For obvious reasons relating to wartime guilt, the cultural colonization of their nation by the U.S.A. and its allies, and the virtual worldwide demonization of their history and culture, a good percentage of the West German filmmakers of the post-WWII era had a rather contentious relationship with their national identity and culture, as if it was something to be ashamed of or apologetic about. Indeed, from the malignantly melancholy melodramas and Hollywood genre obsessions of Rainer Werner Fassbinder to the celluloid existential crises of Wim Wenders to the oftentimes sterile and annoyingly contrived leftwing literary adaptations of Volker Schlöndorff to the populist Marxist cheerleading and hagiographic feminist bitch biopics of Margarethe von Trotta to the insufferably banal commie docs of half-Hindu Harun Farocki to the pathologically pedantic intellectual cinematic experiments of Alexander Kluge to the absurdly aesthetically decadent high-camp escapism of Werner Schroeter, the filmmakers of the New German Cinema movement that lasted from the late-1960s to early-1980s seemed more interested in negating and/or condemning their ancestral cultural than actually building upon it. In fact, even Hans-Jürgen Syberberg—a staunch Wagnerite and the most consciously Teutonic and conservative of Germans filmmakers from his era—succumbed to some of the cultural decadence of his zeitgeist as reflected in his utilization of the techniques of kraut commie Brecht and the aesthetic excesses of Queen Schroeter. Undoubtedly, the contempt, loathing, and/or fear that many of these filmmakers had for their nation and culture is probably most apparent in regard to the relative popularity of the ‘anti-Heimat’ films, which were socially scathing cinematic works that cynically mocked the once popular ‘Heimatfilm’ subgenre of the late-1940s through 1970s. Oftentimes viewed by leftists as a continuation of the films of the Third Reich and the proto-Nazi mountain/‘Bergfilme’ films of the 1920s through early 1930s, the Heimat films were shamelessly wholesome and sentimental movies set in rural settings that emphasized the value and importance of love, friendship, family, and country living, thus it should be no surprise that such cinematic works were considered to be loathsome by a degenerate generation of politically radicalized filmmakers who blamed their parents and grandparents for the legacy of Uncle Adolf. Needless to say, any filmmaker that dared to display any sort of affinity for the kraut countryside and a distinctly Germanic way of life was bound to be ostracized, or at least such was more or less the case for underrated Swiss German auteur Niklaus Schilling (Der Westen leuchtet aka The Lite Trap, Die Vertreibung aus dem Paradies aka The Expulsion from Paradise), who just passed away in early May 2016 at the age of 72 as a nearly completely forgotten filmmaker whose films are even somewhat hard to come by in Germany.
Not unlike Germany as a whole, the forlorn female protagonist is torn by her natural instincts and the demands of an industrialized modern society that is—for better or worse—constantly evolving at a rate that surely eclipses both emotional and social evolution, or as German philosopher wrote in his fairly brief book Man and Technology: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1931) regarding the precarious nature of technology and its relation to man, “The unique fact about human technics, on the contrary, is that it is independent of the life of the human genus. It is the one instance in all the history of life in which the individual frees himself from the compulsion of the genus. One has to mediate long upon this thought if one is to grasp its immense implications. Technics in man's life is conscious, arbitrary, alterable, personal, inventive. It is learned and improved. Man has become the creator of his tactics of living—that is his grandeur and his doom. And the inner form of this creativeness we call culture—to be cultured, to cultivate, to suffer from culture. The man's creations are the expression of this being in personal form.” It should be noted that the most eccentric and socially retarded character in the entire film is an inventor. Indeed, the cultural schizophrenia of modern technologically advanced Germany is probably best symbolically underscored in a scenario were a kindly old grandfather tells his granddaughter the German myth of Lorelei as they pass the River Rhine steep slate rock of the same name whilst riding in a state-of-the-art first-class-only Trans Europ Express train that was named after a Wagner play that, according to George Bernard Shaw in his book The Perfect Wagnerite (1898), is a critique of industrial society.
A truly Teutonic piece of cinema that engulfs the viewer in the most darkly romantic corners of the German soul, the film even dares to make references to National Socialist era cinema. Indeed, the heroine’s mother is portrayed by Alice Treff, who previously appeared in the Nazi era rail transport romcom Ein Zug fährt ab (1942) directed by Johannes Meyer and starring Ferdinand ‘Jud Süß’ Marian. Undoubtedly, by comparing Rheingold with its predecessor Ein Zug fährt ab, one gets a pretty good idea as to how forsaken the German soul has become since the Second World War. A sort of modernistic equivalent to Kristina Söderbaum’s characters in her husband Veit Harlan’s Nazi era films like Opfergang (1944), the heroine ultimately commits a sort of quasi-nihilistic form of sacrifice where nothing is gained and everyone loses.
