“He’s more the quiet type.”
What makes a mild mannered, introverted man suddenly go berserk one day and bludgeon three people to death? German director, Rainer Fassbinder asks that question in his film Why Does Herr R Run Amok? The film records the mundane existence of Herr Raab (Kurt Raab) through a series of scenes. These scenes include Raab’s tedious mind-numbingly boring job, a social visit with Raab’s elderly parents, and a meeting with Raab’s son’s teacher.
In each scene, Raab appears trapped, alienated and disaffected. While Raab’s beautiful and engaging wife (Lilith Ungerer) attempts to entertain and charm her in-laws, Raab sits immobile amidst the superficial exchanges. He’s not participating, and he doesn’t even seem to be listening. He’s under a great deal of pressure–there’s talk of a promotion at work, and there are hints of financial constraints. Through it all, Raab acts like a zombie–with little display of emotion or interest in his surroundings. But he does suffer from headaches and is told by his doctor to take a holiday.
Fassbinder goes to incredibly intricate lengths to establish the sheer boredom and triviality of Raab’s bourgeois life. While this is achieved, the viewer must, by necessity experience the details of Raab’s life second hand. Raab’s boredom and frustration becomes our boredom and frustration. Fassbinder’s skill as a director is admirable, and the awful essence of Raab’s mediocre life is transmitted through the screen, but this does not create an enjoyable viewing experience. After watching Raab’s visit with his parents, I was ready to start smashing some furniture.
Fassbinder is a fascinating director–always provocative and controversial. His greatest films include The Marriage of Maria Braun, The Stationmaster’s Wife, & Veronica Voss. If you are new to Fassbinder, start with one of those three films. Why Does Herr R Run Amok? is recommended for hardcore Fassbinder fans. In German with English subtitles.