ War in a novel of the same name by Hermann Löns.

In desperation, however, Propaganda Minister Goebbels began making radio broadcasts in which he claimed that the Werewolves were an underground insurgency comprised of ordinary Germans who would fight using guerilla tactics while blending in with the population. In fact, this was a myth, and while such claims succeeded in making the occupiers even more suspicious of the Germans than they otherwise might have been, most historians agree that the Werewolves never amounted to anything significant, and that they evaporated following Germany’s surrender. (According to the records of the Western Allies, not a single Allied soldier was killed as a result of enemy action following the surrender.)

Only one historian, Perry Biddiscombe, has written two books (Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946 [7] and The Last Nazis: SS Werewolf Guerrilla Resistance in Europe 1944 [8] [8]1947 [8]) in which he shows evidence that elements of the Werewolves continued to create mischief for the Allies for several years after the war, although even he admits that this never amounted to a genuine threat. Biddiscombe does try to show, however, that the Werewolves represented the reemergence of a genuinely radical form of National Socialism which had been suppressed following their accession to power in 1933, and which also laid the groundwork for what would later become neo-Nazism.

The Werewolves depicted in Europa are those of Goebbels’ imagination. They seem to possess a nationwide network, and the Americans are clearly very worried about them. During the course of the film they carry out two spectacular attacks. The first is a highly fictionalized version of the assassination of Franz Oppenhoff, who was appointed by the Allies to be the mayor of Aachen following its occupation, although in reality he was killed by Werewolf operatives in March 1945, while the war was still going on, rather than in the aftermath, as shown here.

In another interesting twist, von Trier changes the mayor’s name to “Ravenstein,” implying that, rather like the Southern states which were forced to accept Black judges in the period following the Civil War, the Allies are attempting to humiliate the Germans by imposing Jewish political leaders upon them. Oppenhoff was actually not Jewish.

Leopold eventually learns that the woman he loves, Katharina, is also a Werewolf (as well as a practicing Catholic), and she becomes their mouthpiece in the film. She tells Leopold that the Werewolves are “only fighting for their country, as most of the world has been doing,” and describes how it was the humiliation of her father by the Americans that drove her to join them. Given the way that the American occupiers are shown, it’s difficult not to sympathize with her words.

American soldiers are seen throughout the film, although there is only one who we get to know in any detail: Colonel Harris, who is trying to save his friend Max Hartmann’s reputation as well as recruit Leopold into spying on the Werewolves. He is arrogant and contemptuous of the German people, as Americans are frequently viewed through European eyes, and brags about having “bombed [the Germans] to pieces.”

The Americans are shown dynamiting the dockyard cranes of I. G. Farben – ostensibly to prevent the return of German military might, but in reality simply to remove German competitors.  We see American soldiers breaking up a funeral and attempting to seize the coffin because it is in violation of curfew. We see the Americans administering the infamous Fragebogen (questionnaire), the test designed to determine how complicit with the Nazis a particular individual has been (or “to test the guilt of the country,” as Max von Sydow tells us), and which must be reviewed and approved by “a member of the resistance or a Jew” – not something that was historically true, as far as I know, but which von Trier adds to increase the sense of the humiliation being inflicted upon the defeated. (In a wonderful bit of irony, von Trier himself plays the Jew who is forced to review the Fragebogen for the Americans in order to be pardoned from a prison term for stealing food.)

While it cannot be said that the Werewolves are shown in a positive light, they certainly end up looking heroic in opposition to the Americans, who are repeatedly shown to be deeply sinister and cruel. Given the fact that the United States continues to maintain military bases in Germany even today, it appears that von Trier wishes his audience to view Germany – and, by extension, Europe, as the film’s title suggests – as a nation suffering colonial domination by America. As such, the Germany of Europa is symbolic of the fate of Europe since 1945, with the Nazis cast in the unlikely role of anti-imperialist resistance fighters (and this is precisely how Strasserites, the Left wing of the Nazi movement, always saw it). The implications of this are intriguing

America’s role in Europa is entirely in keeping with the views of Francis Parker Yockey, Julius Evola, Jean Thiriart, and later, the thinkers of the European New Right: Coca-Colonialism, in which Europe is being deprived of its independence and identity in order to be converted into an outlet for American economic interests. This, for me, is the most fascinating aspect of Europa. While Leftist opposition to American influence in Europe is a common trope, I can think of no other film which depicts it from a Right-wing perspective. In this sense, the film is entirely in keeping with an Identitarian or traditionalist worldview.

A particularly powerful scene follows the death of Ravenstein, when one of his assassins, a young boy, finds himself alone, holding a small pistol while he faces two American soldiers armed with rifles. A moment later, we hear the gunfire that kills him. For me, this is a poetic representation of traditional Europe’s fate in the post-war world – weak, and practically unarmed, trying to stand up single-handed to the enormity of American might.

Then there is the Hartmann family. Max Hartmann, the head of the family as well as of Zentropa itself, and a practicing Catholic, supported the Nazis during the Third Reich. He seems to remain unashamed of his past, but at the same time he recognizes the need to gain the support of the Americans, and as a result is forced to swallow his German pride.

This must have been the tragic plight of most Germans after the war, not wanting to believe that all of their sacrifice and struggle had been in vain but at the same time recognizing that they had been left at the mercy of their conquerors. Unfortunately, that has led to the tyranny of self-deprecation and ethnomasochism (to use Faye’s term) that dominates today, and which, as the great German film director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg has pointed out, has caused Germans to find themselves missing a past, since everything in their culture from before 1945 has been judged complicit in the crimes of the Nazis.

