Having just watched Haneke’s most recent masterpiece, I’m still lost in thought as to who the unrevealed perpetrator(s) of the hideous crimes might have been (Haneke did a similar thing in Cache with the videotape).
I believe the mid-wife committed at least one of the offenses, because of that wrenching scene with the doctor when she asks in dismay, “What if I do something silly?”
The children of the pastor and steward I believe also had a hand in the crimes, but all in all I find it interesting that Haneke will sometimes blatantly reveal his villains (Piano Teacher, Funny Games) and sometimes will allow the audience decide (Cache, The White Ribbon).
I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece, but certainly a well accomplished film. The comparision to “Caché” is valid though, especially since the possible explanations aren’t fully satisfying, and Haneke obviously doesn’t want the viewer to uncover the mystery. Even the children are a possible suspect since we’re meant to see the happenings from the teacher’s point of view, but to search for possible reasons might result rather frustrating. I think that it’s one of the strong points of the film not to allow clear answers, and am quite comfortable with it.
I don’t think you can figure out the culprit 100% as there’s just not enough there. To me it had to be an adult. When one kid does another wrongly, they go and tell the first adult they see. When an adult does a child wrongly, it’s a much rarer occurrence that they go and tell another adult.
I think my best guess would be the doctor. He already had a knack at keeping his daughter from telling anyone of his molestation of her and he was just a flat out awful human being. I think the same fear his daughter had of letting someone know of his wrongdoings could very well be the same reason he can get away with the crimes. Let’s not also forget the reaction the mentally challenged kid had towards him.
You may ask why would the doctor hospitalize himself by setting up the wire. I don’t think he does. I think that was a separate occurrence than what was perpetrated on the children and the baron. Some people are looking at the movie as if everything that happens is tied together, when it could very well be coincidental. Even small towns can have more than one awful person.
Also, I have to add that the dance scene was truly special.
There is no individual culprit.
exactly what mr. ehrenstein said. the central theme of the film to me seems to be blame. the fact that fingers are pointed at one another in the town, and that one individual has to be at fault. sure there is a culprit for each atrocity, however, for each one has their own perpetrator.
a common cliche in any type of mystery film is that the culprit must be linked to all the crimes, something found in most thrillers. however, the great thing i found in this film is that individuals commit their own individual crime. the crime itself may be linked to other crimes, but the culprit is not.
Did Haneke remake Where’s Waldo? again?
I think the question is irrelevant—so much more so than in Cache (which this film is an expansion on).
While the film is about Guilt/Innocence and Suspicion, Haneke’s films are never so much about their internal plot as they are about the implications of the film outside of the theater.
Jerry’s remark made me crack up. Too perfect.
But I’m not sure the question is completely irrelevant, Josh. First, it is deliberately ambiguous. It’s Haneke. To have any easy solutions would, like Jordan argues, make the film way too conventional and undermine its effectiveness in the process. Obviously, there is no single individual but Haneke does want viewers to consider who’s responsible for what’s happening.
The piece of dialogue which almost crosses the line into obviousness is when the Baronness tells the Baron she’s leaving him and explains how there’s something in the village that makes people cruel and indifferent. The children are clearly involved in some of the random acts of cruelty for Haneke to make the point he wants to make about how fascism was inculcated in Austrian society. In that sense, everyone is implicated. The reverend’s relationship with his children is illuminating in this sense. He cruelly punishes them for minor infractions, tortures his son for masturbating, but then turns a blind eye to wanton acts of cruelty – even if he doesn’t believe they are responsible for attacking the other kids, he still doesn’t punish his daughter for impaling his bird with scissors. It’s too much for him to bear to acknowledge the monsters he’s created. We’re talking about children who will be in their 20s when fascism spreads through Europe.
I’ll modify my statement like this:
I think it’s completely irrelevant as far as the plot is concerned in that the culprit (like in Cache) ultimately does not exist. If Haneke had one in mind he’ll never tell us.
NOW—where it does become relevant, and this is where Haneke has taken a huge step forward from Cache, is that as the spectator spends time and energy thinking about who dunnit, they are participating with the film in a very precise way that Haneke definitely intended—by casting suspicion on everyone.
The natural progression of thought would be to then apply your thought about your participation with the film vis a vis suspicion to your participation in society. While the film uses an Austrian village on the eve of the rise of Fascism, this film is no more about that specifically than Cache is about how the French treated Algerian immigrants. Haneke would never be so narrow.
Having watched Haneke progress as a filmmaker from The Seventh Continent on, I have to say he’s as impressive as ever, and I very much hope to get to interview him as part of Cinema 21. If I do, I’ll ask him about this question.
Any other ideas for questions would be appreciated.
