Existentially Spiritual Path – Step 1: A Narcissistic Acting Ego; Step 2: Development Of A Critical Observing Ego; Step 3: Development of A Critical Observing Acting Ego; Step Back: Creation Of A Delirious Ideology; Step 4: Revelation Of The Truth

Family life

Attempt to sell the factory. Meeting Felix

Our “realizable utopia” was about fundamental structural changes in feeling and thinking… It forced us to confront power relations in love and in life… At the same time it was always clear that if we wanted to analyze something, perhaps even destroy it, this could not happen at the cost of style… Style and form – everything rested on this. No style without morals, no morals without style… All Fassbinder’s films, although they always come from everyday histories, they are highly artificial constructs… Fassbinder consciously used every means at his disposal to prevent things feeling realistic… And to achieve this artificiality he had to steer totally clear of all psychological permeation of the dialogues by the actors.
Ingrid Caven, from “The Interview with Ingrid Caven” (Fassbinder’s actress, friend and spouse), in “Die Zeit”, May 24, 2007

To me every film is ultimately political.
RWF – “The Anarchy of the Imagination (Interviews, Essays, Notes)”, John Hopkins U. P., 1992, p. 133

A subjective treatment of literary material does more justice to the literary material than an objective one.
RWF, Ibid, p. 65

The film’s story is about a sensitive and a wealthy man who becomes “mad“. This madness, this kind of delirium is the inevitable element of any ideological outlook based on the belief in a common identity between members of the group tied by a common ideology who oppose themselves to all other human beings. The film analyses the mechanism of the main protagonist’s delirium by showing to us ourselves with our own naïve megalomania and inability to care for another human beings that are different from us. The fact that the story takes place in the beginning of German Nazism makes this film an important research into the totalitarian psychology.

This history of Hermann-Hermann’s mad involvement with the drifter Felix is a dark detour on his path to spiritual transformation, on his journey into Light.

This type of film (which pursues scrupulous analysis and elaborate meaning and is not oriented on thrilling effects) is not easy to make – so much semantic control over the smallest details of the narrative and the visual field is necessary to reach.

Fassbinder in his“Despair” analyzesthe universal phenomenon of psycho-ontological parasitism filled by political propaganda (flattering the general public as being equal to the rich) – appropriation not only of the energy, but of the very identity of poor and dependent people for the benefit of the decision-makers, when they use the poor for hard labor and in wars instead of themselves, as their proxies, for the sake of their fartherenrichment and self-aggrandizement.

Hermann became a victim of his metaphors. Like creators and followers of any political (propagandist) ideology, Hermann took the idea of common humanity between him and Felix in a fundamentalist way, like German Nazis took the idea of German people’s unity as that of German racial superiority. The idea of Felix as Hermann’s best self is the equivalent of what for Nazis was an aggrandized image of German Reich as a country superior to any other one.

Introduction: Fassbinder and “Despair”

In the beginning of filming Dirk Bogarde met with a difficulty in understanding the director’s ideas. “Rainer, – DB said to Fassbinder, – I cannot understand what you exactly want – through a translator. Please, help me.” From this very moment on…

…Fassbinder and Bogarde started communicate without a translator relying on their semantic intuition trained by the experience in creative work.

RWF directs Dirk Bogarde and the actor-director Bernard Wicki (in the role of insurance businessman Orlovius).

This photo was made for a friendly memory. At the end of shooting the film, at a farewell party Fassbinder told Dirk Bogarde that he learned from him what he had never observed before in any other actor – “mastery without a shade of fear”.

Fassbinder and Andrea Ferreol (Lydia) taking a break during filming

Eine Reise ins Licht (Journey into Light) – The Poster and Publicity Photos

This semantically penetrating poster of “Despair” represents the psychological essence of Hermann‘s existential posture vis-à-vis Felix, his found “double”. Hermann looks at the world as simultaneously as two realities – one is the ideal/mythological realm (his gaze, as if, directed above the horizon), and the other is the everyday life (his gaze is directed straightly ahead). But here we are faced with an additional complication. One of his human, non-metaphysical eyes (looking straight ahead) is closed by the razorblade – which signifies the fact that Hermann psychologically is not able to see the reality in front of his eyes – the fact that Felix looks absolutely different from Hermann, that there is no any resemblance in how they look. The razorblade as if cuts Felix’s existence as an independent person, with his own identity, from Hermann’s perception. In this inability to see the real Felix (through seeing “too sharply”, “too much” – what doesn’t exist, in creating, in his imagination, a delirious symbiosis with Felix (like Hitler and his cohorts did with the German people), Hermann repeats a mistake of all totalitarian systems suggesting that the rulers and the ruled, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, decision-makers and decision-followers are one, the unity, energies without contradiction. The poster also refers to Being – to the light behind Hermann’s head, which Hermann, occupied with his mythological constructions, turned away from. It is an ontological light of real life that people usually ignore because of our superstitiously manipulative posture vis-à-vis human life in the world (Hermann/we follow our delirious calculations of becoming more aggrandized through manipulation of the other people and the world instead of living free in the middle of the ontological sun-beams). But why the poster displays two Lydias? Isn’t it because one is Hermann’s (factual) and the other is his sublime wife – Felix’s (Hermann absurdly perceives Felix as his real self while perceiving himself as his own false one).

Here we see the “real Hermann” (in delirium of factual Hermann – Dirk Bogarde) who is Felix (Klaus Lowitsch), in Hermann’s cloth with Hermann’s wife Lydia. That’s how Hermann imagines himself and Lydia as a new couple.

Lydia is undressing (for sex) but she here also could be dressing (after sex) with the same degree of sexual appeal and sensual alertness.

Ardalion (Volker Spengler) – a “bohemian“ painter living off the rich couple (Hermann and Lydia) is represented here as separated from his benefactors, but his confident nudity shows that he has his own ways to detour the distance between rich and poor. Ardalion “loyally” waits for the moment to get the upper hand over Hermann and we can be sure that he will not waste it, but meantime he is not too bad painter.

Sophisticated philistinism and its psychological price

Playing with the water in the aquarium Hermann sarcastically analyzes his mother and women in general metaphorized for him in this moment by little fishes seen through the glass.

The boss (the head of the business – Hermann) and the clerk-manager (the body of the business – Muller [Peter Kern], not in Nazi uniform yet), both are separated from the “heart of business” (the office of the accountant Frau Schmidt [Lilo Pempeit: Liselotte Eder: RWF’s mother]).

Lydia is enjoying the picnic and the frank gazes of her cousin Ardalion, while Hermann is distracted by his problem of dissociation on a family man and a critical observer of this social role.

Having been carried by his wife (in their car) to the factory he owns, Hermann is kissing Lydia good buy, but she is already foretastes Ardalion’s visit. The composition of this shot suggests that Hermann is psychologically hiding from the world inside his marriage, that Lydia for him is a kind of a comfortable perfumed cave where he can forget what’s happening around.

The pattern on the internal glass walls of the luxurious flat frames the married couple as two flowers of a bouquet of their apartment’s fancy design and décor.

Hermann poses in front of Lydia in his new robe – he likes with her to be “masterful”, as she says about him. Fassbinder represents family life as a theater of poses for the unseen social audience (behind the walls) that tirelessly watches the spouses as marital protagonists.

Confused and troubled by being at odds with himself – his dissociation/ depersonalization on the person acting like the husband and on a critical observer of his own marital life, Hermann, while passionately making love with his wife, is observing himself without compassion and endorsement.

Hermann tries not to lose interest for a family life by imagining himself and Lydia in sado-masochistic situation. He already cannot take the “bloom of her carnality” as naively, as he did before.

And still, with Lydia Hermann never felt as trapped as we see in this shot which reflects another story – of Hermann’s relationship with his social “double” – Felix. Life with Lydia is “soft, milky and chocolady” where Hermann feels a bit suffocated, but never in panic. It is psychologically multifaceted relations with the other man will make Hermann not only “mad”, not only a criminal but a person who eventually will go through the ordeal of spiritual transformation.

Hermann more and more often sees himself in bed with Lydia as the meticulous master and her as the irresistible slave with the hope he will get kicks from it…

… and will be shaken out of his dissociation/depersonalization with the desire to return to the lap of spontaneous spouse-hood.

But by observing himself making love to his wife in endless combinations, configurations and plots Hermann still feels an unambiguous… shame for living in luxury when poverty, despair, fear and hate devastates the whole country like a hurricane.

Now Hermann caresses his wife but looks at himself sitting at the distant chair observing himself and Lydia in bed. It is the next step in the development of his mental dissociation when he already identifies not with position of married man, but with the position of an observer of his family life. Now he is interested in himself-the observer, not in himself-the actor. Soon his observing ego encouraged by his psychological telos will itself start to act in the world.

After the ritual of checking the quality of the chocolate every morning (“or it’s too bitter or not bitter enough”) Hermann is ready again to remember his mother who “died of diabetes from eating too much chocolate”. Pay attention to Muller in the background – already in Nazi uniform!

While Hermann is occupied with his feelings and thinking, Lydia with her innocent (meaningless) sexual affair, and the Germans with their suffering because of defeat in WWI and with “surviving”, Germany is giving birth to Nazism.

Two Lydias (two German ladies)

Lydia and the majority of German people are turning towards Nazism with smile of hope, expectation and collaboration…

…But when Germany as a country becomes Nazified the smile has transformed into a grimace of disgust and contempt for the rest of the world. Swastika becomes a tattoo on German soul.

Hermann’s unconscious attempt at curing his way of life split by the dissociation as a symptom – by developing a full blown delirium

Hermann is singing his life insurance policy while Lydia presides over the party. Does she have her own ideas about Hermann’s life insurance money, although it’s difficult to imagine?

Hermann and Lydia celebrate the signing of his life insurance papers.

Hermann meets Felix, a homeless tramp (the “aristocrat“ meets the “plebian“, the morally dirtied aristocrat meets the plebian with a pure soul, the moral plebian [Hermann] meets the pauper of moral aristocracy [Felix], the morally impoverished Hermann meets the morally upright Felix). Hermann meets Felix whom he unconsciously needs as a prop for self-aggrandizement. Hitler meets the German youth with blond hair and shining skin.

Hermann intuitively/unconsciously creates his delirium, as the Nazi leaders created their myth of German racial superiority – he invents his “propaganda ideology” of his and Felix similarity/identity, as the Nazis – their propaganda of racial superiority uniting the German powerful and powerless, the German rich and the poor as one nation: “one folk, one Reich, one Fuhrer”. And Hermann himself unconditionally believes in this propaganda as Nazi leaders did in their own ideology.

With absolute sincerity and an unwavering belief Hermann acts in front of Felix his play of their spiritual twin-hood, of Felix as his, Hermann, better self. He is recruiting Felix for his, Hermann’s, still unconscious goal of using Felix instead of himself – on the way to the glory for both of them, like Hitler did with the German population. Hermann wants to appropriate Felix’s purity and morality and project into him his own immorality of an egotistical person of petty vanity. No, Hermann will not sacrifice Felix – he will sacrifice himself and disinterestedly save Felix from his poverty and worthless existence.

Hermann opens in front of Felix his immediately crystallized delirium/myth, and Felix who has nothing, who doesn’t know will he find food tomorrow or not, is forced by hopelessness of his life to “collaborate” – to pretend that he also sees that he and Hermann have “the same face”, that they have a common destiny, like the pauperized Germans agreed with the ideology of racial superiority to save themselves from poverty and despair.

The more Felix is horrified by Hermann’s absurd claims the more he is desperate to accept his delirium as reality, like Germans accepted the belief in their superiority to save themselves from despair and hopelessness. Pauperization of the population (in today’s terms – austerity for the 98% of the people) is the first step towards fascization of people’s feelings and behavior. It is the frustrated people who become fascists. But Felix is much better than the majority. He stays as a victim to the end – he didn’t allow himself self-aggrandizing illusion. He is not only naturally intelligent, but is able to see his existential situation in spite of its horror. It is a historical tragedy that a person like Felix is doomed to become a pan in Hermann’s crazy game.

Hermann at the post-office to get the anonymous letter from Felix feels trapped and in danger for having “eccentric epistolary contact” with Felix. But Fassbinder recreates the atmosphere in post-office in the early days of Nazism as, simultaneously, that of a suspicion in the air and businesslike alertness. He characterizes the very air of Nazism as, at once, repressive and entrepreneurial. The people in the post-office are, as if, feeling generic suspicion but also positive expectation of some unknown opportunities.

While waiting for Hermann, Felix (hoping to get job from him) is sleeping on the park bench. He is full of hope, but also of skepticism. And, frankly, in his situation he is ready for everything.

The scene between Felix and Hermann in a casual hotel is full of ambiguity. Felix wants to find out – what Hermann can offer, what does he want? The answer is multifaceted, as crowded furniture and a chaotic light in the room. But deliriums with fascist connotation are always about human betrayal, exploitation, murder, genocidal intentionality. Many Americans today have started to understand this by going through the experience of “Government shut down” by the conservative politicians who are promising to destroy social security, Medicare and Medicate and put on Americans austerity bondage. We, today stand in front of the neo-conservative politicians as stripped naked as Felix hoping for job stands in front of Hermann, as fresh recruits ready to kill and to die stand in front of the recruiters, generals and the decision-makers. We, viewers see how handsome and chaste Felix’s nudity is, and we don’t want him to waste it.

Lydia is ritualistically grateful to their insurance agent Orlovius for finalizing Hermann’s life insurance policy, but Hermann, no doubt has his own thoughts on the matter.

Hermann calculates his routs from Germany to Switzerland where he fully intends to liberate himself from Hermann-Felix and to become Felix-Hermann to live through the full utopia of happiness, like Russians in their Communism, like Germans in their thousand-year Reich, like Americans in their technological paradise.

This is the paper verifying Hermann’s life insurance – the key to ultimate security, happiness, immortality, eternal invulnerability, to power over life and death, to a life beyond borders and limits – dream of Russians, Germans and Americans, and all the others, dream of a life where there is no difference between reality and imagination.

When Hermann returns after meeting Felix (and probing how to persuade him in reality of his, Hermann’s, idea that Felix is real Hermann while Hermann is illusory Felix) his mind is completely paralyzed from being able to notice reality – the homeless children), the unemployed workers, pauperized artists in the street. We see here how these realities suddenly hit him like stones from the sky, but he doesn’t grasp their meaning, he is preoccupied with his delirious constructions and associations. He perceives the facts of real life in a paranoid-schizoid fashion – as a reality that is pursuing and hunting him, trying to distract him from his “sacred” dream.

Hermann in Ardalion’s studio cannot figure out why he continues living with Lydia whom he doesn’t want, with Ardalion who sleeps with his wife and secretly laughs at him, with his chocolate factory located, as if, on the top of a volcano, in his luxurious apartment adorned by glass walls with pretentious patterns, with a maid who hates them both, and with the burden of being able to continue only by ignoring the fact that all this is already shattered into tiny pieces.

After returning from his trip, where he finally was able to persuade the passively resistant Felix to semi-agree to participate in Hermann’s plans, Hermann finds his wife and her cousin naked and languorous. But he doesn’t mind – he is too occupied with more important matters – of aesthetic similarities between Ardalion’s bad painting and a not much better one hanging in the hotel room where he spent time with Felix. We see that Hermann’s ability to split the world by his extremely selective attention – preferring its absurd aspects over the real one, is developing more and more. Obsessive probing into esoteric meanings of art is much more important for him than to notice people surrounding him in life. Hermann for a while cannot even recognize who Lydia and Ardalion are because of his occupation with the meaning of the two paintings.

Because they see that Hermann’s dissociation from reality has reached its peak Lydia and Ardalion start to really worry about his condition – why is he interested in a third rate paintings instead of trying to help them, Lydia and Ardalion, who completely dependent on him?

Lydia’s and Ardalion’s “animalistic noise” overwhelms Hermann who considers his difficulties with Felix as being “spiritual” in comparison with their plebian and trivial lives. It’s true that Lydia and Ardallion’s togetherness is of a primary and primitive kind but his and Felix’s bonds invented by Hermann’s delirium are equally unreal.

Before the main and the final trip to meet Hermann-Felix in order to transform himself (Hermann) into Felix-Hermann, Hermann inserts some “information” into Orlovius’ mind that is suppose to help to mislead the world about what Hermann is up to. Hermann feels himself as a cosmic strategist, as Bush Junior before jumping to Iraq, as authors of the American New Century project reorganizing the geo-political borders of the Earth. As always, calculation which comes after the hysterical need for calculations is proved to be absurd – false axioms makes theorems and their proofs faked too. That’s how strategic and tactical calculations replace understanding that they are not needed at all – that instead them it’s always better to deploy smart, sincere and honest diplomacy.

The absence of promised letter from Hermann which has to finalized his own plans and ideas made Felix to take initiative and encourage Hermann to act. That‘s how junk-oistic jingoism of public functions as a readymade drug that excites politicians to start new wars. Self-sacrificial youth dreaming of heroic actions on the battlefield are latently suicidal, like Felix tormented by the meaninglessness of his life and poverty agrees to be used by Hemann and let him do with him as he sees.

The most tormenting scene of the film is when Hermann prepares Felix to be dressed and look exactly like Hermann. We immediately recognize in the absurd procedure this shot refers to, the universal ritual of recruiting humans to become soldiers for killing and dying on the battlefields of history. Felix intuitively knows that he will be killed by Hermann but his life is so unbearable that he agrees with what his decision-maker – Hermann wants. At this point Fassbinder through his images talks in the name of all abandoned and neglected people of the Earth, and his creative voice is needed today especially in US where people are just one Republican step away from realization of austerity and new wars.

Attempt at spiritual healing via a perverse and a murderous route

Hermann’s attempt to sell his factory creates his incredible Shakespearian monologue about his destiny, right in front of the potential buyer, a “recitation” that ruined his chances. Who in Nazi Germany will be sympathetic to a narration describing the clash of brown shirts in White Army with the brown shirts in the Red Army in Russia or description of a universal philistine as a yellow-belly with brown-head?

Hermann is planning his trip to exit forever his life of a chocolate businessman married to a sexy juicy woman.

Hermann’s preparations for the departure to exchange personalities and bodies with Felix demanded a hard performance in front of Lydia necessary to prepare her how to behave in his absence, with the insurance people, the police, etc. Soon we will see that Lydia understood enough to behave, as if, she didn’t understand anything.

To position Lydia in the right direction Hermann had to invent several more narrations. He plays with Lydia like his own destiny plays with him.

Hermann’s rapport with Lydia is like Lydia’s perception of the world, like today’s mutual understanding between Wall-Street financial schemers and the wide population that is full of bitter admiration of the wealthy while being sacrifice by them. While financial decision-makers think how to widen their horizons of profit, many poor look for innocent scapegoats to relieve their frustration without grasping that they already function like these scapegoats. This psychological dynamics is described in “Despair”.

This shot is Fassbinder’s visually crafted surrealist parody on mutuality between spouses in a conventional/philistine marriage. Here we see the moment when Hermann is leaving “for vacation” (to psychologically unite with Felix by murdering him – in his mind he-new Felix will murder himself-old Hermann. The monstrous reflection of Lydia on the fancy glass includes Hermann’s face seen through the glass wall. This morbid face of both spouses simultaneously, mixed in a new identity is the face of a conventional, philistine marriage, of spouses’ unity. In this and the previous shots of Lydia and Hermann Fassbinder is showing the formation of a pernicious mutation in human mutuality and reciprocity upon entering into a conformist/philistine marriage and building an identity of psychological symbiosis on shattered human personalities.

Hermann is on his way to the darkness – to the realization of delirious reasoning, to performing absurd conclusions and fake goals and expectations, like Bush Junior’s war in Iraq. He will never see Lydia’s precious asset again – her cloud-like body which in this shot is like an exclamation mark on the radical change in his life. Does she, here, signify his lost past or his unknown future?

But as always before when Hermann (for Lydia he was too much of a parental figure) was leaving for a business trips she quickly distracted herself with her peer she knew from childhood – her cousin condemned by his ambitions to be a painter, …

…this time, when the police investigator visited Lydia, she, in her grief over Hermann’s absence, was supported by Ardalion who for the first time in his life got the chance to live in luxury.

Coming out of philistinism, perversion/trickery and delusion – to the light

By absurd situation made possible only by coincidence as a result of the unpredictable combination of circumstances, when destiny laughs at human calculations, Ardalion, after a painting trip has appeared in the same spot on the map where Hermann wanted by police for the murder of Felix was preparing to start a new life purer, nobler and richer in inspirations than his old life was. Ardalion quickly uses the lucky chance to revenge Hermann and readily becomes his Judases. Now he is really rivaling with Hermann for his money, property and for possession of Lydia’s charms.

Hermann’s last moments of clinging to his false identity which was meant to be his genuine one. Two more minutes the destiny will give him to take a last look at Felix’s passport, at Felix’s face wasted by Hermann’s delirium. Our pure dreams are too often planted on fake ground.

Hermann surrenders to the police with the understanding which liberates him from all the deliriums of his life, from all his calculations sophisticated only in their metaphoric value and typical for everyone trapped in worries, despair and blindness of their life.

From a typical person locked in his social roles (the fact that he was able to soften only by his wit and sarcastic mannerisms) Hermann becomes a (spiritual) exception, the beneficiary of a rare gift of the existential enlightenment spoilt by the memory of his vanity and criminality. His trip to the light of freedom is successful, when the night of his delirious missteps and crimes is transformed into light of Being.


Hermann-Hermann’s and Lydia’s marriage was rooted in the false past idyll (the crude images of an idealized Russian life as a psychological defense against violence of Russian history) and in a conventional comfort in the present (material prosperity, fun together and Lydia’s incredible cloud-like body). But already in the first scene where spouses habitually stage an evening ritual of going to bed (with all its delicately lascivious details), viewers get the feeling that while Lydia is naturally stagey with her body which moves as if it is suspended between the lazy stream of the river and its viscose bottom, Hermann is a bit too eccentric, too “abstract” for a husband with plans for the night.

Soon we discover that what makes the situation of our exemplary couple slightly bizarre is that Hermann feels shame for leading a completely philistine life. This discomfort (started recently and was connected to the fact that Hermann’s contemplating ego has separated itself from his acting ego and now demanded its own time. The contemplating ego started to intervene not only in Hermann’s love-making but in his vibrant emotional and verbal intimacy with Lydia, and his acting ego – that of a prosperous businessman that liked to embellish his life with vignettes of witticisms and sarcasm, step by step became more and more curious about its “philosophical” (voyeuristic) competitor. Why did it appear? What does it want? What is behind all this? What does this my double get when he is observing how I am making love to Lydia? – asked Hermann’s acting ego. In short, Hermann starts to question himself and tries to understand why, when life in the country is going to the gutter, when people are transformed into masses of jobless paupers swallowed by desperation and looking for scapegoats to relive their frustration, it is still possible to enjoy comfort luxury provides.

No, Hermann-Hermann is not just a philistine – a person whose only definition is to transform living into consumption and digestion of impressions, money, things, services, images and nature. He is different from Lydia – he has intelligence, may be, not enough to initiate a rational understanding of the world and spiritual action, but enough to generate a colorful delirium and embellish it with personal psychological touches. Yes, Hermann’s psyche and will created a delirium as a way out of his philistine life. This delirious dream of having a doppelganger/twin carried the traces of Hermann’s shame about being rich in a country of poor, but also has carried his unconscious desire for an alternative, more decent way of life. It is not surprising that Hermann‘s unconscious yearning for another, opposite life carried some archetypal similarities with the pop-dream (that during Hermann’s time in Berlin was coming to flowering in Germany and in most of Europe. The doppelganger theme in German art and sensibility was so widespread that it could be strange if it didn’t participate in a modified form, in Nazi ideology (of racial superiority) as one of its latent motifs. Idealization of youth was part of it. The idea that another person can be the incarnation of the subject’s better self as his mysterious twin was the pop-belief with a strong connotation of totalitarian common feelings of the possibility of one collective soul (“ein folk”). Hermann’s personal utopia of a shared identity with the vagabond Felix (based on his illusion that Felix “has his, Hermann’s face” – that they look identically) is a personal variant of Nazi leaders’ delirium of being identical with the German masses, of having a common destiny idealized by the racial exceptionalism theory where simple people were considered simultaneously as supermen in comparison with other nations and the fleshy tool to achieve the ideal future. We have a similar delirium today in our own country in the 21st century, that the 1-2% of the population who live in luxury are entitle to make decisions in the name of 98% because they are as much the children of democracy, belong to the same nation as the rest of us and somehow share our deprivations and difficulties in spite of their wealth.

Like the German leaders started wars in the name of the German people and put citizens of Germany through incredible ordeals of WWII, the 1-2% of the Americans today put on the American people austerity measures, high-tech surveillance and limitations on critical speech in the name of flowering of American values of unlimited entrepreneurship when their profits are not shared with the Americans whom they recruit to protect their private interests and assets as though it were the interests and assets of the American people. Fassbinder’s metaphor of Hermann-Felix private relationships covers the whole gamut of social relationships between the members on top of the social hierarchy and the masses – the right of the leaders to lie to the bottomers, to exploit them and eventually to make them take all the responsibility for their own death during the wars dedicated to realization of financial elite’s dreams – is precise and universal, dense and multifaceted, and going to the nucleus of human social problems.

When Hermann tries to recruit Felix into his private “ideology“ – that Felix is Hermann’s “double”, that they are connected by a mysterious ties of having common destiny (like Hitler felt about the German soldiers), he behaves as a Nazi propagandist. When he lies to Felix about his real intentions – when he describes to Felix how he in Hermann’s car will “parade” and be seen by people as Hermann, while in actuality he prepares himself for Felix’s murder, he behaves as a typical totalitarian leader making people to die for them while persuading them that they are fighting for their own, for people’s interests. And, finally, when he prepares Felix to look like Hermann (motif of being equally racially superior vis-à-vis other nations) he, practically, is recruiting Felix’s body as the army does with credulous youth hoping that their military service will lead to the glory during their life time and if to death – then to noble and meaningful one, while in reality they serve to greedy businessmen and megalomaniacal politicians. It is not by chance that during the most intense Hermann’s propagandist efforts to brainwash Felix, Fassbinder makes Hermann grow a mustache, not exactly like Hitler’s, of course, it is not Hermann’s conscious intention to be like a politician.

Hermann who is not able to sacrifice Felix without an awkward and pompous psychological construction (like mistaking Felix for himself), is like many criminals – he needs to build an ideological narration to justify his actions – he needs a “technique of neutralization”. He is sensitive towards the problem of the “perfect crime” when the crime is considered justified, as it’s in the case of recent artificial/invented wars – the situation where war by the very fact of its happening justifies atrocities which are part of it. It is what “perfect murder” is for Hermann in a situation with Felix – when a crime has an ideological or legalistic justification (like preventive self-defense for Nazi’s war crimes and for Bush Junior doctrine). So, it is Hermann’s very delirium about himself and Felix as being one person what made for him murder of Felix not just possible but natural and a justifiable act. Hermann persuades himself that he is killing not Felix, but himself – that he is killing himself as the “bad Hermann“ in Felix’s body (while simultaneously becoming reincarnated as Felix). This is what the imaginary can do for those who need to cover up their criminal desires. Call people you hate terrorists and you will get away with murder or call those you hate enemies and you will get away with wars and even be rewarded for mass murder.

Again and again focusing on incredible, miraculous, as a semantic music images with which Fassbinder traces the chain of psychological “competition” between Hermann’s two egos – acting and observing, and between his observing ego starting to act and its efforts to create justification for committing murder (inventing the delirium of identity between Hermann-good Felix and Felix-bad Hermann), Fassbinder leads us through his unique investigation of the psychological context of, in essence, socio-political criminality.

The attention of the acting ego towards the observing one (when Hermann in bed with Lydia is looking not at her but at himself in the chair, looking at the bed) reminds us that this awakening of the acting ego’s observing function is an important factor of human psychological development – as humanistic intellectualization of our behavior with others. But it is only the first step towards a future spiritual transformation. The observing ego starts as a moral, judging ego, but it itself begins to internalize the acting function when it starts to search for the social other (in Hermann’s case – Felix). But we see that overcoming of narcissism in our search for the meaningful other is never a direct linear process. When otherness becomes part of the acting ego (leading from a comfortable self-centered life to interest towards otherness) it should lead towards changing one’s way of life. Now, the very way of life ought to become spiritually existentialized. It is at this point that Hermann’s psyche became broken. When image of Felix started to root itself inside Hermann’s psyche, when Hermann began to look for Felix as a meaningful image of alternative for Hermann’s way of life, Hermann’s psyche couldn’t accept it – the challenge to Hermann’s life became too strong, the unconscious panic of losing his social status became too intense. Hermann has lost balance between the old and habitual way of life and the challenge on part of a new unknown life. His psyche tears apart. It became completely delirious. We observe how the Western wealthy people today rather prefer to get rid of the poor than to stop worshipping their profits and to become real citizens of democracy equal to everybody else. Similar dilemma stopped Hermann’s spiritual development.

Illusion became necessary to sew Hermann’s psyche into pseudo-wholeness again. When Felix started to occupy not only the position of Hermann’s observing/ judging ego, but also his new acting ego now in the process of transforming into a spiritually existential ego, we see that in Hermann’s imagination Felix is dressed in Hermann’s type of cloth and offering help to Felix dressed as Felix. And when Hermann’s lost existential ego’s Felix tries to commit suicide (to cut his wrist with a piece of glass), Hermann’s spiritual ego’s Felix offers him disinterested) help. For Hermann it is too much, it‘s going too far. He cannot follow what Felix teaches him inside his, Hermann’s imagination. At this point it becomes absolutely clear for Hermann that he has to get rid of Felix “to become Felix himself”, but purely imaginary, aesthetically, without existentially spiritual transformation. In a footage when Hermann imagines how Lydia meets in Switzerland him as Felix, Hermann’s philistine life is continuing as always – he is wealthy, he demonstrates his wealth to every seeing eye, and at the same time he is witty and even sarcastic as he always was. Hermann cannot accept the necessity for real transformation. We see this situation in the 21st century when wealthy the 1 – 2% of the population will rather destroy Earth than agree to care about other people instead of exploiting and pauperizing them.

Hermann’s psyche developed its madness as a reaction on the presence of Felix-the pauper in Hermann’s super-prosperous life, a presence which Hermann needed so much and which he created himself by pursuing Felix. When image of Felix started to dominate Hermann’s psychological development from a narcissistic acting ego to a contemplative critical ego towards existentially spiritual ego, Hermann has a nightmarish vision of a mixture of solidarity and conflict between himself and Felix, when he is throwing to Felix’s hands a loaded gun and then Felix shoots at Hermann and the more he shoots the more he is hitting himself – when the bullets instead of hitting Hermann are killing… Felix. It is this vision, it seems, was the final reason for Hermann‘readiness to stop hesitating and killing Felix. That’s how difficult it is to accept democracy as a norm of life. We choose madness and destruction over our liberation and freedom. Hermann tried to follow his conscience to a point, but when his need to go through the ordeal of accepting real equality with and ethical obligations in front of other people became visceral he jerked back to his condition of prosperous-philistine enjoying life softened by the cream and perfume of money. That’s why Ardalion – one of the three fat men from Juri Olesha (the others are Muller and Orlovius – an aesthete and a financial magnate – the three columns of Hermann’s universe), so rushed to betray Hermann to the police – now Ardalion got a chance to get Hermann’s wife and money.

Especially beautiful is Fassbinder’s elaboration of the following particular semantic topics – the psychological mystery of the two paintings: the one symbolizing Hermann-Lydia-Ardalion triangle, and the other Hermann-Felix relationship; the psychological mystery of Felix’ cane-stick – its Lacanian symbolism and the misrecognition of its meaning by Hermann; the social mystery of the “perfect murder” in human history; the meaning of the Hermann’s imaginary segment when he is throwing the gun to Felix; Fassbinder’s comparison of Hermann with Christ – Hermann coming out to the light; and the logic of Hermann “coming out” as the opposite of how this term is usually used by the stage and cinema actors.

A review of this film posted on June 4, 2014 – “Despair/Journey Into Light” (1978) by Rainer-Werner Fassbinder