5-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.TGVC.5-2.6 | John­son PDF

Hans Weingartner’s Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei, also known by its Amer­i­can title The Eduka­tors, explores the rela­tion­ship of a young anti-cap­i­tal­ist activist, Jan, with his own friends, the bour­geoisie he oppos­es, and him­self. Jan and his friends engage in some rel­a­tive­ly benign but dis­rup­tive “ter­ror­ist” acts. Though the film can­not be said to belong to the hor­ror genre, Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei nonethe­less employs hor­ror ele­ments and tropes to expose the intrin­si­cal­ly sub­jec­tive def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror­ism, and to explore terrorism’s rela­tion­ship with the “oth­er.”
Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei de Hans Wein­gart­ner, aus­si con­nu sous le titre améri­cain de The Eduka­tors, met en scène le rap­port d’un jeune activiste ant­i­cap­i­tal­iste, Jan, avec la bour­geoisie à laque­lle il s’oppose, avec ses pro­pres amis, et avec lui-même. Jan et ses amis com­met­tent des actes ter­ror­istes rel­a­tive­ment bénins mais per­tur­ba­teurs. Bien que le film ne puisse être définit comme appar­tenant au ciné­ma d’« hor­reur », Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei utilise néan­moins cer­tains élé­ments et tropes de ce genre afin de dévoil­er le car­ac­tère intrin­sèque­ment sub­jec­tif du ter­ror­isme, en plus d’examiner le ter­ror­isme à tra­vers la ques­tion du rap­port à l’altérité.)

R. Eric John­son | Uni­ver­si­ty of Ten­nessee, Knoxville

Jedes Herz…”:
Terror and Horror in Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei

Hans Weingartner’s Die fet­ten Jahre sind vor­bei, called in Eng­lish The Eduka­tors, explores the rela­tion­ship of a young anti-cap­i­tal­ist activist with his own friends, the bour­geoisie, and him­self. The activist and his friends engage in some rel­a­tive­ly benign but dis­rup­tive “ter­ror­ist” acts. Though the film can­not be said to belong to the hor­ror genre, Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei nonethe­less employs hor­ror tropes to expose the intrin­si­cal­ly sub­jec­tive def­i­n­i­tion of “ter­ror.”

In Die fet­ten Jahre sind vor­bei, a group of “Eduka­tors,” to use the Amer­i­can title, van­dal­izes people’s homes to crit­i­cize their mid­dle-class, bour­geois lifestyle. Jan, the group’s osten­si­ble leader, Peter, and Jule, through a series of acci­dents and mis­ad­ven­tures, kid­nap a wealthy busi­ness­man, Hard­en­berg. Unsure of what to do, the group takes Hard­en­berg to a remote moun­tain cab­in. After a long dis­cus­sion of the mer­its and dis­ad­van­tages of their respec­tive ways of life, Hard­en­berg promis­es not to inform the author­i­ties of the group’s actions, at which point they release him. Hard­en­berg, how­ev­er, does not make good on his promise, prompt­ing the Eduka­tors to crash his boat in an act of defi­ance and protest.

Crit­ics and pop­u­lar review­ers of Die fet­ten Jahre sind vor­bei have not dis­cussed the film in rela­tion to the hor­ror genre—and with good rea­son. The film ranges between com­e­dy, dra­ma, and what can loose­ly be called “crime” genre con­ven­tions, and is a far cry from the pop­u­lar con­cep­tion of “hor­ror film.” Hor­ror films often quick­ly estab­lish the “good” and the “evil” char­ac­ters. Even when hor­ror films cen­ter their plots around the “hid­den mon­ster,” the final moments most often leave no ambi­gu­i­ty in the nature of the film’s characters.

Of course, “ter­ror” and “hor­ror” are also linked seman­ti­cal­ly. Achin Vanaik presages the neces­si­ty of such a lin­guis­tic study. In dis­cussing the uncer­tain­ty of the term “ter­ror,” he writes that “that kind of effort [to trace the mean­ing of ‘ter­ror’] might ety­mo­log­i­cal­ly focus on the word 'ter­ror' and then go on to draw out the mean­ing of ter­ror­ism as some­thing that caus­es and sus­tains ter­ror” (4164). This def­i­n­i­tion decon­structs the root of the word, leav­ing the def­i­n­i­tion bereft of polit­i­cal con­tent. The word “ter­ror­ism,” as a func­tion of the root “ter­ror,” links the intend­ed effect of “ter­ror­ist” activ­i­ties to the intent of hor­ror films in gen­er­al. Hor­ror films “fright­en and pan­ic, cause dread and alarm, and […] invoke our hid­den worst fears, often in a ter­ri­fy­ing, shock­ing finale, while cap­ti­vat­ing and enter­tain­ing us at the same time in a cathar­tic expe­ri­ence” (Dirks).

The usu­al mode of recep­tion of the “ter­ror­ist mes­sage” fur­ther strength­ens the link between ter­ror­ism and hor­ror. The true dif­fer­ence, then, lies in both the inher­ent­ly polit­i­cal nature of ter­ror­ism and the lack of a “cap­ti­vat­ing and enter­tain­ing […] cathar­tic expe­ri­ence” in ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties. Martha Cren­shaw dif­fer­en­ti­ates ter­ror­ism from oth­er vio­lent move­ments by describ­ing ter­ror­ism as “delib­er­ate and sys­tem­at­ic vio­lence per­formed by small num­bers of peo­ple […] to intim­i­date a watch­ing pop­u­lar audi­ence by harm­ing only a few” (Cren­shaw 406). Films deal­ing with ter­ror can then be said to be part of terror’s “high­ly opti­cal char­ac­ter” (Der­ian 23)—in oth­er words, the fetishiza­tion of ter­ror imagery. This fetishiza­tion man­i­fests itself in the often-replayed video from the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks, and films like Der Baad­er-Mein­hof Kom­plex, Munich, and Flight 93, which present famil­iar ter­ror­ist events as film imagery.

