I have watched many movies in my life including those by Rainer Warner Fassbinder. However, Fassbinder’s “Fear Eats the Soul” stands out from the rest. Fassbinder has directed about 39 films, but this was his bests and most famous. This is a movie that was made in a span of four weeks. Fassbinder brilliantly uses melodrama to bring out the tensions that exist in the society, in particular, racial prejudices.
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The two couples in this movie are not only fighting societal prejudices, but also their own prejudices. He uses this movie to tell his audience that happiness is not only gained if the society or other people approve it, but it takes one’s responsibility to achieve it. He uses a romance that is unconventional to the Germany settings. However, just when the society is beginning to accept this romance, the two lovers start struggling to hold their romance together.
This movie features Emmi, a widow in her mid years who meets and falls in love with Ali who is more than ten years her junior. Right from the start, these two are depicted as outsiders. Their love eventually culminates into marriage, a marriage that leaves Emmi’s family and friends in shock. Ali’s friends and fellow works are also shocked by the news.
This therefore, presents not just an outside problem, but also an inner problem that these two lovers must address in order to save their relationship. From the surface the film looks simple, but it is not simplistic. It reveals Fassbinder’s artistic prowess which he uses to clearly bring out the social politics in the society. In a way it portrays Fassbinder’s personal life that was filled with complexities (Rothbauer 1).
The film begins with a flash of the words “Happiness is not always fun”. These words show what the movie is all about, the fluctuations that accompany the pursuit and maintenance of happiness. This seems misleading to some extent because the film has a lot of fun. It has a straightforward storyline, characters who engage the viewers, and a playful visual style.
These starting words also serve to show where the movies originated. They were used in 1970 movie by Fassbinder, “The American Soldier”. It is said that Fassbinder wrote the screen play of this movie after his 1973 romantic thriller. However, it is said that this movie was remade fro Sirk’s “All That Heaven Allows”. Sirk was Fassbinder’s film hero and therefore, it is not strange for these two films to share the same storyline (Fear 1).
The superb performances from the film’s characters especially from Ali and Emmi, gives the film great power and appeal. Ali is portrayed as sweet, innocent, one with some unsettling directness, and generally strange. The performances are unforgettable because they not only make the characters lively, but also allow the viewer to intuit through their many gestures what is on their minds.
Fassbinder artistically puts the events of the movie in a fascinating sequence. In one instance he depicts confusion, and then he connects it with love full of playfulness. This then leads to some hurt at the end of the film. This sequence detains the viewers emotions leaving one glued to it till the end. This close connection of the movie to the viewer facilitates the general acceptance of the intellectual features in the movie.
For instance, when Fassbinder talks about social politics, he refers to the Germany society, but the connection allows the viewer the chance to relate them to their societies. There are times when the film is pulled in stylistic directions that may seem extreme just to bring out clearly the message. However the sequential connection allows the audience to stay with the storyline, with the characters, more specifically, with Emmi and Ali (Jim 1).
Fassbinder presents social politics in this film in a genial way, albeit not as probing and incisive as he has done in his previous works. In this film, Fassbinder uses a totally different tone from the other films. Here, the tone carries more hope as shown from the first lines “Happiness is not always fun”.
The characters are more empathetic and the visual style also brings out hope in the movie. Fassbinder ends the film abruptly, this may seem harsh to some, but it is effectively done. This ending when seen in the lens of the Germany society and in terms of Ali’s health, can be said to be ironic. However, Fassbinder is basically showing us that there is still hope for Ali and Emmi’s relationship.
This can be seen from the effort he makes in showing us how both have learned not just about the other, but also about their selves. The ending can be seen from two points of view. We can see that irony can bring out some idealism. It can used to understand the social politics, hypocrisy that existed in Germany and in the general nature of man. Secondly, the ending is not pessimistic but ironical. It shows that if individuals understand their failings, then they stand a better chance of overcoming them (Jim 1).
In the film we see family members and friends accept Emmi and Ali’s relationship. However, this acceptance has a reason. These people know that they will benefit in one way or the other from the relationship. Here, Fassbinder brings in the theme of exploitation. We see Emmi’s son sending money for the TV he destroyed, but with a request that his mother babysits his kid.
The women neighbors accept Ali with the hope that he can also supplement their lonely lives. The scene where these women surround Ali and start feeling his muscles confirms it. Fassbinder makes it even better by bringing out its climax in one continuous shot. What the audience sees reflects the feelings that are going through Ali’s body.
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Fassbinder brings out the changing human nature when we see Emmi joining the other women in casting out another foreign woman. Emmi who was a victim now joins the victimizers in ostracizing the new woman. This shows the relevance of the title of this movie, that actually fear eats away one’s soul. This shows that the source of fear is usually people and situations around them. The fear here is attributed to racism. However, a deeper examination can show that the characters feared loneliness (Jim 1).
Fassbinder explores the ways and reasons why people take part in their problems. It is not only Emmi who follows her fellow women in casting out the new woman, but Ali also left Emmi after his co-workers mocked him at the garage. Fassbinder uses too much stillness throughout this film. At many points, Fassbinder freezes the action forming some sort of tableau especially in scenes showing Ali and Emmi.
This stillness strengthens the yearning that characters show throughout the movie and it also gives it immense power. It shows how the emotions of the characters are blocked, how the Germans are paralyzed literally and metaphorically. It comes as an irony that the liveliest moments do not involve the main characters. This stillness is perfected by the slow and expectant pacing that also highlights further the yearning and paralysis. This periodic stillness also gives the movie its expressive and analytical rhythm (Jim 1).
Fassbinder also employs the use of rigid boundaries where we see that people are squeezed into small openings. This shows the nature of the society we live in, always static and constricting, but one in which people must live, grow personally and politically so as to survive. The visual elements used show how people perceive and handle events in their lives.
The ending shows the two couples as a reflection far off showing how artificial they were. It also shows a scene where Emmis is holding the hand of Ali in a hospital bed. This image is prolonged for sometime with the doctor assuring Emmi that Ali will be alright (Ebert 1).
Many say that this movie is a reflection of Fassbinder’s life experiences. The Germanys prejudices against gay people such as Fassbinder. This can be related to the prejudices we see in the movie against mixed-age interracial relationship between Ali and Emmi. But all said and done, this film gives people another possibility through Ali and Emmi.
Fassbinder tells us that people can not pursue happiness blindly; they must connect with others, love other people, and grow into responsible people. As humans, we must scrutinize our surroundings which include exploring our inner feelings, and the society at large without any fear.
Ebert, Rogers. Ali: Fear eats the soul. The Pirate bay, 1997. Web.
Fear. Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (1974). Cinema, 2010. Web.
Jim Reviews. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Angst Essen Seele Auf). Jclark Media, 2007. Web.
Rothbauer, Chris. “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974). Film red farmer, 2010. Web.