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Hoonsuwan 1 Monsicha Hoonsuwan HNR 144 Final Project Professor Petersen 12 May 2009 Die Brcke and the

Reach for Illusions Bernhard Wickis black-and-white film Die Brcke (1959) recounts a heartrending story of seven German teenagers during the last days of WWII. These youths are plagued by the Nazi ideals, enthused to battle for the sake of achieving perfect masculinity. Yet, they know little about the reality of war. At the beginning of the film, the youths demonstrate much excitement regarding the bomb dropped by the U.S. soldiers at the edge of town. They run to discover the bomb, but are disappointed to find nothing. At the moment, the message is explicit: war is adventurous suitable for the exploratory nature of youth. By the end of the movie, however, the youths find themselves lost in confusion and fear. They have found war to be overly romanticized it has never been beautiful, and it does not prove any manliness in them. Rather, WWII reveals to them the truth of their nature the existence of cowardice in every mans heart. Die Brcke reveals how memories concerning national identity and the concept of masculinity have infused the love of war in humanity, propelling men in particular to fight to achieve the ideal image that never really exists. The first half of the movie is spent wisely to individualize each character, showing the audience each youths background and personal issues. From the very beginning, when he is presenting the background and natures of the seven boys, all friends and high-school classmates, he doesnt waste energy or time (Crowther). This background is important, since it explains the driving force behind the enthusiasm for war in the 16-year-old boys. Of course, they all come from different families, facing various problems in their lives. From a son of a

Hoonsuwan 2 windowed laundress to a son of a local Nazi group leader, they all have one issue in common, nevertheless: they are boys who aspire to attest their masculinity, proving that they are men not innocent young boys. Throughout the first half of the film, this theme is very prominent. Siggi Bernhard (Gnther Hoffmann), son of a widowed laundress, is cherished by his mother. She calls him her boy. Thus, Siggi goes to war to prove to his mother that he is not her baby boy anymore he is a man, and going to war will prove his masculinity. Klaus Hager (Volker Lechtenbrink) also wants to prove to Franziska (Cordula Trantow), the girl who likes him, that he is a man. Similarly, Karl Horber (Karl Michael Balzer) reports for duty after he finds out that his fathers assistant, whom he secretly likes, sleeps with his father. Karl feels that his adolescence is to be blamed even when he thinks he is old enough, his fathers assistant does not perceive him as anything else other than a 16-year-old boy. Karl leaves home, wishing the war will bring out the masculinity in him. Walter Forst (Michael Hinz), a son of the local Nazi group leader, finds his father fleeing while the U.S. troops are approaching the town. Criticizing his father for being cowardly, Walter reflects the German youth ideology during WWII: German men should stay and fight for the country. His fathers response, nevertheless, exhibits a contradictory view of masculinity. Mr. Forst tells Walter he will learn a thing or two being a soldier, and that the army will make a man of Walter. When he mentions that the army will make a man of Walter, he does not refer to the type of men who fight for the country with great bravery. In contrast, having experienced the real war, Mr. Forst refers to the type of men who understands the reality of war that war does not produce the ideal masculinity. Instead, war brings out the weaker sides of men, enlightening them that there has never been the ideal man everyone aspires to be since the beginning. Therefore, the real man such as Mr. Forst will flee since he has realized that fighting the war does not produce any benefits. Apparently, however, Walter does not think the same way. He replies

Hoonsuwan 3 to his fathers comment, A man like you? reflecting the inability to perceive masculinity as something else other than being tough, being strong, and being brave. Die Brcke does a wonderful job of illustrating the German youth ideology during WWII and how many young lives are wasted due to this belief. The source of this ideology, or the myth of manliness, could be traced back to the youth movements during WWI. Whether young men in 1914 were conscripted or volunteered, most of them in their enthusiasm stood in the tradition of earlier volunteersthe volunteers of 1914 determined many of the myths which would emerge from the war, and therefore their state of mind and reasons for enlistment are of special importance (Mosse 53). The myth of masculinity involves the belief that war is an invitation to manliness: it brings fundamental change to complete the dream of youth to become a perfect man, a man who epitomizes true masculinity. Bernhard conveys his resentment to this belief through Die Brcke. Firstly, he illustrates the youthfulness of the characters in the film. Their smiles, their innocence, and their keenness could easily enchant the audience. Unfortunately, all of these qualities are sacrificed for the sake of being a man, for the ideology that revolves around the myth of masculinity, and for the continuity of German national identity. At the end of the film, only one teenager survives, torn apart. The viewers are exposed to the irony of the story since none of them are supposed to die, and their deaths are not even acknowledged. It has all been a complete waste of lives, youthful lives, causing the audience to feel intense distress running through their hearts. Unsurprisingly, the movie has been acclaimed by European critics, one of whom called it one of the bitterest anti-war films every shown on the screen (New York Times). Some of the most interesting shots in the film are the death shots. Bernhard intentionally diverts the audiences focus away from the bullets penetrating bodies in order to emphasize their deaths. Most of the time, Bernhard does not show his characters being shot,

