Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Outsider (3 Stars)

This film confused me when I watched it. It wasn't so much that I didn't understand what was happening, it was that I didn't understand the motivation of the central character, Lukas Berlinger. At different times in the film, which takes place over a period of 30 years, he's pursuing different goals, some altruistic, others to make money. After watching the film I read the booklet enclosed with the DVD. Ah ha, it's a true story! That explains everything. Our lives don't have well defined plots, we move in different directions over the years, and there's even the deus ex machina which is a poor plot device in a fictional screenplay, but it's part of real life.

Lukas Berlinger was the son of a rich industrialist who owned a factory in South Germany making chemicals. His father took in a boy, Johannes Roeder, who lost his parents, and the two grew up as brothers and friends. Lukas studied biochemistry, graduating with honours, and took over his father's factory. Johannes became a politician and had a high position in the Nazi party. Because of his important career Lukas was excused from military service, but he was lazy and spent his days getting drunk. Then he finally found the motivation to do something useful: he learnt how to fly a plane and began to smuggle people out of Germany into Switzerland. He did this successfully for years while continuing to feign laziness, but the Nazis began to put pressure on him to work harder. His wife committed suicide, so he fled from Germany and settled in Argentina. He had to leave his son behind, who was adopted by Johannes.

For the next 20 years he worked developing ways to grow food in the world's dry regions and became an internationally acclaimed scientist. In the process he also became very rich. In 1968 he finally returned to Germany. Johannes was still active in politics; he had become a senator in Baden-Württemberg. He had also been buying land to build a large recreational park. The only problem was that Lukas's abandoned factory stood in the middle of the land. Protesters lobbied Lukas to ask him not to sell, and he agreed. He decided to use the old factory to build zeppelins. Yes, zeppelins! When I watched the film this seemed silly, because the production of zeppelins had been halted 30 years earlier. As a piece of fiction this would have been too ridiculous to believe, but it really happened. This was the pet product of an eccentric old man with a lot of money.

Then came the deus ex machina. There was a thunder storm and the factory was hit by lightning. Everything went up in flames. Lukas was thought to be dead, but he flew away in a small aircraft. He cruised over the Swiss alps enjoying the scenery until he finally ran out of fuel and crashed. This aspect of the film is poetic, of course, we can't be sure that it was what really happened, but we know that he crashed, and the suicide makes a good end to the story.

Overall, this is a curious film about a curious man. A really pleasant and entertaining character, someone that I wish I'd known personally.

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