Werner Herzog

“Stroszek” is a surrealistically stylized saga about the trio of European eccentrics’ awkward attempts to settle into American freedom. The film concentrates mainly on the psychological, not material problems of the emigrants, and, through analysis of their encounters with life provides thoughtful criticism of American viva-survivalism, money-fetishism, a lack of disinterested intellectual energy, excess of consumerist ecstasy, and a drastic disproportion between dominant physical relations with nature and a rudimentary spiritual one.

In “Stroszek” the European refined but infantile narcissism meets the American rational but de-sublimated one with tragic consequences for the main characters whose emotional refinement and “poetic” non-practicality turn against them in an atmosphere of pop-sensibility and fake prosperity. The film analyses two types of socio-political power over people – traditional (direct and obvious) victimizing the main characters in Germany, and the innovative and post-modern – financially and economically manipulative, in USA.

Herzog’s imagery in this film delivers existential meaning with socio-psychological straightforwardness and yet aesthetically independent from it and “fetishistically” enjoying itself with all its beauty. Visual images in “Stroszek” intrigue and astonish us while their meaning makes us bitterly laugh ant think in discomfort. The film forces us to question ourselves as Europeans (by our past), as Americans (by our present and future) and as human beings in general.

Among three persons arrived in the new world – Bruno (Bruno S.) is more talented in his sensitivity for existential wisdom than in his singing, Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) is prone to react on the system’s indifference towards human beings “romantically” – with his psychological wholeness, not soberly, inside the given situations, and Eva (Eva Mattes), personifies the woman’s soul: emotional sensitivity generously given to children and to the abandoned and deprived. All three are doomed in a new country. Bruno will commit suicide, Mr. Scheitz, the eccentric old man – will be taken to jail, and Eva, under the influence of pop-philosophy of social self-assertion and self-promotion, lost the ability to love life (in Europe she was a prostitute by necessity, and in US she is transformed into a harlot by the ideology of “material independence”, consumerism and entrepreneurship).

Herzog’s surrealistic sarcasm creates expressive and often intentionally horrifying images which never leave your memory, for example, the scene of Bruno’s deadly humiliation by pimps who cannot forgive him for not paying them for being with Eva, or the sexual dance of the Wisconsin farmer inspired by money-worship, or the poetic auction of Eva and Bruno’s mobile home.

Devastated by being ridiculed and humiliated by pimps, Bruno complained to and asked for advice from a friendly physician…

… who is trying to help by demonstrating Bruno the optimistic intentions of the Creator who has equipped babies with “supernatural” yearning for survival. It is this meeting that gave Bruno the idea to try to live somewhere else.

In a day when Bruno is released from the prison where he spent some time for petty violation jail headmaster not only forces him to swear that he’ll never taste alcohol again…

… but torments him with lecturing about the power of sins over the human will and people’s responsibility to resist the temptation to transgress.

In an atmosphere of pluralistic careerism Bruno’s girlfriend started to lose her (disinterested) soul and with it love for him (who lived only by Eva’s love and without it started to lose the desire to exist).

Without Eva to console him and without Herr Scheitz, Bruno has decided to leave life, but not in the American way – by radically changing identity. Where Americans adapt to quickly changing reality, Bruno Stroszek stopped to be, he died a human being.

Posted Jun 19 2011 –   Werner Herzog’s “Stroszek” (1977) – A Surrealistically Comic Parable about European Escapees to American Freedom by Acting-Out Politics