Hoonsuwan 4 but shows the shooters instead. In case of Siggi, the first casualty, Bernhard shows the plane flying pass the bridge shooting at the seven teenagers. Everybody except Siggi lies on the ground. Once the camera switches back to the teenagers on the ground, the audience realizes that Siggi has been shot dead. This pattern continues throughout the movie. Two of six deaths are represented through a medium shot and a counter shot. The rest of the deaths are represented through a point-of-view shot. Each time a person dies, there is always a confusion regarding the cause of his death, and whether he is dead or not. This confusion emerges from the fact that Bernhard does not show the bullets penetrating the bodies of these youths. Instead, he shows the shooters through the victims point-of-view shot. Thus, the audience can never be sure if the gun fires have hit their targets. In addition, Bernhard is trying not to romanticize death. Without a close-up shot of the dying youths, the audience cannot see the facial expressions that would signify their pain and regret. Consequently, viewers cannot identify with any of the deaths, nor can they find the deaths heroic. The lack of sympathy from the viewers reinforces Bernhards message that the death of these youths are worthless. No one cares about them. No one sympathizes or empathizes the youths, not even the film viewers. Regarding the concept of masculinity, Bernhard suggests in his film that true masculinity comes with the realization that war is not a path to escape decadence. The death of Siggi sparks this realization. The camera motion starts with the normal close-up shot of Siggi being held up by one of his friends who is currently off the screen. His dead body is placed near the bottom right of the screen while the right side of the screen is occupied by his friends legs. This close-up shot enables the audience to confirm the death of Siggi, with his empty eyes and a trail of blood coming out from his mouth. The camera zooms out as his friend lowers him down. Then, it switches to a normal close-up shot of Walter, the youth who is holding Siggis body, with the rest of the group standing behind. Their faces are not yet

Hoonsuwan 5 shown in the scene, but their stiff bodies are there to confirm that something has just boggled their minds. The close-up shot of Walter reveals his intense facial expression, an expression that springs out of disbelief and growing fear. The camera zooms out as Walter slowly stands up straight. At this moment, the close-up shot has become a low-angle shot that focuses on every youths face looking down at Siggi, who is not on the screen anymore. Their faces reflect the same amount of seriousness. The youthful fun-loving smiles disappear and are replaced by shattered dreams. No longer do the ideas of adventure and excitement cross their minds. The youths as represented through the low-angle shot look more majestic, more grown up. They are becoming a man, but this type of man does not display courage. This type of man realizes that war is disastrous and painful. War brings out fear in humanity. Hence, this scene conforms to Bernhards suggestion that true masculinity is not about courage and patriotism. True masculinity as perpetuated by their culture has no place in the world they live in. In order to understand how this idea of masculinity comes to be a crucial driving force behind the German youths during WWII, one has to look into the memorialization of past wars fought by the Germans. As mentioned earlier in this essay, the generation of 1914 has been an important creator of the Myth of War Experience through the use of visual representation (Mosse). This visual representation does not only include photography and cinema, but also other forms of fine arts such as statues, monuments, and memorials. An obsession of the youths with the concept of the new man who would build a new society propelled them to fight in WWI. As they returned as veterans, however, they found themselves broken, disillusioned, but unable to speak to anyone about their true war experience. Their attempts to reveal the reality of war as they had experienced were silenced initially by the spread of propaganda. Once, an army bulletin proclaimed the action of patriotic youths taking enemy trenches singing Deutschlandlied, a relatively patriotic song.

