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The Baader Meinhof Complex is a 2008 German film directed by Uli Edel based on a bestselling non-fiction book of the same title authored by Stefan Aust. On the 2d of June 1967, the Shah of Iran and his wife visit West Germany, which leads to a series of street protests. West German students are enraged by the Shah’s policy and do not hold back from expressing their opinion through action. It does not end well for one of them: an unarmed protester Benno Ohnesorg is shot to death by a police officer 1.
The incident generates much controversy across the country, and a left-wing journalist, Ulrike Meinhof takes a stand against police brutality on the national television. Her ardent rhetoric against the government, whom she sees as Neo-Nazis, inspires two radicals – Gudrun Ensslin and Andreas Baader – to bomb a store department in Frankfurt am Main. Meinhof grows interested in their case and soon becomes involved with their organization, RAF, and specifically one of its members. The terrorist group welcomes new members, and more attacks are executed. In a few years, the members grow apart over some of the key decisions, and one of the bombings ends up in the death of a member. When eventually imprisoned, all of the RAF leaders commit suicide, but the final scene hints at the continuation of the terror.
The first thing that truly stands out about the discussed movie is how utterly unromantic it is. The primary goal of this approach is to show the complex and ugly character of any war, including the Cold War that became the part of people’s reality in the 20th century. In such a way, the movie can be associated with this issue. Trying to resist the Western Imperialism with its manifestations, the main actors can be considered through the prism of the main doctrine peculiar to that period of time and characterized by the opposition of East and West, the USSR and USA2. From that point of view, the Baadre Meinhof Complex reflects the split in people’s mentalities that emerged because of the WWII and the further opposition between different ideologies represented by various blocks of countries.
Another interesting characteristic of the film is its factual representation of the events. Right after the movie’s premiere, a German magazine, Der Spiegel criticized the producers of The Baader Meinhof Complex for their alleged failure to pick a side and draw conclusion pertaining humanity and morality of RAF’s actions 3. However, it can be considered a specific approach used by the filmmakers to attract attention to the idea that similar to previous conflicts such as Pacific War, or WWII, a new opposition can start because of the rise of extreme ideologies and regionalism peculiar to new governments and their efforts to empower their positions4. From this perspective, the movie becomes a platform to represent how dangerous ideas can shape people’s mentalities and seed ideas of radicalism, extreme nationalism, and violence.
Altogether, the power and the beauty of the film lie in its unapologetic narration that gives voice to both sides of the conflict – the protesters and the authorities. This type of portrayal is in line with global trends in cinematography. Since the 1970s, movies about terrorism have been offering unbiased, balanced, and personalized depictions of terrorism and violence 5. Raw, bold, and not devoid of self-irony, The Baader Meinhof Complex capitalizes on the self-agency of its target audiences and trusts the viewer to make a judgment of their own.
Bettwy, Samuel William. “Evolving Transnational Cinematic Perspectives of Terrorism.” Perspectives of Terrorism 9, no. 2, (2015): 42-60.
Fink, Carole. Cold War: An International History. London: Routledge, 2017.
Scribner, Charity. After the Red Army Faction: Gender, Culture, and Militancy. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2014.
Soltau, Noah. “The Aesthetics of Violence and Power in Uli Edel’s Der Baader Meinhof Komplex.” IMAGINATIONS (2014): 29-66.
Westad, Odd. The Cold War: A World History. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017.
- Charity Scribner, After the Red Army Faction: Gender, Culture, and Militancy (New York, NY: Columbia University Press) 72.
- Odd Westad, The Cold War: A World History (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017), 123.
- Noah Soltau, “The Aesthetics of Violence and Power in Uli Edel’s Der Baader Meinhof Komplex,” IMAGINATIONS (2014): 32.
- Carole Fink, Cold War: An International History (London: Routledge, 2017), 121
- Samuel William Bettwy, “Evolving Transnational Cinematic Perspectives of Terrorism,” Perspectives of Terrorism 9, no. 2, (2015): 53.