Right from the rough getgo of The Marriage of Maria Braun, it is most apparent that newlyweds Maria (Hanna Schygulla) and Hermann Braun (Klaus Löwitsch) are in for a rocky ride of a rather foredoomed marriage. Barely surviving their marriage ceremony as the building they get married in tumbles before them and almost crushes them during an Allied bombing raid in 1943, the two severed sweethearts only get to spend "half a day and a whole night" before Hermann – a German Wehrmacht soldier – is shipped back to the apocalyptic setting that is the Eastern front. Rather unsurprisingly for a man of his ill-fortune, Hermann fails to return to his mate Maria after an extended period of waiting for him to return randomly in a ghost train of sorts. When Maria’s soldier brother-in-law Willy (Gottfried John) states that Hermann has been undoubtedly killed like most of the men of his unfortunate unit, she makes the best of things and becomes a hostess at a dilapidated makeshift bar for American Negro soldiers and eventually starts a relationship with a heavyset, middle-aged black soldier named Bill (played by American conductor George Byrd), which results in a merry mix of miscegenation and with a mulatto embryo in her white womb. Naturally, it is to Maria's grand surprise when Hermann shows up after years of captivity in a Ruskie hellhole – looking like a disheveled holocaust survivor no less – to the delight of witnessing his sweet Maria fornicating with a butterball untermensch Schwarzie. Naturally, a feverish fight ensues between heated Hermann and wild black buck Bill that is abruptly ended when the lady of the bizarre bi-racial love triangle breaks a big bottle over the head of her Negro gentlemen caller, thereupon resulting in his decisive death and a charge against the glorified callgirl for murder by American occupational forces. A stoic soldier that has already endured much shame and misery at the hands of Slavic savages, hubby Hermann takes the rap for Maria’s incendiary indiscretion, thus resulting in his imprisonment. To her delight, Maria looses the little Günther Kaufmann (a real-life product of a similar coupling between an American Negro G.I. and a Aryan barbarian) in her stomach under dubious circumstances centering around a doped-up doctor that she is peddling her flesh to in return for special medical favors. With her spouse in jail, Maria takes it upon herself to become “The Mata Hari of the economic Miracle,” or as she states quite callously and sardonically yet undeniably honestly: “I am a master of disguise: A tool of capitalism by day and an agent of the working classes by night.” Assuring her humiliated husband that she is, “going to build a house for us, as you would have done” in an exceedingly emasculating manner as he stands most impotent as an imprisoned man of no means, Maria climbs up the corporate ladder by becoming the mistress of a wealthy industrialist named Karl Oswald (Ivan Desny), who inevitably falls full-fledge in love with the blond beauteous beastess named Maria Braun. Determined to keep Maria in his life, even if she refuses to marry him, loverboy Oswald makes Hermann a monetary offer that he cannot refuse and that few honest husbands would accept that results in the decidedly disgraced husband’s indefinite disappearance to Canada immediately after he is released from prison.
To rationalize post-war prostitute-like professions, Maria tells her husband Hermann, “I’ve led this life for you…for us.” To her credit, her words more or less ring true, but that does not change the damage done from her less than monogamist lifestyle. Ultimately, Maria Braun – a self-made woman who ironically flaunts and taints her flesh to obtain independence – becomes a proto-feminist ‘modern woman’ out of necessity as she emotionally de-evolves into a cold, calculating careerist without capacity for love nor empathy, but a materialist madame and lecherous lady with a propensity for loveless sex and buying expensive things she does not need to impress people she does not like, thus The Marriage of Maria Braun makes for a marvelous movie that is not only reflective of the cosmopolitan, capitalist German woman, but also Western ‘womanhood’ as a whole. Interestingly, while German woman were forced into virtual prostitution (not to mention rape, abortions, and starvation) and rebuilding of their decimated nation due to the abject destruction of the German mensch via the ravages of war (both physically and mentally, from everything from death to disgrace and literal and figurative castration), America women also inevitably adopted this lifeless lifestyle of callous careerism as well despite America’s ‘progress’ after winning the Second World War, therefore, when it comes to progress of kultur and healthy living, one could argue that no one really won the war, at least where happiness is concerned, thus begging the question as to whether or not the real victims of war were the actual survivors. After all, it is no coincidence that the surname of the anti-heroess of The Marriage of Maria Braun is the same as that of Uncle Adolf’s mistress/short-lived bride, but unlike the Führer and his Fräulein – who were able to bask in the glory of self-annihilation and escape the mundane milieu of modernity (and, of course, war crimes) – the bedeviled Brauns become begotten byproducts of cosmopolitan capitalism and the banality of enterprise. Indeed, if nothing else, The Marriage of Maria Braun proves that a woman's greatest commodity is her body which can buy her petty power and material possession as opposed to the misogynistic servitude of marriage and motherhood. As calamitously depicted in the film's crushing and crestfallen climax, economic and sexual freedom cannot buy happiness, let alone an impassioned marriage, but it can empower you to buy sexy outfits to wear needlessly around the house.
Concluding disastrously juxtaposed with the announcement that "Germany is world champion" in regard to West Germany's winning of the soccer world championship and with the final image of then-Chancellor of West Germany Helmut Schmidt, R.W. Fassbinder offered a grim premonition of the splintered Fatherland's future with The Marriage of Maria Braun. Although the Berlin Wall has fallen and the Soviet Union with it, coupled with having the European continent's biggest economy, including the world's fourth largest economy by nominal GDP and the fifth largest in terms of purchasing power, and one the highest standards of living in the world, the nation is also facing long-term indigenous population decline (lower than 1946), a devastating deluge of illegal aliens from the east and south who are mostly unskilled, uneducated, and unemployable yet commit the majority of violent crimes, the legalization of prostitution (no doubt, a most symbolic event!), and the virtual extinction of cultural creators like Fassbinder himself. I guess when you have so many designer shoes and dresses to choose from, why worry about your extincting nation?!