Hoonsuwan 6 The image of these youths created the pride and excitement in those who did not participate in the warzones. It confirmed the belief that ideal men were those who fight in battles. Yet, none of the historical theories which hold that they may have done so believe that they were inspired by patriotic ardor (Mosse 71). If they had actually done so, it was out of necessity either they tried to keep contact with their fellow soldiers in the fog, or they tried to keep control of their anxiety and keep up their courage. (Mosse 71). Furthermore, the veterans found their true experience of war overlooked by the public as monuments, memorials, and statues were built in honor of those who fought. These commemorative structures seemed to convey the same message: remember bravery, honor, and sacrifice made by the veterans they were the real men. Consequently, these structures perpetuated the myth of war experience, telling the later generations that war offered honor, promoted courage, and valued sacrifice. Youth and death were closely linked in that myth: youth as symbolic of manhood, virility, and energy, and death as not death at all but sacrifice and resurrection (Mosse 73). According to Mosse, the public honoring of the dead soldiers also fueled the cult of fallen soldier, in which the youths believed that the fallen symbolized the triumph of youth (Mosse 73). Following this ideology, youths in the wake of WWII found themselves enthusiastic to join up and fight for their homeland and for the sake of manliness. Yet, they, too, came back home broken, shattered, and disillusioned. Albert, in the case of Die Brcke, is the one survival who symbolizes this reality. Not only the war experience is represented through commemorative edifices, but also propagated through the visual media such as photography, cinema, and documentary. Visual media plays a crucial role in constructing collective memory how the public remember wars and their legacies. By representing the war, the way it is understood is mediated, since the truth would be sanitized, dramatized, and romanticized (Mosse 59). Representation of the war generates pleasure in the viewers, making them susceptible to authoritarian characteristics

Hoonsuwan 7 and blind identification with the collective (Adorno). Any individual who blindly follows the conventional way of thinking is under continuous pressure to obey orders, and this enable the person to act in the most horrid way. The youths in Bernhards Die Brcke are the victims of visual representation. They believe that the only way they could accomplish true masculinity is through war, which is the collective memory created and reinforced by the 1914 generation. Not questioning the validity of this conventional way of thinking, the youths tragically waste their lives to keep the adults war game going. The inheritance of the concept of masculinity to later generations corresponds with the formation of national identity through collective memory, which is partly constructed by the visual representation. According the Jan Assman, shared cultural memory is the provider of a concretion of identity. Due to the need for identity, one may resort to cultural memory to determine what appertains to oneself and what is not. In other words, shared cultural memory creates a sense of belonging to a certain group. A group bases its consciousness of unity and specificity upon this knowledge and derives formative and normative impulses from it, which allows the group to reproduce its identity (Assmann 128). The fortification of national identity within a state is an important tool to mobilize the group, in order to accomplish a common goal. The stronger the identity awareness, the more willing individuals are to confine themselves within the conventional way of thinking that is shared by other members of the group. If they do not conform to others, they will lose their identities. Hence, they feel compelled to obey orders, which could result in aggression against other identity groups. On the one hand, to deconstruct notions of cultural identity at precisely the moment when the disempowered turn to them may aid the reactionary social forces who seek to reassert the validity of homogeneous mainstream collective identities against proponents of multicultural diversity. On the other hand, to support without criticism identity claims is to aid in the reproduction of an ideology that is both hegemonic and, I believe, oppressive (Handler 38).

Hoonsuwan 8 As a result, during WWII, the Nazis target the youths because they had been fed with strong national identity promulgated since the generation of 1914. The youths had in their minds the idea of German heroism, in which they drew from their cultural memory. They had plenty of enthusiasm. They were young, and full of energy. Therefore, it was not difficult for Hitler to utilize the power of the youth to accomplish Germanys (and perhaps his) goal. Five thousand young people, male and female, were thrown into the 'twilight of the gods' in the last spasm of the agony of Berlin; 500 survived. What was most astonishing to observers was the determination of these children to do their duty until they were literally ready to drop. They had been fed on legends of heroism for as long as they could remember. For them the call to 'ultimate sacrifice' was no empty phrase (Rempel 245). Bernhard exemplifies these Hitlers youth in his film. Seven teenagers are eager to be drafted because their strong belief in German national identity. Heroes fight for their homeland. Heroes come back dead, and will be honored through public commemorative rituals and edifices. Heroism is preferable because it is one of the German traits. These seven teenagers attempt to fight until they are ready to drop. As illustrated by Walter telling his father that he will not come back, these youths belong to the cult of fallen soldier the belief that dying in battle is the most honorable thing to do. In the end, it is all ironic since they receive no commemorations nor are their bravery acknowledged. Commemorations of dead soldiers have become a common practice by many states. Images of soldiers, dead or alive, are repeatedly used in documentary, film, and political rhetoric to provoke an awareness of national identity. This mass mobilization aims at political goals more than personal, since the death of each individual soldier is almost never remembered. It is always about the overarching concepts leading to their deaths that the public commemorate: courage, honor, sacrifice. In Germany, where defeat and revolution were perceived as a total breach with the past, the dead came to stand for all that was worthy in the German past and redeeming in its future (Gillis 12). Gillis further suggests that

