Critical Essay on <i>Bent</i>
The character of Maximilian Berber in Martin Sherman’s play Bent not only carries the story, he is the story. Bent is about a wheeling-dealing homosexual, Max, whose promiscuity and drug use keep him in trouble. When the play opens, he is broke, behind on his rent, and unaware that he has seduced a Nazi storm trooper who is being hunted by the Gestapo. When SS soldiers raid their apartment, Max and his lover, Rudy, begin a life-and-death odyssey that will affect Max’s very heart and soul.
There are so many contradiction in Max’s behavior that the question arises as to whether the character is believable. However, people are complex creatures who are not always consistent in their behavior. The central conflict for Max is the concept of love, and love is a complex subject, too. Max does not believe in love, he does not think he is worthy of love, and he does not love anybody, he says. Sherman reveals in snips of information that Max fell in love with a boy at his father’s factory when he was a teenager. His wealthy and powerful father, horrified at this homosexual affair, paid Max’s lover to go away. As Max explained, ‘‘He went. Queers aren’t meant to love.’’ It is simple logic: if the boy had loved Max, he would not have left; since he did leave, he did not love Max and that must be because ‘‘Queers aren’t meant to love.’’ Perhaps it also means to Max that homosexuals in general are not allowed to love because specifically his father would not allow him to love.
Max has watched his Uncle Freddie hide his homosexuality all his life to keep from scandal. In rebellion, Max has flaunted his homosexuality. Although Max does not appear to have any crusading or noble intent, he nonetheless has defied his family to be true to himself, even if it means being disowned. For someone as concerned as Max about making deals for big money, this refusal to knuckle under to his family seems a strange contradiction. However, it is understandable when one considers the possibility that his openness about being gay is intended to hurt his father, even if it hurts himself.
Rudy loves Max, but Max has no appreciation of this fact. It is a convenience to have Rudy around to clean and cook and remind Max how badly he behaved the night before. Max is even foolish enough to think that Rudy likes Max to bring home other men. Despite this wretched treatment of Rudy, Max takes responsibility for him at Greta’s urging as Greta accurately assesses that Rudy is too naïve to take care of himself in their treacherous situation. Max seemed ready to leave Rudy behind as he started his escape from Berlin. It seems odd that he could so easily be chastised into taking Rudy with him. It has been suggested that because Rudy was so weak and knew so much about Max that Max realized that he had to keep Rudy with him to keep Rudy from informing on him. However, Max knew that he was already wanted, and that he was clever enough to get away to some place that Rudy would not know. So, that theory does not hold, especially since Max refused to go to the safety of Amsterdam without Rudy. He even went so far as to offer to give up Rudy and return to the family business in exchange for safe passage for Rudy. The reason for this loyalty comes at the end of the play when Max drops all of his pretenses and emotional walls and admits that he loved Rudy. It is likely that Max did not even know himself that he loved Rudy when he was making all those sacrifices for him. The phony front that he put up was so convincing that he had fooled even himself. If Max had not had a real love for Rudy, why then would he have blocked out Rudy’s name after being forced to participate in Rudy’s murder? Most likely, the memory loss was a traumatic amnesia.
Since Max was so open about his lifestyle among his friends and had endured the condemnation of his family for being gay, it is hard to understand why he was so determined to pass himself off as Jewish to the Gestapo. Perhaps the bottom line with Max was his own survival. He was gay while it was easy to be gay. Although he...
(The entire section is 1674 words.)