When Humanistic Sciences and Serious Art Are Underfunded For The Sake Of One-dimensional Technological Development and Financial Calculations

When Social Conformism Is Rewarded While Creative And Critical Worldviews Are Discouraged

Images left by Anna in her diary after her suicide


Maria and Anna are sisters – one is of a pragmatic orientation, while the other is a “dreamer” and a thinker in a critical and artistic way. For people like Maria the doors of education and a professional future are widely and promisingly opened – business and technical sciences are solidly financed and school kids plan well in advance to fill in the reliable and generously paid future jobs. But for people like Anna the situation is much more difficult – humanistic sciences and not entertaining arts are more and more deprived of investments. Human soul as an existential phenomenon (as a participant in everyday life) is neglected. Anna couldn’t continue to stay financially independent from Maria. She became more desperately frustrated – she felt abandoned by a modern society where entertainment functions instead of artistry and consumerism instead of spiritual intellectualism. Eventually her feeling of not being needed in societal life led her to suicide. The balance of happiness in today’s democracies is broken (and von Trotta was one of the first among serious film directors to notice and react on this abnormal situation when only “instrumental” – worldview is supported, not a contemplative and rationally critical).

The image above (from Anna’s diary) represents combination of subject and object, of external and internal perspectives on life – it simultaneously depicts angry, condemning world and a person horrified by the world. It focuses on how a human being internalizes what s/he observes, the condition of life outside the individual and the state of her/his internal world. This monstrous face irradiates a terrifying, monstrous grief for being psychologically banished by the world. While life outside individual perception grows more despotic, severe and rude, the human internal world became more and more impregnated with worries, dread and fears.


The image of this lizard-like creature is, it seems, representation of a human being as if degraded into a lizard by human despair bleeding with suffering. “Human lizards” are emotionally thirsty – they need to be “warmed up”. Their pained spiritual needs appeal to be attended. For human beings it’s not enough to make a living, to “survive” and to “outcompete” fellow men. They have a need for an existentially spiritual space around. Psychologically reduced to the condition of lizard-ness, people like Anna will only suffer, will no try to survive.


Finally, Maria sees in Anna’s diary the relief representation of semi-human bird, held and protected by the hands of death.

Maria’s nightmarish vision after her younger sister’s suicide


Using the idea from Renee Magritte‘s famous painting, von Trotta modifies it for semantic context of her film – she lets us see Maria who in her night dream is approaching the mirror (to look at herself), but instead…


Instead of seeing her reflection in the mirror Maria sees her own back.


Her head in the mirror slowly turns and Maria instead of her own profile sees Anna’s profile. Maria understands that the figure in the mirror is her dead sister Anna dressed in Maria’s clothes and having Maria’s hairdo (ironic reference to the fact that when Anna was alive Maria desperately tried to help her to become successful by, as if expecting her to behave like herself – like Maria-the elder sister).


Suddenly Maria sees how Anna slowly but not hesitantly turns away from Maria


Maria is starting to feel that her irrational, crazy dream of contact with Anna after her death (dream motivated by Maria’s guilt for not being able to really help Anna to respect herself amidst the despotic world) is impossible, that their spiritual separation is inevitable because it reflects their difference which they both have a right to. Shouldn’t the existence of similar inequality between humanistic and technical sciences or entertaining and serious art today be amended? The balance of human happiness should be restored.


Maria’s night dream is interpretable as a metaphor of her basic mistake in relation to Anna, when she was trying to help her, forgetting about the difference between people, about the naturalness of personal and cultural dissimilarities. Anna had a right to have her own ideas about her life, her own ontological taste and her critical position towards a dominant life style. Anna was never meant to be like Maria – a pragmatic extrovert having a matter-of-factly chance in modern society because the minority of decision-makers are trying to make whole population oriented on technology, “rivalry and survival” and on consumption and entertainment while being indifferent to cultural interests, humanistic sciences and serious art – to the needs of human soul.

Giorgio de Chirico’s painting


Giorgio de Chirico, “Two Heads” (1918)

De Chirico’s two heads remind us of Von Trotta’s sisters, Maria (to the left) and Anna. In the painting Maria’s head has streamlined forms and absent eyes, while Anna’s tragic destiny is emphasized by the dark abysses of her gaze directed at the world. The fact that the both figures are stylized as mannequins is hinting that the condition of human beings today is preliminary, even hypothetical – that history (if to take into consideration cosmic time) is just began or even only beginning.

Posted on 22 Jul 2013 – Margarethe von Trotta’s “Sisters, Or the Balance of Happiness” (1979) – Being Oneself and “Keeping Another Persons, As If, Inside” – The Task of Identification Based On Difference by Acting-Out Politics

Posted ON Sep 3, 2014 – “Sisters or the Balance of Happiness” (1979) By Margarethe von Trotta by Acting-Out Politics