If the pur­pose of ter­ror, to use Crenshaw's quote, is to “intim­i­date a watch­ing pop­u­lar audi­ence,” the vio­lence acts only as a means toward a spec­ta­cle, as Tyler Cowen sug­gests. These spec­ta­cles “can be thought of as an invest­ment in focal­i­ty” (235), or in oth­er words, an attempt to draw vis­i­bil­i­ty and focus to a par­tic­u­lar issue. These “invest­ments in focal­i­ty” are not lim­it­ed to acts usu­al­ly described as “ter­ror,” but can also apply to orga­nized mil­i­tary actions as well. These “spec­ta­cles” mir­ror the con­cep­tion of film as spec­ta­cle, in which the film seeks to present the view­er with imagery that evokes feel­ing and thought. Film­mak­ers design the imagery of film to dia­logue with the thoughts and feel­ings of the audience.

Die fet­ten Jahre con­tains ele­ments that can be inter­pret­ed diaget­i­cal­ly as hor­ror, and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, through the process of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with its main char­ac­ters, the film forces its audi­ence to con­front its own fears. The spec­ta­cles of fear, key to both ter­ror­ism and hor­ror film, pro­vide the audi­ence of Die fet­ten Jahre with a shift­ing land­scape of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and repul­sion. Though a par­tic­u­lar view­er may not hold the same val­ues as Hard­en­berg or the oth­er bour­geois fam­i­lies, the sym­pa­thet­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the film’s “ter­ror­ist” per­mits the view­er to iden­ti­fy with their lives and, per­haps, their message.

Jan and Peter's “edu­ca­tion­al” acts rely on the tra­di­tion­al def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror. That is to say, the char­ac­ters in the film attempt to enact polit­i­cal change by cre­at­ing a cli­mate of fear, which would then force their “vic­tims” into accept­ing and sub­scrib­ing to their views. Jan and Peter’s acts mir­ror the intent of groups like Al Qai­da, which expressed an intent to “foment a ‘clash of civ­i­liza­tions’” and spread their mes­sage across the umma, or the com­mu­ni­ty of Islam (Atwan 225). The inac­tive por­tions of the umma must be brought into the fight through the spec­ta­cle of ter­ror­ism and war. Though on a much small­er and less vio­lent scale, Jan and Peter seek to “awak­en” the bour­geoisie by pre­sent­ing them with images, events, and infor­ma­tion that they have not seen before.

The pop­u­lar definition(s) of “ter­ror­ism” inform the filmic con­ven­tion of ter­ror­ism. This dif­fi­cul­ty is only exac­er­bat­ed by prob­lems with the term ter­ror­ism itself. As Peter Kur­rild-Klit­gaard, Mogens K. Juste­sen, and Robert Klem­mensen state, “[t]he term 'ter­ror­ism' is one of those con­tro­ver­sial and essen­tial­ly con­test­ed con­cepts with­in the dis­course of pol­i­tics and accord­ing­ly also in social sci­ence research” (290). Con­ven­tion­al wis­dom casts ter­ror­ism as an attempt to induce polit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal change through the cre­ation and pro­mo­tion of fear.

In addi­tion to the tra­di­tion­al mean­ing of actions caus­ing or cre­at­ing fear to achieve polit­i­cal goals, the term has come to also mean any­one who bat­tles against the sta­tus quo in some way. The dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion of ter­ror based on pow­er rela­tion­ships hints at a sub­jec­tive nature of the term. Cren­shaw explains that the term “ter­ror­ism” can also be “a pejo­ra­tive label, meant to con­demn an opponent's cause as ille­git­i­mate rather than describe behav­ior” (406). Fur­ther­more, the sub­jec­tive nature of ter­ror­ism also results in a dialec­ti­cal rela­tion­ship with “retal­i­a­tion.” Vir­ginia Held posits that “[m]any acts of polit­i­cal vio­lence are described by those sup­port­ing them as retal­i­a­tion for ear­li­er acts of polit­i­cal vio­lence, though described by their detrac­tors as 'new' or 'fresh' or 'renewed' acts of ter­ror­ism” (192).

In the film, the bour­geois fam­i­lies see Jan and Peter's acts as ter­ror­ism, and the pair them­selves as ter­ror­ists. Jan and Peter attempt to cause fear by vio­lat­ing the per­ceived safe­ty of these fam­i­lies' homes. For Jan and Peter, how­ev­er, the fam­i­lies them­selves are the ter­ror­ists. These mid­dle- and upper-class fam­i­lies con­trol wealth and, as shown between Jule and Hard­en­berg, they do not hes­i­tate to wield their influ­ence to their own ben­e­fit, even at the expense of others.

Die fet­ten Jahre sind vor­bei presents its main char­ac­ters as ambigu­ous in the very first moments. Jan and Peter com­mit acts designed to “intim­i­date a[n …] audi­ence,” but the film also shows the pair, and espe­cial­ly Jan, to be sym­pa­thet­ic. In the first scene with Jan and Peter, we see Jan berate Peter for steal­ing a watch from one of the homes. While Peter seems com­mit­ted more to youth­ful rebel­lion, for Jan the theft under­mines the mes­sage he wants to com­mu­ni­cate. As such, although the audi­ence may inter­pret Jan’s actions as irra­tional or crim­i­nal, the film presents Jan as, at the very least, an earnest believ­er of his own code. Fur­ther­more, con­trary to Jan, Peter, and Jule's views, Hard­en­berg reveals him­self as sym­pa­thet­ic to their cause, and admits that he too once fought against the ideas to which he now subscribes.

