RWF (1945 – 1982)

Among numerous semantic whirlpools to which Fassbinder’s film exposes the viewers – the relationship between Franz and Reinhold is the most intriguing and intellectually challenging, even more than Franz’ relationship with Eva, Mieze, Lina or Meck, his resistance to participate in workers’ politico-economic struggle, his “political conservatism”, his “idealism” or history of his “moral” struggle with himself, and many other topics, issues and enigmas.

The film becomes more and more relevant to the situation in US in the beginning of 21st century when mass pauperization of population (becoming less and less liberally educated) helps to reduce psychological life to basic archetypes of feelings and thinking. Fassbinder demonstrates that these “Biblical” archetypes of perception of the world and behavior are still very far from being understood as they form and express themselves in an atmosphere of psycho-cultural fascization characteristic of the 1920’s when the events of “Berlin Alexanderplatz” takes place.

RWF (to the right), Gunter Lamprecht/Franz Biberkopf (in the center) and Xaver Schwarzenberger (the cameraman)

Franz (Gunter Lamprecht) and Mieze (Barbara Sukova)

Franz and Reinhold, the “eternal couple” of Western civilization

Reinhold (Gottfried John) and Mieze (Barbara Sukova) in the fatal forest

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Franz and Reinhold, Reinhold and Franz, each thinks himself superior to the other. Objectively, Franz is emotionally stronger, more confident in his feelings, much deeper rooted ontologically, while Reinhold is less stable, more impulsive, needs violence to protect himself against Franz’s power of being.

Franz talks to God-Father, to the God-Son and to the Holy Spirit through metaphorical vehicles of beer, schnapps and personal experience

Reinhold sees Franz in prison where they have to pretend they don’t know each other

Relationships between Franz and Reinhold are paradigmatic for the human culture. It is a moral distance between Gandhi and Churchill, Allende and Pinochet, Kennedy and Nixon, Bukharin and Stalin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and “survivalists by any means” under totalitarian regimes. And it is a spiritual distance between people like Samuel Clemens, William Faulkner, Godard or Fassbinder and craftsmen exchanging entertainment for enterpayment. Relationships between Franz and Reinhold are modeled on the relationship between archetypal (not doctrinal) Good and Evil.

It is relationships between those who are ontologically (not by dogma) prone to feel existential goodness as their frame of reference, even when they do some evil, and those who spontaneously tend to feel unity with the Evil (who know deep inside that they are on the side of the Evil) even when they do some Good. Well, the matter here is psychologically tricky. If, for example, Hitler or Stalin were quite conscious that they did Evil for the sake of what they believed is Good (promotion of the interests of superior race over inferior ones, of the “shining truth” of communist agenda over the “wrongs of imperialism”, or the right of the “best ever” political system to “transform” the “wrong” ones), people like Cheney or Bush-Junior can sincerely believe that their monstrous behaviors are not immoral at all but outright good because the borders between different segments of their psyche are messed up (such non-differentiation between Good and Evil is typical of the people with a lagging psychological and intellectual development who believe in Evil as normal people believe in Good, for whom the infantile nature of their way of believing transforms everything they touch into Good). But Franz Biberkopf and Reinhold Hoffmann are not only ideal types about whom it is possible to make generalizations anchored in the philosophical ability of both characters to be honest with themselves – to know, to feel their own essence. They both, even taken naively, as human beings and not personages of work of art, have reached a level of psychological wholeness – they both have an identity – they know when their motivations and reactions are morally right or wrong.

Whatever Franz does, and sometimes he does terrifying things, he knows that he is answerable to Good, responsible in front of it, and he suffers for his inability to sustain this responsibility. He knows that he is a sinner but his frame of reference is the scale of Goodness. And whatever Reinhold does he knows that he is lost for Good, that he is abandoned by it, and he suffers by being alone – with Evil. It is Reinhold’s genius – to understand that he is on the side of…

Posted on March 26, 2011 –   Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1982) – Franz and Reinhold, the “Eternal Couple” of Western Civilization  by Acting-Out Politics