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There are just several more minutes left for Hermann to look at Felix’ passport – at the photo of his better, best-self which will never be realized in life. That’s how Hitler during his last days imagined his superior to the world German youth in military uniform. This shot is one of the many in the film with especially semantically dense composition. In the foreground we see representation of a bifurcated existential illusion – Hermann dressed as Felix looking at Felix’s picture as his own. In the background, on the other hand, in the broken mirror, we see the truth – Hermann’s shattered destiny over splinters of his fractured marriage. But doesn’t the pieces of broken porcelain remind us of the broken egg-shells when Lydia was making her Gogol-Mogol drink at the very beginning of the film? Fassbinder here suggesting that to lose a philistine marriage and a deliriously absurd dream has a good side – sudden discovery of the truth of human life, the light of existence.

“Despair” is a film innovatively organized around a skillfully analyzed and a visually stunningly elaborated private delirium that struck the chocolate entrepreneur Hermann-Hermann who was happily living in Berlin at the onset of Nazi takeover in a luxurious apartment (embellished by stylish décor), and married to a woman with a body like aromatic clouds.

Why should a private delirium, even astonishingly represented by an exceptional director, should be of any interest for today’s American and world audiences? Because, according to Fassbinder, it has the same semantic structure as any totalitarian ideological construction (including “Communism”, “Third Reich”, Technological Paradise or mass-cultural entertainment) that mixes human identities, standardizes human personalities into a “one communal soul”, simultaneously flatters and uses people as “cannon meat” in totalitarian wars oriented on the profit for the financial elites, and resourcefully lies to them and gives them satisfaction and an imaginary happiness no truth can provide. In his “Despair” Fassbinder examines totalitarian ideology (in its psychological ingredients) and its irresistible emotional power of appeal based on making the poor and helpless people feel superior to others, strong and joyful enough to give themselves into the hands of rich decision-makers personified by Hermann-Hermann.

The description of private relationship between Hermann spontaneously creating and projecting his delirium on Felix, the homeless drifter personifying the universal object of a totalitarian propaganda, became Fassbinder’s metaphoric analysis of totalitarian relations. The modern society is represented by Fassbinder as the kingdom of “three fat cats” – a businessman (in the film metaphorized by the life insurance agent), a political activist (in the film – an enthusiastic simpleminded Nazi) and the aesthete (the painter Ardalion who is enjoying Hermann’s [Dirk Bogarde] wife’s charms and finally fatally betrays him in Judases’ manner.

Of course, in the hands of Nabokov (the author of the novel the film is based on), Tom Stoppard (the author of the screenplay) and Fassbinder – Hermann and Felix (Klaus Lowitch) are universal figures in geographical and historical terms, and also both are much more intelligent than standard totalitarian ideologist and its victim, and much more talented as human beings. For this reason Hermann doesn’t directly spout Nazi ideas but its metaphoric version, and Felix understands the terror of his hopeless and humiliating existential situation (making him “collaborate” with Hermann-the rich decision maker), much better than today’s poor. Fassbinder’s “Despair” as a unique filmic creation is intellectually sharp, formally elegant and semantically sublime. It puts the idea of spirituality from the sky to the earth, from after-life to life.

Especially beautiful is Fassbinder’s elaboration of the following topics/melodies – the psychological mystery of the two paintings Hermann became obsessed with: one symbolizing Hermann-his wife Lydia-her cousin Ardalion triangle, and the other Hermann-Felix relationship; the psychological mystery of Felix’ stick – its Lacanian symbolism and the non-recognition of its significance and meaning by Hermann; the socio-political meaning of the “perfect murder” theme in human history; the meaning of Hermann’s nightmare (depicted in the scene when he is throwing the hand gun to Felix); the meaning of Fassbinder’s comparison of Hermann with Christ – Hermann coming out to the light; and the logic of Hermann’s “I’m” coming out” episode at the end of the film as the opposite of how this term is usually used by the stage and cinema actors.

The film is acted as if it is danced and sung by the human emotions directly, painfully and irresistibly at the very same time. And music of Pier Raben continues to play itself in our souls forcing us to remember, to think and to continue try to understand better Fassbinder’s analysis inside the film.

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Lydia is begging Hermann not to leave the bedroom cocoon of their life

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Hermann having prepared a narrative to make Lydia believe in the necessity of his “super-business” trip is trying to involve her in a kind of a semantic dance that to be successful must look to her as a physical one.

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Fassbinder and Michael Ballhaus to his right are preparing to shoot a scene in Hermann/Lydia’s apartment.

Essay was posted on May 24, 2014 – Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s (RWF) “Despair/Eine Reise ins Licht” (1978) – From Philistinism To Shame Of It, Then To Psychological Fascism Metaphorized Into A Private Relationship, And Finally, To Existential Truth (The Overcoming Of Pernicious False Self)