There­fore, though hor­ror film uses hor­ror ele­ments and tropes to quick­ly code char­ac­ters as either “good” or “evil,” Die fet­ten Jahre uses the same tropes to con­stant­ly define and rede­fine the “good” and the “mon­sters” in the film. This cycle of def­i­n­i­tion and rede­f­i­n­i­tion reflects the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty inher­ent in the con­cept of “ter­ror­ism”. Fur­ther­more, the shift­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the “good” and “evil” in Die Fet­ten Jahre cre­ates a micro­cosm of the retal­ia­to­ry nature of polit­i­cal terrorism.

Even before the audi­ence views the film, the movie posters for Die Fet­ten Jahre, before the first sec­ond of the film, call to mind oth­er gen­res, includ­ing hor­ror. One poster shows the three “Eduka­tors” stand­ing in front of a red-splat­tered white wall, look­ing cooly into the cam­era. Above, writ­ten in coarse red let­ters, is the title of the film. The gang motif that this poster invokes calls forth posters for films like Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, cer­tain pro­mo­tion­al mate­r­i­al for Den­nis Ilidias’s remake of The Last House on the Left, or even the poster for Wes Craven’s Scream 4.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Though posters for oth­er films also use the gang motif, the stag­ing of this par­tic­u­lar poster actu­al­ly relates more to the above exam­ples than to posters such as that of James Merendino’s SLC Punk. The scrawled red screed on the white wall does not call to mind the light-heart­ed anar­chy of the poster of SLC Punk, but rather the stark con­se­quences of phys­i­cal vio­lence, in the fig­ure of blood. Anoth­er film poster for Die fet­ten Jahre makes this com­par­i­son stark­er. The poster once again depicts red writ­ing on a white back­ground. This time, how­ev­er, under the title of the film, we see an archi­tec­tur­al sketch, pre­sum­ably of Hardenberg’s house. Those who have seen the film will real­ize that the film's turn­ing point—the kid­nap­ping of Hardenberg—occurs in this house. Even those who have not seen the film would be pre­sent­ed with an image that calls to mind the hor­rif­ic image of blood­ied hands, writ­ing on the white back­ground. In com­bi­na­tion with the title, a view­er could eas­i­ly draw the con­clu­sion that the film deals with the end of the “fat years” through an act of violence.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

These posters show an attempt towards vis­cer­al reac­tion. They pre­sup­pose a sort of vio­lence that nev­er­the­less only appears towards the mid­point of the movie and, in real­i­ty, only for a brief moment. These posters are pro­lep­tic of the vio­lence that is only par­tial­ly resolved in the film. Pre­sum­ably, these posters were cre­at­ed to give exact­ly that antic­i­pa­tion of vio­lence, that vis­cer­al reac­tion, as a means of provo­ca­tion to see the film. Crit­ics lev­eled these crit­i­cisms of provo­ca­tion at films like Eli Roth’s Hos­tel and James Wan’s Saw,[1] and it is exact­ly the same impulse that informs these state­ments (as well as the ini­tial pre­sen­ta­tions of these “tor­ture porn” sta­ples) as does the posters of Die fet­ten Jahre.

In the film itself, these same visu­al motifs per­sist. The film’s pro­tag­o­nist, Jan, and his friend Peter break into the hous­es of the rich. The group is express­ly non-vio­lent and do not steal, but instead Peter and Jan rearrange house­hold items and leave notes with such state­ments as “Die fet­ten Jahre sind vor­bei,” or “Your days of plen­ty are num­bered.” The dis­rup­tion is meant to scare the bour­geoisie out of their com­fort­able malaise by cre­at­ing an uncan­ny expe­ri­ence. The antag­o­nism between the bour­geoisie and the Eduka­tors is fur­ther exac­er­bat­ed by Jule's car acci­dent with Hard­en­berg, a wealthy busi­ness­man, which leaves her in debt.

Jan and Jule, how­ev­er, fall in love with each oth­er. In the scene the first poster ref­er­ences, Jan and Jule cement their grow­ing bond by hap­pi­ly paint­ing a room togeth­er. They use red paint to hap­haz­ard­ly write, “Jedes Herz ist eine rev­o­lu­tionäre Zelle,” or “Every heart is a rev­o­lu­tion­ary cell.” While writ­ing this, Jan wraps Jule in the drop cloth they were using. They com­plete the mes­sage with some hand­prints in red paint, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly cov­er­ing them­selves, and their hands, in red. All this occurs to a pop-punky sound­track, lend­ing lev­i­ty and joy to the scene.

The scrawled red let­ters, in com­bi­na­tion with the words “heart” and “cell,” can­not help but remind the view­er of blood. Hor­ror films use the trope of the blood-scrawled mes­sage, or, as Wein­gart­ner uses it here, a mes­sage writ­ten with a blood sur­ro­gate, to fore­shad­ow impend­ing vio­lence, to indi­cate a site of ear­li­er vio­lence, or both. The icon­ic “Redrum” writ­ten by Jack’s son Dan­ny in The Shin­ing (1980) occurs before any actu­al blood­shed, but the mes­sage con­tains a threat of car­nage to lat­er be real­ized. In the episode “Inno­cence” (1998) of the tele­vi­sion show Buffy the Vam­pire Slay­er, Angelus writes Buffy a mes­sage in his victim’s blood, both “sign­ing” his hand­i­work and imply­ing future vio­lence direct­ed towards Buffy. In a quite recent exam­ple, the antag­o­nist in the pilot of the tele­vi­sion show The Fol­low­ing (2013) leaves the word “Nev­er­more” in blood as a clue to the pro­tag­o­nist. Sim­i­lar scenes have been used in recent mar­ket­ing to evoke campy hor­ror-tinged joc­u­lar­i­ty, such as The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show (1975), vam­pires, in the case of Låt den rätte kom­ma in (2008), or even the vio­lent mal­ice of the Heath Ledger’s Jok­er in The Dark Knight (2008).