I would not view Europa as a call for the defense of the German identity, however, since von Trier also assumes a somewhat mocking tone in his portrayal of the Germans, who all exhibit a mania for duty, procedure, and precision which often crosses over into the ridiculous, as the common stereotype of the German character would have it. There is also a brief shot of Jewish inmates being transported to a concentration camp, as if to remind us not to sympathize too much with the Germans’ plight. Still, overall, the Germans, while occasionally seeming absurd and off-putting, are ultimately depicted sympathetically, especially in contrast with Leopold’s bumbling ignorance of the world around him.

This brings us to Leopold himself. Leopold wishes to remain aloof from everything apart from his own idealism. He has no sympathy for either the Nazis or the power games of the occupiers, but imagines that he can be a force for good, untouched by the corruption around him. Ultimately, he is destroyed by his own inability to take a side, and creates yet more devastation.

Leopold represents the type of American idealism which led to the public’s initial support for the Iraq War: he wishes to do good, and imagines that he can remain incorruptible, but simply ends up being used as a tool by powers he doesn’t understand, a situation made possible by his inability to understand the complexities of the world outside America. He is a victim of the “mental AIDS” described by Guillaume Faye in his book Why We Fight [9], embracing a forced optimism which blinds him to the existential threats all around him.

Yet Leopold’s primary problem is not his ignorance. As von Trier shows us, Leopold’s ultimate crime is that he is unwilling to take sides. In one scene, a Catholic priest tells Leopold that for God, the most important thing is that individuals fight wholeheartedly for a cause. When Leopold points out that, in war, this is a difficult position, since both sides believe equally in their cause, the priest responds that the only sin that God cannot forgive is the sin of the unbeliever, quoting the Bible to support his contention (Revelation 3:16: “So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”).

This statement, undoubtedly stemming from von Trier’s own conversion to Catholicism, forms the underlying theme of the entire film: it is unbelief that is the real plague leading to the downfall of Europe and the West. Not just unbelief in the cause of defending the traditions of our people, but belief in the divine, which is an essential element of any genuine restoration of Western, or any other, culture. Belief is what links us to the transcendent, and allows us to view our lives in a context which goes beyond the petty and transient political squabbles of our day and the mere fulfillment of our material desires.

Without this perspective, like Leopold, we may be well-intentioned but are ultimately doomed to destruction. “It seems to me that you are the only criminal,” Katharina tells Leopold when he points out that he’s not working for the Americans or the Nazis. This is why, at the film’s conclusion, Leopold lashes out angrily against the world in what is actually his only independent action in the entire story, by exploding a bomb placed by the Werewolves on his train – not to further the Werewolves’ objectives, but simply out of selfish anger and frustration.  Ironically, he then brings about the very kind of destruction that he had sought to rectify in coming to Germany – as well as his own death.

If I were to summarize why Europa should be of interest to Rightists and traditionalists, it would be with this point: for the believers in Tradition to survive in the age of Kali-Yuga, or the age of degradation, we must wake up to how the materialistic powers-that-be wish to exploit us, and then embrace a belief which will empower us to resist the forces of nihilism that surround us. Otherwise, we will be complicit in it.

Europa is not primarily about Nazis versus Americans, or even about American cultural imperialism. It is a morality tale about a modern man struggling against nihilism, who loses. It is not enough to only engage in the temporary problems of our time, whether they be political or racial or whatever. We must also embrace the transcendent, the sacred, in some form, and it only with this power that we can withstand the continuing onslaught of the postmodern world, and find our ethical bearings in a world that is rapidly transforming all around us – and not for the better. The final shot of the film – of a drowned corpse floating past a partially-ruined city – is symbolic of European man today: the moving dead, dwelling in the ruined and occupied legacy of ancestors who were far greater than they.

I feel that I have only scratched the surface of Europa, which will surely yield even more depth under intense scrutiny, but my primary purpose in writing this is to encourage Counter-Currents readers to experience what has become a very rare thing – a genuinely European work of art, and one which reaffirms rather than undermines European identity and belief in the sacred, as opposed to Hollywood’s typical dreck and its present-day imitators in Europe.

Again, I do not believe that this film is proof positive that von Trier is a Nazi sympathizer, or even necessarily “of the Right,” but it seems clear that the outlook in this film makes some crucial points, whether inadvertently or not, and he must feel some of the same revulsion at the state of modern Europe that Identitarians and traditionalists do – even if he refuses to take a public stand against it.

Europa [3] has been released on DVD by the Criterion Collection, and is easily obtainable through Amazon.com [3] and other outlets.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2011/07/lars-von-trier-and-the-men-among-the-ruins/

URLs in this post:

[1] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Europa2.jpg

[2] long and rambling digression: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LayW8aq4GLw

[3] Europa: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001GCATWK/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=countercurren-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=B001GCATWK

[4] Image: http://www.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Lars-Von-Trier21.jpg

[5] Gold in the Furnace: http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/06/gold-in-the-furnace/

[6] Defiance: http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/06/defiance/

[7] Werwolf!: The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0802008623/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=countercurren-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399369&creativeASIN=0802008623

[8] The Last Nazis: SS Werewolf Guerrilla Resistance in Europe 1944: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0752429671/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=countercurren-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=0752429671

[9] Why We Fight: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1907166181/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=countercurren-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399373&creativeASIN=1907166181

00:05 Publié dans Cinéma | Lien permanent | Commentaires (1) | Tags : cinéma, film, lars von trier | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook