Rainer Werner Fassbinder Robert Hatch - Essay

Robert Hatch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is a clinical exercise designed to test how long a man can be expected to endure an existence that is, without relief, stale, flat and unprofitable. Herr R. is boring; worse than that, he suffers the capacity to be bored….

On occasion, Herr R. thrusts feebly against the bladder of narcotic misery within which he is suspended…. But there is no heat to sustain these sparks of animation; they expire in sighs and silences. And so one day, when a neighbor is running on about her discovery of the techniques and apparel of skiing, the almost repellently soft and undemanding Herr R. picks up a lethally heavy candlestick. The feeling one gets from this denouement can scarcely be called catharsis, because what leads up to it is too inert to be called tragedy; but most viewers, I think, will find it a relief. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is an exhausting movie….

The overall effect is appalling—and is so intended; Herr R. is a completely successful work. It means to show what is really contained in the observation that most people lead lives of quiet desperation. I cannot honestly say that I pitied Herr R.; there is nothing within him solid enough to pity. But I believe in him as one of the "humours"; I have gone through days as savorless as his whole existence is shown to be. One leaves the Fassbinder-[Michael] Fengler demonstration in a mood to rejoice at being alive. And in retrospect I am impressed by the film—it is a tour de force of enervated horror.

Robert Hatch, "Films: 'Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?'" in The Nation (copyright 1977 The Nation magazine, The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 225, No. 19, December 3, 1977, p. 602.