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

In addi­tion to ref­er­enc­ing the red paint as a blood sur­ro­gate, the “rev­o­lu­tion” of the mis­sive ini­ti­ates hos­til­i­ty in poten­tia. The word “heart” com­bines with “rev­o­lu­tion” to evoke the idea of a rev­o­lu­tion not of the heart but from the heart. The type of peace­ful activism that Jan insists on—limited to reversible vandalism—is designed to change hearts and minds with­out doing irrepara­ble dam­age. The pair, as well as their absent third mem­ber, clear­ly envi­sions them­selves as lead­ing a rev­o­lu­tion against the bour­geoisie to shake them out of their com­pla­cen­cy. Jule has only recent­ly joined the “rev­o­lu­tion,” and the mes­sage stands as her new man­i­festo. Rev­o­lu­tions, of course, have his­tor­i­cal­ly been bloody, vio­lent affairs that forcibly remove the rulers from their sta­tions. Jan and Jule are bliss­ful­ly unaware of the implied threat which, as the film goes on, they will realize.

The hand­prints Jule leaves tie into the mes­sage as a whole. The bloody hand­print appears through­out media forms and gen­res. The pop­u­lar web­site TV Tropes[2] even main­tains a list devot­ed to the bloody hand­print. Films like Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Gothika (2003) use the bloody hand­print as a sign of the pres­ence of car­nage. In Stephen King’s nov­el Car­rie, the tit­u­lar pro­tag­o­nist leaves a bloody hand­print on her teacher after her first peri­od while pan­ick­ing over the idea that she may bleed to death. In these cas­es, to name but a few, the hand­prints indi­cate human tor­ment and fear. The hand­prints are usu­al­ly left by those in pain and bleed­ing, rather than those caus­ing the pain. The clear sym­bol of the hand links the sign of strug­gle to the human form, result­ing in a vis­cer­al sym­bol of misery.

Semi­ot­i­cal­ly, the bloody hand­print and the mes­sage writ­ten in blood cor­re­spond to the vic­tim and the aggres­sor, respec­tive­ly. Wein­gart­ner jux­ta­pos­es the two images in this scene to blur the lines between vic­tim and aggres­sor. Visu­al­ly, the com­bi­na­tion of vic­tim and aggres­sor in the mes­sage on the wall com­pli­cates Jan and Jule them­selves, posi­tion­ing them as both vic­tim of the bour­geoisie and the activist aggressor.

The hand­print also par­o­dies the human con­nec­tion by stand­ing as a sort of child­like sig­na­ture. Chil­dren, before they can write prop­er­ly, often make art or sign art as theirs by leav­ing a hand­print in paint. When Jule leaves the hand­prints, then, she osten­si­bly leaves them as a type of sig­na­ture, bereft of vio­lent con­tent. The hand­prints can then also be read as bring­ing human­i­ty into their rev­o­lu­tion, once again echo­ing the char­ac­ters’ naïveté over the true nature of their revolution.

One of the odd­est visu­als in the sequence is Jule’s mum­mi­fi­ca­tion. Mum­mies have been the sub­ject of hor­ror films since near­ly the begin­ning of hor­ror film as a genre.[3] The act of mum­mi­fi­ca­tion, even decon­struct­ed as it is in Jahre, calls forth echoes of films like The Mum­my (1932) star­ring Boris Karloff, The Mum­my (1959), star­ring Christo­pher Lee, or the var­i­ous sequels, remakes, and spir­i­tu­al suc­ces­sors of these films.

Jule’s mum­mi­fi­ca­tion, how­ev­er, is not the super­nat­u­ral­ly inspired mum­my of these films, but rather the type of body hor­ror vio­la­tion that occurs in films like André de Toth’s House of Wax (1953) or the more vis­cer­al 2005 remake of the same name, direct­ed by Jaume Col­let-Ser­ra. In these films, corpses are cov­ered with wax and made to look like sim­ple wax fig­ures, rein­te­grat­ing the uncan­ny corpse into a more accept­able (and yet, itself uncan­ny) wax fig­ure. They ful­fill the uncan­ny by sep­a­rat­ing the human form from its nat­ur­al state, while retain­ing the over­all shape and impression.

This mum­mi­fi­ca­tion is a sort of play-act­ing for Jan and Jule. The alien­at­ed human form of the mum­my par­al­lels their own (self-)alienation from soci­ety. The back­drop of the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary cell” state­ment, writ­ten by the two, presents them as simul­ta­ne­ous­ly alien­at­ing them­selves and form­ing blan­ket man­i­festos of the human race. Jan directs the vio­lence that seems to under­cut the inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships of the char­ac­ters towards Jule. Jan cov­ers Jule’s body as a type of ini­ti­a­tion that ref­er­ences rit­u­al tat­too­ing or body mod­i­fi­ca­tion. He alien­ates her and deforms her in order for her to phys­i­cal­ly incor­po­rate new philoso­phies. In com­bi­na­tion with the atavis­tic sign of the hand­print, the act reduces Jule to a depen­dent state. After unwrap­ping her, Jule is fig­u­ra­tive­ly reborn as a mem­ber of the Eduka­tors, hav­ing ful­ly inter­nal­ized their credo.

The Eduka­tors them­selves already feel alien­at­ed by the soci­ety around them. The scene alien­ates Jule from her pre­vi­ous­ly accept­ed life and phys­i­cal form by mum­mi­fy­ing her, and then both dealien­ate her phys­i­cal­ly and realien­ate her philo­soph­i­cal­ly by free­ing her. This body hor­ror trope also appears in films like Saw 3D (2010) to mark sur­vivors who have been men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly changed by their ordeal. Jule's defi­ant, post-mum­mi­fi­ca­tion pose is one of cool hos­til­i­ty direct­ed towards the world she now finds her­self divorced from. The pose also marks her as a sur­vivor, now indeli­bly altered by her adopt­ed phi­los­o­phy. The entire arc of this scene also pre­ludes the restrain­ing of Hard­en­berg lat­er in the film, as well as his (per­haps faked) char­ac­ter shift while held.

The jovial nature of the scene casts these actions as a sort of ter­ror­ist pan­tomime. The music, the set­ting, and the demeanor of the char­ac­ters do not ful­ly over­come the nascent vio­lence in their actions. The two deface their own prop­er­ty and bod­ies with a polit­i­cal and phys­i­cal activism that Jan has already turned out­ward. The group’s peace­ful mes­sage belies the aggres­sion in their actions. This bare­ly hid­den impe­tus towards vio­lent action fore­shad­ows the effect of their rev­o­lu­tion, even as the char­ac­ters them­selves remain blind to it.

The turn­ing point of the film comes as the group, almost by acci­dent, knocks the rich bour­geois Hard­en­berg uncon­scious. The group choos­es to hold him in an old cab­in until they can decide how to deal with the sit­u­a­tion. There, the group gets to know Hard­en­berg, and Hard­en­berg comes to know the group. In one telling scene, the Eduka­tors and Hard­en­berg sit togeth­er, dis­cussing their dif­fer­ences in a grim par­o­dy of din­ner table conversation.

For Jan, Hard­en­berg is a mon­ster, an oth­er made more fright­en­ing by his sim­i­lar­i­ty. He claims to have had sim­i­lar polit­i­cal lean­ings in his youth as a mem­ber of the 68ers, though whether he lies to sym­pa­thize with his cap­tors is unclear. Now firm­ly with­in the bour­geoisie, Hard­en­berg stands for every­thing Jan despises—perhaps more so because he was once like Jan. At the same time, he serves as a stern warn­ing of Jan's pos­si­ble future. When Jan rec­og­nizes him­self in Hard­en­berg, he comes to know Hardenberg—and also to know himself.

The con­cept of the mon­ster who walks among us has always found expres­sion in hor­ror and sus­pense films. Jason Voorhees was once a child at the same camp at which his vic­tims now work in most Fri­day the 13th films.[4] The cult clas­sic slash­er Hap­py Birth­day to Me (1981) makes the uncan­ny nature of the mon­ster explic­it, where­in the killer turns out to be a friend and secret half-sis­ter of, as well as a dead ringer for, the film’s pro­tag­o­nist, Gin­ny. In My Bloody Valen­tine (1981), the pro­tag­o­nists reveal that the killer is actu­al­ly one of them, Axel, dis­guis­ing him­self as the min­er Har­ry War­den, who died after com­mit­ting a series of mur­ders some years earlier.

The trope of the mon­ster is so dis­tinct that Car­ol Clover even sub­di­vides it into two types: Psy­cho types, in which the mon­ster func­tions in nor­mal soci­ety until the final reveal, and the Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre or Hal­loween type, in which the film always codes the mon­ster as such (Clover, 30). The uncan­ny nature of the first type is obvious—the mon­ster is indis­tin­guish­able from any­one else until he or she is either caught in the act, or when the evi­dence becomes over­whelm­ing. How­ev­er, even when the mon­ster per­forms the mon­ster role from the begin­ning, he or she can be cod­ed as sym­pa­thet­ic for an audi­ence. Hal­loween II (1981), for exam­ple, reveals that the mon­ster Michael Myers is actu­al­ly the broth­er of the franchise’s pro­tag­o­nist, Lau­rie Strode. As for the Texas Chain­saw Mas­sacre fran­chise, the recent Texas Chain­saw 3D (2013), billed as a direct sequel to the first film (1974), cen­ters on a young woman, Heather, inher­it­ing her grandmother’s estate. After com­ing to Texas to col­lect it, she finds that she was adopt­ed, and is actu­al­ly a cousin to the franchise’s can­ni­bal­is­tic family.

In this trope, some event, often by chance, changes the lives of these mon­sters and makes them what they are. The dichoto­my of Heather and Leather­face in Texas Chain­saw 3D, for exam­ple, comes not from genet­ics or blood rela­tion, but rather, as Heather’s char­ac­ter shows, from the envi­ron­ment in which they were raised. In Hap­py Birth­day to Me, the lost half-sis­ter, Ann, was aban­doned by the char­ac­ters’ shared father, as he left Ann to be with Gin­ny and her moth­er. In My Bloody Valen­tine, the antag­o­nist watched his father being mur­dered by Har­ry Mor­gan while he hid.

In cast­ing the mon­ster as some­one sim­i­lar, but changed by a sin­gle event into a “deformed and destruc­tive being,” to use George Ochoa’s term (12), films cre­ate the fear of the path not tak­en. Hor­ror films show the pro­tag­o­nist, who is often “good” in hor­ror films, but near­ly always hap­less, as one event away from becom­ing a deformed and destruc­tive being. By lead­ing the view­ers to iden­ti­fy with the pro­tag­o­nist, the films then set up the fear that the view­ers them­selves may only be sep­a­rat­ed from the mon­ster by a sin­gle event.

Films on ter­ror­ism speak direct­ly to these sorts of soci­etal fears. They cre­ate an acces­si­ble mon­ster. The defor­ma­tion sep­a­rates the mon­ster from the sta­tus quo and cre­ates a dop­pel­gänger—a human being so rad­i­cal­ly altered in mind­set and goals as to be strange, and yet sim­i­lar. As Paul Wells says, “[the dop­pel­gänger] is effec­tive­ly a ‘dou­ble’, in which humankind con­fronts its neme­sis either through the oppo­si­tion of an indi­vid­ual and a mon­ster or by the expo­sure of the two com­pet­ing sides of an individual—normally, one ratio­nal and civ­i­lized, the oth­er uncon­trolled and irra­tional, often more pri­mal and atavis­tic” (8).

In films on Ger­man ter­ror­ism, the notion of dop­pel­gänger con­nects to the idea of home­grown ter­ror­ists and the fear of “uncon­trolled and irra­tional” per­sons or groups dis­rupt­ing the “ratio­nal and civ­i­lized” world. Die Fet­ten Jahre Sind Vor­bei com­pli­cates this clear delin­eation by cod­ing both the Eduka­tors and Hard­en­berg as both irra­tional and atavis­tic and ratio­nal and civ­i­lized. For the Eduka­tors, Hard­en­berg is a deformed and destruc­tive being. Hard­en­berg was, by his own admis­sion, once like the Eduka­tors, belong­ing to the Ger­man youth move­ment usu­al­ly referred to as the 68ers. The events of his life led him on a course that result­ed in a bour­geois life, but it was nev­er, he indi­cates, a con­scious deci­sion to aban­don his ear­li­er prin­ci­ples. Instead, events occurred in his life that changed his phi­los­o­phy. Wein­gart­ner also por­trays Hard­en­berg as child­like and greedy. Hard­en­berg con­cerns him­self at times more with his pos­ses­sions, or sim­ply that the Eduka­tors are not play­ing by the rules, than he does the “right­ness” of his actions.

Exact­ly this rela­tion­ship mir­rors Wells’ notion of hor­ror film: “The over­whelm­ing cur­ren­cy of the hor­ror film errs to the view, how­ev­er, that the Niet­zschi­an per­spec­tive is true— ‘moder­ni­ty’ has in effect sac­ri­ficed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of faith and pur­pose to arbi­trari­ness and apoc­a­lypse. This socio-cul­tur­al con­text is thus bound to give rise to a deep psy­cho­log­i­cal, emo­tion­al, and phys­i­cal malaise […]” (6). For Jan, Hard­en­berg has sac­ri­ficed any notion of belief for arbi­trari­ness and self-interest—his nice car, his nice house, his bour­geois fam­i­ly. He also expe­ri­ences this malaise, stat­ing, in effect, that his place in the world reflects the nat­ur­al order of things that can nev­er be bro­ken. The Niet­zsche par­al­lel is par­tic­u­lar­ly apt in this sit­u­a­tion. Hard­en­berg jus­ti­fies his actions with a sort of Niet­zschi­an parable—namely, that the strong will come out on top, and that to not be sub­ju­gat­ed, one must be strong with­in their system.

Jan strug­gles against this very idea with his actions, as well as his man­i­festo. He and the oth­er Eduka­tors have been try­ing to break the bour­geois out of their indif­fer­ence by destroy­ing their sense of safe­ty. Now that he faces a pos­si­ble log­i­cal con­se­quence of life—that aging may force him towards the bour­geoisie—he him­self can see the dan­gers of this Niet­zschi­an malaise.

Jan’s sit­u­a­tion also brings him clos­er to this malaise. Jan’s grow­ing rela­tion­ship with Jule leads him towards a pos­si­ble bour­geois hap­py end­ing. Much of Jan’s activism has been pred­i­cat­ed on his rela­tion­ship with Peter. As their rela­tion­ship strained due to Jan and Jule’s love affair, the foun­da­tion of the Eduka­tors would seem to be crum­bling, leav­ing only Jan and Jule in a sort of Bon­nie and Clyde dynam­ic. This dynam­ic plays into the idea of the bour­geois pair—a man and a woman. In fact, Hard­en­berg seems to hint at this in the sto­ry of his youth.

Cer­tain­ly, if Hard­en­berg is the mon­ster (which, for Jan at least, he is), this moment of stark real­iza­tion forces Jan to not only know, but also rec­og­nize the mon­ster. Ochoa deals with this process; quot­ing Thomas Aquinas’s state­ment that “the thing under­stood is in the intel­lect by its own like­ness (18)," he puts forth that the under­stand­ing of the mon­ster is to have that mon­ster with­in the mind of the one who under­stands. In under­stand­ing Hard­en­berg, he also comes to know and rec­og­nize him in himself.

Cer­tain­ly, Jan sees Hard­en­berg as a mon­ster. How­ev­er, Hard­en­berg sits restrained at the table, fear­ing for his life. For him, a cap­tive under the mer­cy of ter­ror­ists, they are the mon­sters, and their per­ceived leader, Jan, dou­bly so. There­fore, it can cer­tain­ly be argued that Hard­en­berg cre­ates this 68er per­sona to shield him­self from fur­ther harm. The actions of Jan, then, come to form the uncan­ny in his oppo­site number.

For Hard­en­berg, these Eduka­tors are equal­ly uncan­ny. Unlike the ter­ror­ists of Al Qai­da or Hamas, these ter­ror­ists come from the same place as he does, eat the same food, speak the same lan­guage. They are what Hard­en­berg could have been, or per­haps even was, dur­ing his youth. They are what his own chil­dren could become. Though, for Hard­en­berg, the Eduka­tors may act imma­ture­ly in their actions, they also have the com­pas­sion to let him speak and to let him remain restrained, but oth­er­wise unmolested.

To an extent, Jan rep­re­sents the fail­ures of Hardenberg’s gen­er­a­tion. In a review in Film Threat, Hei­di Mar­t­in­uzzi casts Jan in this light: “When Jan begins his many speech­es about how unjust soci­ety is, it seems insin­cere, spoiled, and frankly, full of bull­shit” (Mar­t­in­uzzi). As he argues the posi­tion of his own (per­haps imag­ined) youth, Hard­en­berg arti­fi­cial­ly under­stands his “mon­ster” Jan. By feign­ing an activist youth, he brings the mon­ster into him­self, to para­phrase Aquinas. At the same time, the dif­fer­ence in val­ues, which Hard­en­berg sees as naïve, dri­ves the two apart.

To that end, the hor­ri­fy­ing moment in Die fet­ten Jahre comes dur­ing this scene, where both the pro­tag­o­nist and the antag­o­nist come to rec­og­nize parts of them­selves in the mon­strous oth­er. The two under­stand the deformed and destruc­tive being that sits in front of them, at least some­what, and there­fore they take part of that defor­ma­tion and destruc­tion into them­selves. Fur­ther­more, oth­er films on ter­ror­ism like Der Baad­er-Mein­hof Kom­plex, inten­tion­al­ly present their ter­ror­ists as Wein­gart­ner does the Edukators—as sim­i­lar to their oppo­site num­ber, but changed by an event or events that, more often than not, was not of their own doing. Thus, the view­er can iden­ti­fy with the ter­ror­ists in much the same way they would iden­ti­fy with the pro­tag­o­nist or the antag­o­nist of a hor­ror film, by embrac­ing sim­i­lar­i­ty while fear­ing the minor dif­fer­ences that cre­ate the gulf between them.

In the final scenes of the film, Wein­gart­ner seems to begin to show the results of this under­stand­ing. Hard­en­berg takes pity on Jule, and for­gives her debt to him. He also promis­es to keep qui­et about the entire affair. At this moment, it seems as if the under­stand­ing has been successful—the Eduka­tors have returned Hard­en­berg to his life, and Hard­en­berg promis­es to allow them to do the same. The bar­ri­ers between them—the uncan­ny distance—have been dis­solved, and they are final­ly able to come to a sort of peace.

Wein­gart­ner, though, quick­ly shows this to be a farce. As police storm the apart­ment the Eduka­tors had inhab­it­ed, they find noth­ing but a note stat­ing that “some peo­ple nev­er change.” The Eduka­tors are then shown to dri­ve Hardenberg’s yacht into tele­vi­sion tow­ers, final­ly mak­ing good on the promise of wide­spread ter­ror imma­nent in the film.

Essen­tial­ly, by leav­ing the ten­sions between the groups unre­solved, Wein­gart­ner ends the film almost how he begins it—with a rad­i­cal group and a bour­geois man. Their posi­tions, though, are now ampli­fied by their encounter. The rad­i­cals have pro­gressed to full-fledged ter­ror­ists bent on destroy­ing prop­er­ty and dis­rupt­ing the “com­fort­able lives” of the bour­geoisie. Hardenberg’s cap­ture also forced him to invoke police protection—a ser­vice paid for by taxes—to main­tain his com­fort and sta­bil­i­ty and, so doing, to cement his per­son­al stake with­in the system.

In read­ing this film through hor­ror, the easy con­clu­sion to draw from this ampli­fied, cycli­cal end­ing is the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a sequel. The hor­ror genre is per­haps the genre most like­ly to include sequels; Fri­day the 13th has nine sequels and a reboot, as well as the orig­i­nal film, and the Night­mare on Elm Street fran­chise already runs into 9 iter­a­tions, to give some exam­ples. The desire to know and under­stand the mon­ster nev­er removes his, her, or its mon­strous­ness. Instead, the films leave the uncan­ny divide between the mon­ster and the sta­tus quo, forc­ing the strug­gle between them in per­pe­tu­ity. Of course, at least cur­rent­ly, there is no sequel. Instead, the view­er is left with a marked lack of res­o­lu­tion, with no fur­ther hope of such. In oth­er words, the expe­ri­ences of both the group and Hard­en­berg, and the shar­ing of their con­flict­ing ideals remain the­sis and anti-the­sis. Wein­gart­ner leaves the appar­ent syn­the­sis of the pre­ced­ing scene as an unat­tained ideal.

In addi­tion, the arc of Die fet­ten Jahre rep­re­sents a cycle of ever-increas­ing stakes between the Eduka­tors and Hard­en­berg. Because Hard­en­berg led to Jule owing mon­ey, the group breaks into his house, which results in his being kid­napped. Hard­en­berg calls the police to arrest the Eduka­tors, and know­ing this will hap­pen, the Eduka­tors steal his boat and crash it into the tow­ers. In each instance, Hard­en­berg and the Eduka­tors both see them­selves as the wronged par­ty, and the oth­er as the aggres­sor. The film shows one small, every­day event—an auto­mo­bile accident—as the cat­a­lyst for the entire destruc­tive, dis­rup­tive events of the film.

This ever-increas­ing spi­ral of retal­i­a­tion com­ments on the nature of ter­ror­ism in gen­er­al. The intel­li­gence and mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ties use the term “blow­back” to describe this sort of retal­i­a­tion, which is often pre­sent­ed in the media as ter­ror­ism (John­son, Chalmers). As a result, an objec­tive def­i­n­i­tion of ter­ror­ism remains unten­able. Instead, the “ter­ror­ist” and “ter­ror­ism” exist dialec­ti­cal­ly. The per­son defin­ing anoth­er as a “ter­ror­ist” is invari­ably the per­son on the receiv­ing end of the “ter­ror­ist” acts. The flu­id­i­ty of the def­i­n­i­tion of “ter­ror­ism” leads to a rhetor­i­cal arms race, with each side try­ing to make a seem­ing­ly iron­clad case as to why their ene­my uses “ter­ror,” and why they are sim­ply defend­ing their way of life.

