Monday, January 18, 2010

A Children's Tale

Michael Haneke's new film The White Ribbon is a glimpse into the darker regions of human nature. Set in a small German village in the year proceeding World War I, the film follows a series of brutal attacks; the village doctor is thrown from his horse due to a wire stretched across his path, the baron's son is abducted and beaten, and the handicapped son of the mid-wife is nearly blinded. The protagonist of the violent crimes is never revealed and it's not clear if the acts are connected or simply coincidental. The school teacher is suspicious of a group of children who seem to appear from the shadows every time an incident occurs, but Haneke does not feel the need to tie up the plot. He lets the violence hang like a pervasive doom.

The visually stunning film, reeks of repression at the hands of both religion and patriarchy. The bare faced children of the film are not light and happy-go-lucky. They possess a morbid weight, a gloom generated through constant control. The pastor's children are literally beaten into submission by their father as their mother watches on with pained eyes. The two eldest children are forced to wear a white ribbon tied around their arm as a constant reminder to heed to purity of the soul.

While most of the adult men in the film reveal a violent nature, the widowed doctor is the most disturbing. Doctors are supposed to bring comfort to those who suffer, but this doctor emotionally eviscerates his lover, the mid-wife, through a relentless verbal attack. Sadism isn't the doctor's only crime. He's also conducting a sexual relationship with Anna, his teenage daughter. Anna's fate is horrific, we know she will not be physically or emotionally safe at the hands of her father. Haneke reveals that evil is not something lurking outside our door, but rather, is already resting inside our most intimate spaces.

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