REVIEW: Die Wand [The Wall] [2012]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 108 minutes | Release Date: October 11th, 2012 (Austria)
Studio: StudioCanal / Music Box Films / Cinedigm Entertainment Group
Director(s): Julian Pölsler
Writer(s): Julian Pölsler / Marlen Haushofer (novel)

“There is no impulse more reasonable than love”

There is something to be said about an allegory that doesn’t feel the need to beat you over the head with one “true” interpretation. Isn’t the point of such veiled metaphorical introspection that we experience it on our own terms and take what we will whether right, wrong, or conflicted? This is the type of journey director Julian Pölsler’s adaptation of Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel Die Wand [The Wall] takes us, one with deliberate questions devoid of the concrete answers necessary to solve them under some guise of a grand, methodically constructed exercise. The author and screenwriter merely place us inside their world stricken by an unforeseen/indefinable catastrophe alongside an innocent as out of her depth as we are watching. Survival therefore becomes both our goals as we embark on a harrowing adventure together.

While we’re aware of this fact courtesy of the film’s structure hinging on this nameless woman’s (Martina Gedeck) narration of a diary she’s started to recount her two-year exile, she was completely unprepared. We don’t yet know what happened to cause her solitude or how she’s responded, but it’s not hard to guess her current hardened and tired appearance is a shadow of the woman we’ll soon watch enter the Austrian forest with friends Hugo (Karlheinz Hackl) and Luise (Ulrike Beimpold). What follows is her gradual transformation from scared, lost soul to wizened pragmatist only now putting her experiences to paper as a way to stay sane. Hope that someone will save her or at the very least read her words has proven futile—this is her life, for better or worse.

Abandonment struck just one day into her stay due to the decision to remain at the hunting lodge while Hugo and Luise traveled to the village for a quick stop before dark. Left with their dog Lynx and the peace and quiet afforded by the expansive nature outside her window, night soon falls to send her to bed with the assumption her companions will have returned by morning. Awakening to find that belief false, however, she does what anyone in her situation would and sets off towards civilization to see where they might be hiding. With Lynx galloping on ahead and around a bend, his yelp of pain suddenly paralyzes her before finding no cause for his discomfort. Confused and impatient she soldiers on until a couple more steps uncover the peril of their situation.

An invisible wall has impossibly formed in her path, seamlessly circumventing the hunting lodge’s valley to prevent progress in all directions. Hiking to where she knows another cabin exists, she finds its residents (Hans-Michael Rehberg and Julia Gschnitzer) in some sort of stasis beyond her reach—immovable on the other side of the impenetrable division blocking her despite the wind still blowing through the surrounding foliage like nothing is amiss. Unsure about what has occurred and eventually rendered helpless to figuring out how freedom may be achieved, she discovers and tests her boundaries, finds company in a cow named Bella and two peaceful kittens, and begins to shed her former self’s skin for that of a self-sufficient hunter and gatherer whose survival is only possible through hard work and dedication false hope simply cannot provide.

Pölsler does a wonderful job making his fantastical dystopic locale an authentically manufactured prison possessed of simple rules and unavoidable trials. Whether it’s the special effects work pressing against Gedeck’s skin as she tries to push through the wall, the realistic crash of her unsuspecting car approaching the boundary at high speeds, or the muted sound when we find ourselves and the camera on the other side of the barrier as she bangs against the nothingness, we never question her plight. She is trapped and the filmmakers take special care to show it as an irrevocable truth so all her actions and our assumptions can occur in direct correspondence with that presented situation. The season changes, she matures into her new lifestyle, and the cycle continues with additional wrinkles introduced in steep progression.

Moral quandaries about murder crop up after she decides to use Bella for milk and thusly designates deer as her source for meat. Malaise sets in for days on end wherein only the joyous pleasure of Lynx can coax her from bed. And thoughts of easy escape through suicide disappear after an initial debate is won by life and the years of struggle already endured that she refuses to render moot now. No, stalwart vigilance becomes necessity if not for herself than the creatures put in her care by default. Lynx, Bella, and the cats are now her family—personified companions she’s learned to wordless interact with as though through some clairvoyantly omniscient understanding. The delineation between people and animal erases to merge each species into one all-encompassing category called life.

Hearing her words describe this change in consciousness while seeing the love in her eyes for those creatures she saves and those she kills brings us to a state of purity our world no longer holds sacred. She adjusts to her circumstances, does things she never believed she had the capacity to, and becomes one with nature like it was mankind’s true purpose now destroyed by technological advancement and civilization’s greed. Yet even as things strip down to their barest essentials so that living becomes a privilege rather than a right, the completion of her final test shows whether love and malice are forever at odds or intertwined. Because as one wall is erected to block society’s conveniences, another we may not realize we hide behind comes down to put the blood of life and death decisions directly into our once naïve and innocent hands.

Released 10/22 on XBOX, PlayStation, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Google Play/YouTube, and Blu-ray / DVD (through Music Box Films).

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