These con­stant cast­ings of mon­sters, uncan­ny dop­pel­gängers, and vio­lence against indi­vid­u­als and soci­ety bring Die Fet­ten Jahre in line with hor­ror films. To this end, Robin Wood describes hor­ror films as “at once the per­son­al dreams of their mak­ers and the col­lec­tive dreams of their audiences—the fusion made pos­si­ble by the shared struc­tures of a com­mon ide­ol­o­gy” (Clover 12). Die fet­ten Jahre can be read in a way that the film would, at first glance, seem to resist. By cre­at­ing plot ten­sion and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment through hor­ror themes, a hor­ror read­ing sud­den­ly becomes “fair game.”

In Die fet­ten Jahre, Wein­gart­ner has cre­at­ed a fic­tion­al, per­son­al alle­go­ry of a dynam­ic of ter­ror­ism that usu­al­ly occurs at the nation­al lev­el. Through hor­ror tropes, Die fet­ten Jahre depicts the sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of “ter­ror­ism” as a con­cept, and expos­es a dialec­tic of “ter­ror­ist” and “defend­er of ideals” that resists easy dis­cus­sion. Though Die fet­ten Jahre does not incor­po­rate all hor­ror tropes and struc­tures and cer­tain­ly can­not be clas­si­fied as a hor­ror movie, the valid­i­ty of hor­ror read­ings in the film shows the per­sis­tence of tropes across what we would often con­sid­er to be rigid, clear genre lines. The use of these tropes becomes essen­tial to Die fet­ten Jahre’s nuanced approach to the caus­es and results of “ter­ror­ist” activities.

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Speed. Dir. Jan de Bont. Perf. Reeves, Keanu, Den­nis Hop­per, and San­dra Bul­lock. Bev­er­ly Hills, CA: Fox Video, 1994.

Texas Chain­saw 3D. Dir. John Luessen­hop. Perf. Alexan­dra Dad­dario, Dan Yea­ger, Tremaine Nev­er­son, Tania Ray­monde, Thom Bar­ry, Paul Rae, Bill Moseley.Twisted Pic­tures, 2013. Film.

The Dark Knight. Dir. Christo­pher Nolan. Perf. Chris­t­ian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eck­hart, and Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal. Bur­bank, CA: Warn­er Home Video, 2008. DVD.

The Devil's Rejects. Dir. Rob Zom­bie. Perf. Sid Haig, Bill Mose­ley, and Sheri M. Zom­bie. San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA: Lions Gate Home Enter­tain­ment, 2005. DVD.

The Fly. Dir. Neu­mann, Kurt. Perf. Vin­cent Price. Bev­er­ly Hills, Calif: 20th Cen­tu­ry Fox Home Enter­tain­ment, 2000. DVD.

The Incred­i­ble Shrink­ing Man. Dir. Jack Arnold. Perf. Grant Williams, Randy Stu­art. Uni­ver­sal City, CA: Uni­ver­sal, 2011. DVD.

The Last House on the Left. Dir. Den­nis Illiadis. Perf. Tony Gold­wyn, Mon­i­ca Pot­ter, Gar­ret Dil­lahunt, and Aaron Paul. Uni­ver­sal City, Calif: Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios Home Enter­tain­ment, 2009. DVD.

The Mum­my. Dir. Karl Fre­und. Perf. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Dick Foran, and Peg­gy Moran. Uni­ver­sal City, CA: Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, 2004. DVD.

The Mum­my. Dir. Ter­ence Fish­er. Perf. Christo­pher Lee and Peter Cush­ing. Bur­banks, Calif: Warn­er Home Video, 2001. DVD.

The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show. Dir. Jim Shar­man. Perf. Susan Saran­don, Bar­ry Bost­wick, Richard O'Brien, and Tim Cur­ry. Bev­er­ly Hills, CA: Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry Fox Home Enter­tain­ment, 2002. DVD.

The Shin­ing. Dir. Stan­ley Kubrick. Perf. Jack Nichol­son and Shel­ley Duvall. 1980. Bur­bank, CA: Warn­er Home Video, 2001. DVD.

The Sum of All Fears. Dir. Phil Alden Robin­son. Perf. Ben Affleck, Mor­gan Free­man, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber. Hol­ly­wood, Calif: Para­mount Pic­tures, 2002. DVD.

Tobias, Scott. “Review: Hos­tel.” The A.V. Club 4 Jan­u­ary 2006. Web. 11 April 2014.

Vanaik, Achin. “Ter­ror­ism: Def­i­n­i­tion and Ethics.” Eco­nom­ic and Polit­i­cal Week­ly, Vol. 37, No. 40 (Oct. 5-11, 2002): 4164-4168. PDF.

Wells, Paul. The Hor­ror Genre: From Beelze­bub to Blair Witch. Lon­don: Wall­flower Pub­lish­ing Lim­it­ed, 2000. Print.

End Notes

[1] Mike Clark’s review of Saw for USA Today from 2004, Mark Savlov’s  review of Saw for the Austin Chron­i­cle from 2004, and Scott Tobias’s review of Hos­tel for AV Club, to name a few.

[2] http://​tvtropes​.org/​p​m​w​i​k​i​/​p​m​w​i​k​i​.​p​h​p​/​M​a​i​n​/​B​l​o​o​d​y​H​a​n​d​p​r​int

[3] Universal’s Mum­my series, the first of which appeared in 1932, for example.

[4] In the first film, of course, Jason’s moth­er com­mits the mur­ders as ret­ri­bu­tion for her son’s death. In lat­er films, Jason aban­dons Camp Crys­tal Lake completely.

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