Josh, you make an excellent point that the film invites the viewers to take part in this web of suspicious themselves. On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing “narrow” about the film’s specificity of time and place. The film’s impact is derived from it. It’s an (anti-)period piece. Again, see the Baroness pointing to the particular cruelty contained in the village culture (it’s not accidental that she falls in love with a Frenchman or that she brings a nanny from Italy with her – she is trying to escape from it). The film is about a punitive and sexually repressive Germanic protestant culture and invites viewers to link that culture with the rise of Hitler and national socialism. The films is about the psychology of fascism in a real and important way. It would be a great companion piece to Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism (two books that both link sexual repression and National Socialism). If you’re looking for questions for Haneke, I’d ask him about that.
Besides, Haneke uses way too many distancing techniques (the black and white photography/the voiceover narration) for him to be inviting viewers to view the film as a critique of contemporary society. The cruelty of the film is specific to its historical period as well and doesn’t invite viewers to relate to it (I dunno about you but where I’m from, it’s not socially acceptable for parents to lash their children mercilessly with canes when they’re late for dinner or to tie up adolescents to their beds to prevent them from masturbating). I think this specificity also counters criticisms of Haneke that he’s a sadist with a fundamentally nihilistic worldview.
I think we agree about 50%, which is fine. I don’t think you’re conclusions are invalid, just that I like mine better ;)
I agree that the roots of the film lie in Fascism, but there is definitely an intended correlation to modern society. That’s just how Haneke operates. I think the methods of distanciation he employs are meant to promote this.
In the Kino interview Haneke talks about how he didn’t want Cache to be read as strictly about the Franco/Algerian issue, that he wanted its implications to have a wider reach. Given that direction he was working towards I think it would be a step back for him to make The White Ribbon about just one specific time and place.
By the way, I never bought into the Haneke as sadist/nihilist theory, just as i don’t think the Coen’s hate their characters. I find Haneke to be very warm since his intentions are all about trying to promote an ethical debate, rather than shocking or unnerving people just because he likes to.
I agree with most people here. I think the real question is: Who wasn’t a culprit? I think that the teacher’s conclusion that it was the Children of the Corn was as good a guess as any, but I’m pretty sure now that that was a Red Herring/irrelevant.
And I agree about the dance. It was a strangely Ford-esque in its subtlety, with people hiding out in the open. That’s until Haneke ruined it with that awful cabbage-patch massacre. Ohhhhhh. I get it now. There’s a lot of hate in this town, isn’t there!
@Josh, 50%‘s not bad! I haven’t read too many interviews with him but Haneke seems cagey in the ones I’ve read and directors always want their work to be broadly relevant no matter how specific the theme. You’re absolutely right that Haneke has a strong ethical intent with his films.
I just recently completed a chronological watch (and in some cases, rewatch) of his films, and have also just read The Ethic of the Image by Catherine Wheatley, which is a very helpful look at each of his films through Cache.
I think he’s one of the most important directors of the last twenty years, and certainly one of the top Western directors. His films are fascinating and I hope he makes many more.
His next film is reportedly about the internet, which makes sense.
I highly recommend this interview from Film Comment . Highly informative about his thinking regarding the film and not at all cagey. Haneke says:
“My basic idea was to tell the story of a group of kids who make an absolute of the ideals that are hammered into them by their parents and educators. They turn inhuman by appointing themselves as judges of those who do not live by what they preach. If the drill to which you’re exposed is really rigorous, it becomes a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of terrorism. You turn an ideal into an ideology, and all those who oppose it or are neutral toward it can be constructed as the enemy.”
“At the height of National Socialism, the 8- to 15-year-olds in The White Ribbon would have reached an age where one takes responsibility. But I was also thinking of the history of leftist terrorism, the Red Army Faction . . . A different context, again with different roots but with a similar moral structure, is that of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists. What all these groups and individuals share is that ideals are being turned into ideologies to a degree which is life-threatening—not only for other people but also for themselves, because they are willing to die for their convictions.”
“I always look for the places in a story where leaving things open can become really productive for the viewer. I often compare filmmaking with building a ski jump; the actual jumping should be done by the audience.”
“No religion automatically spawns terror, it’s always the churches and people who use the basic religious needs of others for their own ideological ends, in conjunction with education and politics. Faith per se is something positive; it generates meaning. I for one have no religious faith anymore. Tough luck! Because if you do, you have a different, more contented view of life.”
Thanks for the link, Matt. Great interview. You are right. He’s not cagey at all in it. I guess it supports both Josh’s and my take on the film.
I had a feeling (and said as much to Kai White after the show last night) that terrorism had something to do with it. Thanks, Matt!
I love this film so much it almost hurts.
Josh, I agree with you kind of. I do not think it really matters who exactly committed the crimes, but I feel like the message changes depending on who did it (unlike Caché where I think it does not matter at all). If you look at Matt’s first quoted paragraph, that only makes sense if the kids committed the crime. However I do not think it matters where the Doctor’s lover ran off to, or other plot points like that.
I completely agree that the film is more complex than just Nazis. The message stretches across history.
White Ribbon is finally playing in my area starting Friday 3/5!