Directed by Werner Herzog
West Germany, 1977
HOME, 27 September 2019
Werner Herzog’s America.
In Stroszek he shows us a forlorn Elsewhere of desolate lives subsisting on limpid dreams, a flatland where his queer pioneer scrabbles to survive. Stroszek is a misfit who believes, at the start of his journey anyway, that changing his immediate surroundings will save him. So he leaves a grimy, gritty Berlin for Wisconsin’s wide vistas. But changing his very own self, his habits, peccadilloes and predilections, that is something he cannot do. Needless to say, his sojourn is not a happy one. Misery is his cruel lot in Germany, undeniably, but in America it is worse.
The performing chickens and other small animals at the end, a characteristic touch of genius by Herzog, put me in mind of Kleist’s famous essay on puppet theatre. These sentient creatures, aglow with dancing and music and song, have the febrile glitter of cheap magic. They are animate automata, mechanical toys, and their antics mock Stroszek’s inability to radically change his life. He fails, yet so do we all. (People cannot ever really change their lives, can they?) Anyway, I love the denouement to the film, it is as though Herzog had stumbled upon a New World Cabinet of Curiosities.
And in the end, we realise, it has all turned to shit for Stroszek. His golden-hearted girl goes back to her old profession. He dreams up a plan to rob a bank, but it is closed so he goes to a barber’s shop instead. Even that goes awry. And self-dissolution, getting banged out of your head on booze, is never entirely successful. It didn’t work in Berlin and it doesn’t work here. For there is always a little light of awareness, of consciousness, peeking through the blurry clouds of oblivion. And what does consciousness mean, in a Werner Herzog film? Yes, consciousness means suffering, the capacity to experience pain. We know that art may console the soul, but the problem is that dire entertainment and zany amusement is all that is on offer in the Flatlands. Can that do the job as well? Well, why don’t you watch the film and see.
Stroszek was showing as part of the David Lynch’s True Favourites film season. Further details here.