After the unhappily married couple finally goes to their own private train car, Elisabeth gives Karl-Heinz the present from her mother and he less than sincerely remarks, “I’m pleased.” Of course, Elisabeth tries in vain to get her husband to ignore the fact that he just caught hanging out with her lover by pretending to be happy to see him, but she does not realize that there is not much you can do to the calm murderous jealously of a scorned husband, even if you are a highly manipulative woman that knows the power of feminine touch. When Elisabeth almost immediately begins ignoring him after giving him the present by daring to begin reading some trashy tabloid magazine, Wolfgang becomes visibly agitated and begins eyeing his nice and shiny new golden envelope opener, which seems to be practically begging him to pick it up and use it as it shimmers glowingly in the sunlight. When the train drives under a bridge and the train car briefly becomes dark, Wolfgang ceases the opportunity to grab the envelope opener and then brutally stabs his wife in the stomach in what seems to be a desperate attempt to avenge his cuckold status. After the single stabbing, Karl-Heinz exits the train car in a swift fashion and gets off the train at the next stop without anyone noticing his murderous behavior. From there, Elisabeth passively awaits death while recalling the most poignant moments of her life, especially in relation to her homicidal husband and lifelong love obsession Wolfgang. As becomes quite clear to the viewer as they watch the film, Elisabeth is a woman with strong and insatiable erotic desires and even when she is dying, she cannot help but fondly reminisce about being sexually serviced by Wolfgang in both exotic and less than exotic settings that range from scenic country fields to a post-industrial wasteland near an aesthetically monstrous Bayer factory.
Certainly the most tragic aspect of the film’s heroine is that, upon discovering real love after being married to a man she loathes, she cannot go on living as she probably cannot fathom being devoid of what she probably sees as being one of only a handful of things that makes life truly worth living. Another tragic element of the film is that, as hinted in flashback scenes from their childhood, the heroine and her beau would have probably gotten married at a young age had they lived in a different era, but pernicious social plagues like globalization, feminism, and urbanization, among things, probably got in the way at some point in their lives. Indeed, as depicted in the old school Heimat films, it was fairly normal in previous generations for people to marry individuals from the same village that they had known their entire lives, but of course absurd social phenomenons like movie stars have resulted in people, especially women, in developing delusional standards for men. While the viewer never gets her complete story, one can only assume that heroine Elisabeth grew up with ridiculous standards for men after watching one too many Clark Gable and Gary Cooper flicks and thus prolonged marriage until it was too late while waiting in vain for an imaginary immaculate white knight to sweep her off her feet, thus causing her to a settle for a man she did not love out of desperation at a time when her fertility was dubious at best. Of course, being a barren woman approaching middle-age that decided hypergamy was more important than love, respect, sexual attraction, and emotional compatibility, the heroine epitomizes the tragic creature that is the decidedly deracinated modern Occidental woman, who is too concerned with her personal comfort and social prestige to concern herself with the important ingredients that typically lead to happy and successful marriages. After all, it is no coincidence that marriages are at an all-time low in the Western world and that the majority of marriages end in divorce, as modern women, who have been brainwashed by feminism and stupid stories from childhood about how they deserve all deserve a white knight, expect too much from men yet give virtually nothing in return. Naturally, this also probably explains why that, despite having the highest standard of living in human history, unhappiness is at an all-time high among Western woman. Sadly, most women will probably never discover the true source of their general dissatisfaction with life, as it would require them to pull their heads out of their asses and confront the fact that everything they have been brainwashed with during their entire lives via Hollywood in is a sad little lie.
Undoubtedly, English auteur Ken Russell might as well have been describing German cinema of the 1970s when he complained in Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell (1991) regarding the degenerate and uniquely un-English state of English cinema, “We do live on a magic island, without doubt, but so far as British films are concerned there is precious little evidence of this. By and large, contemporary film-makers seem to revel in squalor, glorify ignorance and extol violence. There is another kind of life outside of this which many people in this country would like to celebrate, if only they were given the opportunity and not made to feel guilty about it. It is nothing to do with religion; it is to do with the spirit of the land in which we live, that elusive quality touched on by the music of VW [Ralph Vaughan Williams] and his contemporaries such as Arnold Bax, Frank Bridge and John Ireland: music expressing the majesty of nature, forgotten rituals, pagan goddesses and ancient heroes. All these scores are unashamedly romantic and shamefully neglected; and desperately outmoded according to the new barbarians whose mission is to tramp our heritage underfoot. Still, I agree that ours is not an age of heroes, though in his Seventh Symphony VW remembers some very gallant gentlemen who battled against tremendous odds to reach the South Pole and failed.” Of course, post-WWII Deutschland is anything but heroic, yet a film like Rheingold reminds the viewer of the singular glory and deep dark roots of Teutonic mythology and kultur, thus making it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to indulge in true Teutonic culture. As for the true power and importance of the melodramatic pathos of the film, Schilling probably said it best when he wrote, “Melodrama—what a strange concept: another cubbyhole in which one places scenes with crying men, childless, rich women, passionate love-hatreds, and setting suns. It also is used as disapproving and disdainful response to a precisely choreographed attack on the world of emotions, something a cinematic film can do if it takes itself seriously. It take it seriously and no doubt use these forms taken from the melodrama, because these forms likewise contain something that is specifically cinematic: an optical narrative structure which does not explain and edify—a way of dealing with emotions.” Considering that the titular train ended operation on May 30, 1987 after over 59 years of service, Rheingold can and should be seen by contemporary German filmmakers who dare to attempt to be the heirs of the greats like F.W. Murnau and even Schilling as a new fresh source of Teutonic mythology that can be utilized as inspiration for their own films.