What it’s about: White Ribbon

For quite a while I have been largely dissatisfied with film analysis writing. Film theorists seem disinterested in trying to understand the director’s intent and they write really convoluted sentences. So I’ve decided to begin a little film analysis section of my own.

Here is how this film analysis works. I watch a movie. I state the meaning and support that statement with evidence. That’s it. No reams of long winded self important pontification. No evaluation of the film. Just quick and dirty explication.

I should mention that I’m not going to claim to understand exactly what any film is about. Only what I think it’s about.

So to start, let’s look at Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.” The thesis of this film seems to be “The truth of events and their motives are uncertain and not attained by human beings.”

The narrative communicates this idea because a series of violent events occur throughout the story and we never discover the perpetrator. A teacher thinks the perpetrators might be the town’s children. But we could easily then say that the real perpetrators are the parents who abusively raised their children. Another possibility is the oppressive religious figure who forbids the teacher to share his theory. A fourth possibility is the theory spread through town; that the doctor and the mistress were responsible.
The style communicates this thesis by attempting (and failing) to be objective. The scenes are mostly covered wide, trying to assess all the details simultaneously. The structure is a weave of multiple narratives, trying to cover many points of view instead of just one. Final shots of the crowd display a sea of suspects with no clear criminal. The tone is largely cold and distant, communicated by the black and white photography, the wide framings, and lack of music.
Here is the part that might not fit into my assessment. The scenery is extremely beautiful and quaint. And there are a few innocent moments, like the little boy taking care of the bird, and the romance between the teacher and his love interest. If I had to guess about how these events fit into the aforementioned thesis, it’s that Haneke wants to show us that although life is filled with pain and uncertainty, we are surrounded with moments of beauty too.
This may fit into the last thing I wanted to mention. There is an inherent paradox in Haneke’s thesis. The only logical way to communicate the idea of “unattainable truth,” is to communicate the idea in an unattainable way. But to understand the film is to attain a truth, right? So if the truth of his film is attainable, then he is essentially undermining the thesis that “truths of the world are unattainable.”  I don’t point this out to find flaw with Haneke’s thesis, I think he’s probably aware of this paradox. In fact, his thesis may be something more like “Some truths of the universe are unattainable.” Or still, “Truths of the universe are simultaneously attainable and unattainable.”
There are other themes of family, faith, pre World War I German culture, and gender roles but I think what I’ve pointed out is the main piece of the film.


One Response to What it’s about: White Ribbon

  1. lkjjkjl says:


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