Hoonsuwan 9 survivors of the war often identify themselves with the dead because there are few tributes, either material of symbolic, for the WWI veterans. Considering the influence visual representation has over collective memory, the creator of statues, memorials, monuments have to be thoughtful in determining the main theme of their work to avoid destructive consequences. Those who hold the power to create visual representation of wars hold the power to reshape collective memory. It requires a nonconventional, unbiased architect such as Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to bring awareness to the American public regarding the destructive power of conventional war memorials. Vietnam Veterans Memorial focuses on healing the wound caused by the Vietnam War and demonstrates that commemorative edifices should be erected to remember each individual death. The wound is seen to heal through the process of remembering and commemorating the war (Sturken 72). Remembering the deaths should be the main aspect of war remembrance, not remembering the ideology that does nothing but fuels the myth of war experience. Bernhard has demonstrated in Die Brcke how destructive it is for young men to be enveloped by the false image of masculinity and preached about the wrong aspect of cultural identity. In reality, the influence of collective memory on German youths during WWII was even more disturbing: the youths desired to join Hitler in his effort to build the Third Reich. The Freikorps, the SA, the Nazi Party, and other right militarist and nationalist groups offered young men the chance to act out their puerile masculine fantasies and play out their dreams of becoming nationalist soldiers (Donson 339). These young men were not only eager to fight and die. They were also eager to go to war and kill. The continuation of collective memory that implants false ideas of masculinity and cultural identity in the later generations will only bring disaster. In addition, visual representation through films and documentary affects how humanity remembers history. Filmmaking has a special role in the reconstruction of memory

Hoonsuwan 10 because films are available to a larger group of audience, comparing to books, government documents, and speeches. Moreover, films have a distinct power to manipulate the audience in a more direct emotional way. Therefore, the existence of films challenges the old way of how history is perceived a linear account of what happened in the past. Due to its special ability to manipulate the audience, motion pictures generate the feeling of been there, seen that, even when the audience are sitting in a big dark room. By making the audience feel as if they are a part of what is one the screen, the boundary between history and the present fades. What happened in the past, then, becomes a living history that is still vivid in the minds of the audience. Neat closure of the past offered by linear narrative of history happens to be obsolete. Ultimately, films open up the past to various interpretations by the audience, something the linear narrative has never been able to do. Films as complex fictional constructs offer ambivalent perspectives and contradictory attitudes that resist simple explanation and call for multiple readings. Fictional films are able to unlock the viewers hidden wishes and fears, liberate fantasies, and give material shape to shared moods and dispositions. Films can thus be seen as interventions in cultural and political life (Kaes x). Different interpretations of history enable individuals to distinctively develop identities. In the context of Die Brcke, one of the less conventional films that focus on the brutality of war (Reimer 308), collective memory shared by the youth of WWII led to the tragic loss of innocence. For a person who shares this interpretation of the film, history of WWII as would be remembered, is the history of the manipulative nature of Hitler utilizing the innocence of youth to support his own cause. An identity developed by a person who shares this understanding of history could be the fear of authoritarian rulers. Thus, in the context of war and memory, films provide countless ways to remember history of a particular war, while commemorative edifices limit the public understanding of what the war is about. However, representing wars through films also poses a risk of perpetuating the myth of war experience.

Hoonsuwan 11 One could view the depiction of war scenes as the romanticization of war, even when the filmmakers do not intend so. In short, the film Die Brcke has suggested how collective memory shared by the youths during WWII contributed to the outbreak of war. Collective memory created the notion of true masculinity and the aspect of German national identity that never existed. Nevertheless, due to the inexperience and the idealistic nature, they believed that they could achieve that image by going to war. This was a false belief, however, since the youths who came back realized that the war they had understood was too romanticized. The real war was catastrophic. There were deaths and fear nothing particularly masculine resulted. In general, through visual representation, collective memory is shared and inherited to the next generations, creating a neverending cycle of war and tragedy. Youths feel the need to attest their masculinity, so they call for war. Then, their actions are promoted through commemorative structures, perpetuating the myth within their collective memory. The representation of war through films, although is open to many interpretations, still poses problems as it could romanticize war, ending up carrying on the myth of war experience. Overall, the movie is well-made. The narrative is very compelling. For U.S. viewers, the first half of the film may seem to long, but it has a crucial implication on the message Bernhard tries to convey. Therefore, it should be viewed attentively. Once the film ends, the audience can experience the guilt for not sympathizing with the unfortunate youths, for not crying when they die, and perhaps for not caring at all for them. Its an ironic, yet, realistic way of remembering war.

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Bibliography
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Hoonsuwan 13 Rempel, Gerhard. Hitler's Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. Sturken, Marita. Tangled Memories: The Vietnam War, the AIDS Epidemic, and the Politics of Remembering. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.