30 November 2009

The white ribbon: a review

The 150 minutes long black&white film portrays a repressed society in a small German village just before the beginning of WWI. Although there is no central story, the film does not feel as long as it is because it manages to capture the spectators' attention who are seeking to comprehend every little detail in it. Even staring at the closed door, for what seems a long time, listening to childrens' screams, while they are being caned in a ritual punishment ordeal by their father (the priest), is not boring and makes you wonder. A society where almost nobody dares question the status quo be it patriarchical, feudal, religious, or sexual sadistic. Things are they way they are and must remain so, most villagers think. There is no escape from tyranny, work for the Baron is the only option available, and fun is only permitted when the Baron says so. One must feel guilty at all occasions: in school, at home, at work, in the church. Love, if it exists, is only in moderation and must not be seen or acknowledged.

Where are members of such a society led to? No wonder, they become torturers, killers, abusers, repressed individuals. Some of them have no choice because they have never been permitted to show their anger even as little kids. This anger grows and grows and, in the end, we know what happens: The little child will become the Nazi killer later on (no the film does not go there, but it clearly suggests so).

Yes, there are unresolved mysteries in the film, we wonder who did this hideous things, we start suspecting, and, in the end, perhaps we know. But this is not the point of the film. The film is not about trying to find the culprits as it has been suggested in many reviews. This is a secondary point, one that, if you wish, you can see in this way, but you'll be missing the central idea which is a bit more subtle. Or you can ponder on it later...

What I find most interesting in the film is not so much the direct punishment itself, but rather the implicit suppression of all kinds of things, including your thoughts, your opinions, your expressions... You are not allowed to even have a thought that may be different from the one imposed upon you by the feudal or religious establishment. If you do, you better hang yourself. There are, fortunately, survivors of this, and the narrator himself, the teacher of the village, is a rational person, one who will express what he feels and thinks. Fortunately for him, and for everybody else, deus ex machina in the form of WWI comes to provide a kind of cleansing: there is no other way for this society to heal itself other than be destroyed. Thus, the narrator, never has to go through the painful process of exposing his findings. He is saved.

The film is a psychological masterpiece. In it we can see all kinds of human emotions and acts: anger, revenge, love, repression, humiliation, pride, subordination, perversion, faith, exasperation, hope,.... We can take a look at what has happened, time and again, happens and will happen in human societies. And we can learn that, unless we question those out there who tell us how to think, when to laugh or cry, what to believe and how to behave, we will constribute, especially if this happens en masse, to our self-destruction.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds good, will have to add to my practically-infinite to-watch list.



What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant