Lola as Ironic Personification of Women’s Liberation In A Pluralistic Post-democracy Structured by Technical, Not by Humanistic Reasoning

“Lola” is a stylistic parody on post-democratic post-modernity pluralized by the dynamism of a fragmented reality (consisted of an aggressively colorful, as though, advertising themselves, pieces of life).

The day has come
When we dream of foreign lands
Here where we live
Is far too small, I’m told.

The day has come
When we head for foreign lands
And soon we’ll ask
What will the future hold

A white ship sets sail for Hong Kong
And I long for those distant places
But once I reach foreign seashores
I long to return home.

So I tell the wind and white clouds –
Take me with you where you’re going
I would gladly trade those new lands
Just to be right back at home

The day has come
When we live in foreign lands
And feel like we’re
abandoned and alone.

A white ship sets sail for Hong Kong
And I long for those distant places
But once I reach foreign seashores
I long to return home

So I tell the wind and white clouds –
Take me with you where you’re going
I would gladly trade those new lands
Just to be right back at home

(The song from the film and listened to by Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of Germany from 1949 to 1963), about the absurdity and morbidity of militaristic and economic “globalism”)


Lola – Why you say that soul is always sad?
Esslin – Because the soul knows more than the mind. That’s why it is sad.
Lola – For me it’s the other way around. For me, the mind knows more than the soul.
(From a dialogue between Lola and the real father of her daughter – Mr. Esslin, in the “Lola)


Von Bohm – The first, Lindenhof project. Give me your honest opinion. without the slightest hint of fear and manipulation. Please, be frank and honest.
Esslin – The Lindenhof project is a conspiracy.
VB – A conspiracy? Interesting. Let me hear your proof.
Es. – First, the land registry abstracts. (Except inheritance, no significant change of ownership had taken place since the turn of the century. But in the last five years, transfers have increased dramatically. I know several of the new owners. They are power elite of the city.
VB – Very nice. Power elite.
Es. – Secondly, property prices. They are now triple the 1952 prices and ten times those of 1938. When the new construction plan goes into effect, profit from speculation will at least double again. Thirdly, the construction committee. Its membership is an amalgamation of the city’s so called “good families.”
VB – What about proof of conspiracy. How does Schuckert fit into this?
Es. – You know, if the others are circling waiting crows, he is a bird of prey.
VB – Power elite. Profit from speculation. Amalgamation. Bird of prey. And what about me? How do I fit into all this? What do you expect from me?
Es. – To impose order. To clean up.
VB – That I scatter the crows and forbid the bird of prey to hunt. Do you want to revolutionize our economic system?
Es. – I reject revolution. I am a humanist.
VB – You reject revolution. You are humanist. Then you’ll have to put up with birds of prey.
(From a dialogue between the city’s new Building Commissioner and his special assistant Mr. Esslin)


Schuckert (the rich real estate developer) shares with his mistress Lola his problems with von Bohm, the city’s Building Commissioner

Sch. – Von Bohm wants new apartments to be built, but he cannot build them himself, because he is just a planning official. So he needs a pack of pigs and slime-balls. You see? It’s ingenious and forward-thinking too. He knows what progress is. He ought to get the Wartime Medal of – I mean The Distinguished Service Medal.
Lola – You can put him on your payroll.
Sch. – No, he’d never allow it. But you are right. He has to be recognized somehow.
Lola – You could give him a chunk of your ass. He could make a pork chop out of it.
Sch. – I’ll give him a part of your ass. He gets one night with you.
(From a dialogues in “Lola”)

Von Bohm – What does a humanist do after a working day?
Esslin – I am a member of a group against rearmament.
VB – I’m always intrigued by fruitless passions.
Es. – In another group we’re studying Bakunin. He wrote an interesting book about land and property.
VB – What was his conclusion?
Es. – That the Earth belongs to everyone, not just a few.
VB – I don’t understand. It obviously belongs to just a few, not to everyone. Does he really think it or is it just wishful thinking on Mr. Bakunin’s part?
Es. – It’s reality in a higher sense.
VB – I understand. That’s why we complement each other so well: you’re busy with reality in a higher sense, while I’m busy with reality in a lower sense.
Es.– I dream and you act. That’s what you mean.
VB – You think and I function. That’s what you mean.
Es. – And Schuckert profits. That’s what I mean. Fascism will triumph.
(Another exchange between von Bohm, the building commissioner, and his special assistant)

“You can ask anything of men who accept money from others – even to take their pants down.”

Fassbinder films are so packed (visually and aurally) with information, references, asides, questions and unexpected connections (and, as a result so demanding) that most other contemporary movies look puny in comparison.
Vincent Canby, The New-York Times, Sept. 9, 1980

Socio-political Climate in West Germany under Konrad Adenauer

German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer is nostalgically listening to the song expressing the dream of economic and military expansion (which today is wrapped in term “globalism”).

Lola’s Mirror Reflections

Lola – a person with proclivity for poetic inspiration. Here, she is reciting her love poem – reflecting her childish shyness and not less – her childish boldness – to von Bohm, the city’s new Building commissioner.

Lola as a sensitive soul

lola 61
Lola as a rich lady

Lola as a beauty

Lola as a happy woman

This shot of Lola’s mother and daughter shows Lola in her absence (she is a very busy woman) as a unifying link between the past and the future and, may be, even as the personification of Western post-WWII modernization.

Lola’s Amorous Social Façade – Her Professional “Candy-colored” Career

Lola (Barbara Sukowa) – an emancipated woman and a cabaret singer-dancer is shown by Fassbinder in a perspective of the expectations of mass viewers looking for a new Marlene Monroe or Marilyn Dietrich, as a not-so-talented performer, although a person with quite a sharp mind (not to mention her genuine business acumen.

Lola’s attractiveness as a superb cabaret presence – a lucky combination of confidence and appeal, of emotional initiative and femininity, allows her to have fans and clients

Lola is the queen of the cabaret
Lola is the queen of the place where she works and brings there a lot of money

Lola is able to dominate the audience by her emotional generosity, and her fans feel themselves with her as if at home. She knows how to make the public place private!

Drops of lesbian frivolity in Lola’s performances don’t mean anything too serious – it’s all just fun and show.

Lola’s Amorous Existential Career

Lola and the real father of her child Mr. Esslin (sitting on the left)

The father of Lola’s daughter is worrying about his future with Lola and their daughter – he is poor and proud intellectual. He doesn’t know that his future salvation is in the greasy hands of the business Magnate Schuckert.

Lola and her rich lover (official father of her daughter)

Lola and her rich and generous lover (1)

Lola and her rich and generous lover (2)

Lola and her rich, generous and despotic lover

Lola and her rich, generous, despotic and irresistible lover

Lola and her future loving husband. Pay attention to very particular lighting of this scene. Von Bohm with his idealistic love for Lola is in “metaphysical” light, while she is in usual light of regular life, business deals and entertainment

Lola and her future loving husband (1)

LOLA, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Barbara Sukowa, 1981, (c) United Artists Classics
Lola and her future loving husband (2)

Lola and her future loving husband (3)

lola 55
Lola and her loving and capable of adapting to the new, postmodern condition of love – husband (Armin Mueller-Stahl)

Work for men and women

Mr. Esslin’s (Matthias Fuchs) main job is his employment at the office of building commissioner (as a specialist)

Fraulein Hettich (Helga Feddersen) is the secretary of Mr. von Bohm. The visual effects Fassbinder uses for her characterization, emphasize Miss Hettich’s tormentingly intense and contradictory emotions towards her boss.

Fraulein Hettich is a secretary secretly in love with the commissioner, and her love expresses itself by worshipful dedication. In traditional totalitarian systems loyalty to superiors is almost always rooted in a worshipful and even sacrificial love for the leaders. And because Miss Hettich as a traditional woman didn’t adapt yet to the new totalitarian socio-psychological configurations characterizing the post-WWII Germany (of economic miracle), she is as she is.

Schuckert (Mario Adorf) – Lola’s steady lover and the wealthiest and the most entrepreneurial man in the city, must find a resolution to his conflict with von Bohm – governmental administrator. We, Americans, who live in 21st century, know very well the nature of this conflict between bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires) and government bureaucrats. And for us it is not difficult to get, how Schuckert will tame von Bohm.

Schuckert is in the office of the city Mayor/Burgermeister Volker (Hark Bohm)

Von Bohm, in his office, is preparing materials against Schuckert (who in the film is the equivalent of the American Cough brothers, Lord Bankfein or Shelter Dailyson, though as belonging to the German economic situation in the 50s – not to American predatory atmosphere of 21st century, he is much less straightforward in his corrupting and manipulative business practices)

The governing elite of the city is alarmed by von Bohm’s “treason” – he has joined protesters standing not far from the local government building with slogans for peace and freedom for the people of Africa and Asia. Around the table we see from the left – the Mayor of the city (Hark Bohm), Wittich, the rich financier (Ivan Desny), standing behind him, the editor of local newspaper, the Schuckert’s wife, the Police Chief Timmerding (Karl-Heniz von Hassel), looking at our direction, and Schuckert himself (smoking).


Esslin (Matthias Fuchs) desperately concentrating on mass-cultural – souvenir representation of our humanistic historical aspirations, as if, is trying to comprehend how it is possible to profane noble traditions through entertaining

Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is consoling himself with sublime touch of violin music after shocking discovery that the woman he loves (Lola) is a cabaret dancer and a prostitute

The paradisiacal interior of Von Bohm’s room reminds us interior designs of American upper middle class prosperity.

Schuckert (Mario Adorf) with his ability to breach any wall with a current of money, is making a decision to unite his wife and his mistress with a bold business proposal of a common enterprise

Von Bohm is also trying to smooth out the contradictions with Schuckert and then become a part of the money-aristocracy, not only for the sake of money, but for the sake of saving his love.

Esslin, on his part, is ready to sacrifice his intellectual idealism for the sake of keeping (silently) his old and eternal love for Lola and their daughter (and becoming a part of the elite). The solution, like in many situations, is merging (consolidating the efforts to fight more effectively for common interests)

It’s necessary not to underestimate the role of the mayor of the city (Hark Bohm) who, “for the sake of prosperity of the city”, helps the different sides to unite “for the goodness of the community”, of course.

Miracles do happen – von Bohm and Esslin became not only friends, but… relatives, united by Schuckert’s general positivity and financial generosity.

Democratic Freedom for Political Demonstrations

On the placards it is written (from the left to the right) – “Freedom for the People of North Africa”, “Freedom for the People of South-Eastern Asia”, and “We Are for Peace”. It is impressive, that protesters here (obviously, “Arian” Germans) care about other people’s problems more than about their own. Isn’t to feel like this means real democracy (rather than competing for one’s rights, material gains and benefits)?

New apartment buildings – the way to a prosperous future

Viva, mass prosperity – luxury for the ones, and crumbs for the others, when big investments provide crumbs, and crumbs – luxurious profit.


Fassbinder in “Lola” has changed his representational style of the reality of human life. The characters from modality of living – mainly being as they are, started to exist according to advanced modality of surviving/succeeding – trying to upgrade/advance their material existence and their status inside the social hierarchy. There is no time anymore for living as such, like there is no time for us, when we’re watching “Lola”, to read subtitles on time and form our opinions about what was just said. Lola is at least a three-hour-film compressed into less than two, with too many emotions and ideas, and psychological and behavioral events. The characters are rushing to achieve, project themselves into the world, to influence others. Their facial expressions, as they interact with one another, tend to move to over-certainty, as if, they wanted to be sure, that they‘re understood as they intended to be understood, that they really successful with others. The characters want to be effective with each other – they want to be taken seriously as possible partners … in business, in mutual support in advancing their career. The characters permanently posing and maneuvering, even with casual people. The situation is complicated by the fact that they are personalities that are not only formed by life, but by their own thinking about life – they are not limited by few, as if frozen, facial expressions, as many characters/stars in Hollywood movies. Their uniqueness is without idiosyncrasies, and their particularity resisting simplifying exaggeration.

We see how human beings moved by their intense desire for achievements (Schuckert, Lola, Esslin and minor characters) or for the chance to assert their value (Lola) or to restore one’s self-respect (Esslin), or not to lose one’s authority in danger of being belittled by the amorous passion (von Bohm), cannot avoid becoming emotionally vulgarized, but even then they still keep their humanity intact (not without help by the incredible acting by the exceptional actors – Mario Adorf, Barbara Sukowa, Matthias Fuchs and Armin Muller-Stahl).

In Fassbinder’s films before “Lola”, the characters still lived (when they were already overstressed by the necessity to reach social success this despotic imperative didn’t penetrate yet the very structures of their personalities). Of course, in some of his previous films we see a foreboding of a world of “Lola” – a world we all live in today. For example, in his “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?” (1970) the main character (Kurt Raab) loses the ability to adapt to the social and existential environment, which was transforming people into a soulless robotic philistines, but together with his adaptability he lost his being – became a murderer and then committed suicide. Similar destiny swallowed the hero of “I Only Want You to Love Me” (1976), where a young man (Vitus Zeplichal) overburdened by the work necessary to keep alive the dream of material prosperity (inseparable from his merry marriage), loses his psychological balance succumbing to paranoid distortions of reality. In both of these cases the impossible reality pushes human beings into breakdowns, while in “Lola” the characters are ready to do whatever it takes to go on living in a psychologically unlivable circumstances. They adapt and become somebody else, the impossible possibilities, mutated human beings, although still human, in a way.

Another examples of Fassbinder’s warnings about the new life, as it depicted in “Lola”, and a premonition of his new cinematic style corresponding to this reality, is “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972) and “Despair” (1978). In “Petra” the main character – a successful designer of women’s clothing (Margit Carstensen), is, as if, playing herself in her very life – as if, impersonating herself as a master-manipulator and at the same time as a self-sacrificial fetishist of love. For her to manipulate her muses-models by loving them is, as if, the psychological equivalent of creating for them fashionable clothing which, as if, corresponds to their new souls – both of which designed by Petra. In other words, in essence, Petra thinks about herself not so much as a women’s fashion designer but as a creator of new women as human beings. In reality, Lola is not less ambitious than Petra, but her ambition ends in a cave filled with gold coins, while Petra’s still belongs to the human universe moved by the energies of psychological creative power, not the power of money or technology. In “Despair” the hero (Dirk Bogarde) has lost the ontological and social coordinates of his self – the very atmosphere of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany made his soul disoriented and lost (he, as if, became a chaotically nomadic refugee from his habitual life). Hermann-Hermann starts to impersonate/identify with another person with completely imaginary identity (in a belief that he is this person). As a result, it was no psychological agency, which could take responsibility for Hermann’s feelings and actions. Of course, in this two preambles to “Lola” (which supersede it as a depiction of the human soul’s search for the meaning of itself, not just a masterful socio-psychological portrayal of human being running from its own humanity), the main personages are more sincere and honest, while in “Lola” they are conformists following the twisting rules of fight for material and social success. Petra, Karin and even Marlene in “…Petra…” are much more “sublime” and holistic human beings than the characters of “Lola”. And this is almost as true about Hermann-Hermann and Felix in “Despair”, in comparison with the “fallen” creatures in “Lola”, because their society is not a democratic one anymore. In “Petra” and in “Despair” people still, although deliriously and destructively, look for their ideals, not for financial gain over other people.

The fact that Lola happens to be a “fatal magnet” for the three men (all of whom are in a desperate need for her) – secular intellectual (Esslin), bill-mill (billionaire-millionaire) – Schuckert, and the monolith conservative – von Bohm, seems at the first glance a bit crude, although it emphasizes the symbolic connotation of Lola as the character impersonating not just German women of post-WWII, and not even German soul of the same historical period, but Germany of economic miracle. Lola also refers to the various emancipated women as mass-cultural toys for a pluralistically versatile men of the epoch, when sexual consumerism and pop-entertainment became a very important behavioral features (obsession settled in the German soul emptied from the Nazi utopia of world domination). The events of the plot (the situation that Lola is the greedy focus of sharply different male personalities) should be taken with relative importance – she can be interpreted as not a woman but as women who make amorous success as a part of their careers. In any case, Lola is perceived by her three men as – family relationship (by Esslin), as eternal mistress (by Schuckert) and as marriage/marital relationship (by von Bohm).

In this new way of life when people come to others because they want something from them, not because others are part of life, comes Fassbinder’s new style – of placards, of people’s permanent self-advertising, of registering and parodying how people all the time are, as if, posing for photo ops before others. Personal relationships reflect this “mutation” in the social atmosphere which “poisons” the very heart/soul of human intimacy.

Relationship between Lola and Esslin started before “economic miracle” had a time to grow muscles. Fassbinder wants us to reconstruct how their mutuality could start. They came to each other by pure feeling – there were no calculations and no money- planning in their love. Esslin had a modestly paying job, and this was the only material basis of their relations. But this in a new world based on calculation and financial prowess was not enough. They both had to come to the cabaret – she as a pretender for local stardom, and he as a pop-musician. Elegant whore house and Schuckert came soon, making Esslin humiliated and desperate, with an inferiority complex growing in his soul like a malignant tumor. He had to share Lola not only with her casual clients, but with Schuckert, who besides his sincere financial generosity was quite an amusing person. Esslin’s tormenting helplessness and, finally, “moral surrender” to the new, corrupt world of permanent calculation and rivalry is typical example of the corruption of liberal intellectuals in a new, post-democratic (neoliberal) world. We see it in our own country (US) even more articulately. Esslin didn’t want to lose Lola, he loved his daughter, so he made a “democratic” compromise with the reality as it happens to be. Eventually Esslin is financially helped by Schuckert, who tolerates his ongoing relations with Lola on top of financially taking care of his daughter whom he, Schuckert earlier officially recognized as his own child.

Lola’s relationship with Schuckert is, of course, based not only on his money-money-money and readiness to tolerate being not the only one in Lola’s life. Schuckert is also not like today’s American profit-makers. He is charming in Luis Bunuel’s sense – he is close to Bunuel’s discreet charm bourgeois, only under specific socio-cultural conditions of post-WWII West Germany. Schuckert in Mario Adorf’s virtuoso representation is a personality simultaneously streamlined and sharpened by money-making – streamlined into a basic positivity and sharpened into wit of inexhaustible and paradoxical investments. He is a case which is difficult to even imagine today, when the rich financial manipulators are overwhelmed by greed-and-anger (where greed is compulsive and anger is preventive) and carry a violent unconscious coloring their behavior even in the areas far from their professional occupation. In Schuckert’s times military expansionism was not allowed to West Germany, and economic globalism was not yet as developed as today, after a United Europe was added to NATO as multicolored condom.

Working with money made Schuckert almost – gentle, permanently maneuvering and adapting to changing situations to be able to suck the profits regardless of how “physically” uncomfortable this sucking position may be. Schuckert’s touch is money-erotic. For him to get his money is an aphrodisiac. To appropriate money for him is sexually exciting and it is rejuvenating for everybody around him. Lola in the film becomes the personification of currency. She circulates from Esslin to Schuckert to von Bohm, and the first and the last persons are enriching and vitalizing themselves in their transaction through Schuckert. All three became linked by money’s benevolent universality, as a kind of stock-holders of Lola as a share who from a cabaret dancer-singer and a prostitute will become, through Schuckert-Eros the owner of the cabaret and brothel. Success through money makes people blissfully “drugged”, and they forget about the world outside money, and they will be surprised if this world will dare to remind about itself.

Lola’s identification with Schuckert becomes the nucleus of their love. Lola seduces men and fans of her cabaret career. And Schuckert seduces with money and the promise of more of it. Lola feels herself as a Schuckert of the need for “sexualized” consumption of money, of the world, of the future, and Schuckert becomes Lola of the very seductiveness of profit and the seductive power of attracting dreams and money for investments. Schuckert is Lola of money, Lola is Schuckert of feminine attractiveness, of greed for the admiring gazes of the fans, for men’s sexual generosity which she is in power to consume, appropriate and possess. Lola is not a talented singer, but she is a strong personality, she is very intelligent and is in control of her own seductive capital, emotional, physical, mental, like, according to Schuckert’s compliment to her, having the “best ass in the whole NATO”.

But the human soul is larger than any existential situation, any opportunity or any limitation including death. It is larger than the demands of moments or expectations of eternity. It is more than the present, the future, and the past – it transcend the very transcendence. In Lola’s soul there is an important place for von Bohm. Fassbinder depicts von Bohm as a combination of a groomed authoritarianism and a child-like existential naiveté. Von Bohm is masculinely elegant in contrast with Schuckert whose face is, as if, always greasy (his metabolism is too intense – he is shiningly sweaty at all times). Some years back von Bohm, probably, was high-ranking officer of Wehrmacht (judging by his posture and manners). Lola as an emancipated woman, who felt guilty for being not socially successful and who sharply felt that her reputation is dirtied by her cabaret/whorehouse affiliation, desperately needed to restore her self-respect. It is at this point of her emancipation that god sent her this handsome man in his prime, whose feelings for her were as pure as the sunrise – many religious men in spite of their authoritarianism like women with initiative (it liberates them from responsibility for their sexual non-indifference). Von Bohm overcame his psychological trauma of learning about Lola’s real professions with the help of hard alcohol (devil sometimes works in collaboration with god) and by making his suffering public. He even felt stimulated to rescue her from all kinds of disgrace which could trap her on her way to redemption and… to social success.

On his way to a holistic dedication to Lola – his personality became divided like in adolescence, when a physically growing still-child discovers the fallen world of adulthood. Psychological fragmentation becomes part of yearning for wholeness. Von Bohm’s love for Lola was reinforced by his decision to marry her. Then everything came under harmony – Lola’s relationship with Esslin, her relationship with Schuckert and her alliance with him, von Bohm, the Building Commissioner, which made her a respectable lady. To overcome fragmentation holism becomes selectively blind (as a temporary condition – a small pay for total glory). Money unites the world – tarts, breads and crumbs – into one happy human family, in one successful humanistic world. Marriage is able to deflower not only into respectability, but into full-fledged humanity.

But what about Fraulein Hettich – von Bohm’s dedicated secretary who went through all his ups and downs, difficulties, successes and his final triumph, a woman with the appearance of an old imp and heart of an angel? She suffered though Von Bohm’s wedding and his marriage to Lola to the point of her complete… happiness. Miss Hettich is a marginal character with a maximum of close-ups – she represents the importance of the majority in totalitarian propaganda and totalitarian leaders’ success. She is also Lola – Lola of the traditional totalitarian system. She is a woman with need for love completely socialized – transformed by the social hierarchical relations, by the importance of social power, while Lola as a sexual object is completely privatized (exists for private consumption which is the veiled model for ultimate – privatizing consumption – of profit). Extreme socialization and extreme privatization become undifferentiated in a despotic world.

Posted on 8/18/’16 –   “Lola” by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1981) by Acting-Out Politics