Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Murderers Are Among Us Review, by Danny de la Rocha

The Murderers Are Among Us

On October 15, 1946, the first post-World War II German film, The Murderers Are Among Us, premiered in the Admiralspalast in the Soviet sector of Germany. The film, set in the dreary, rubble-leaden streets of Berlin, tells the story of a former military surgeon, Dr. Hans Mertens, striving to make sense of his life amid the chaos of the post-war world. Like the landscape that surrounds him, Dr. Merten’s internal self is in ruins. Consumed by his depression and terrible memories of the war, he turns to alcohol. It is only through the love and compassion of Susanne Wallner—a young, beautiful concentration camp survivor—that Hans is able to reconcile his traumatic past with a recovering Germany. His desire to avenge the innocent victims of a mass shooting on their “murderer,” Captain Ferdinand Brückner, is what drives most of the plot. This desire for justice presents Dr. Mertens with a dilemma: he can either yield to his compulsion to kill Captain Brückner himself or, more fortuitously, have him put on trial for his crime. Hans’s dilemma is essentially the people’s dilemma—the people, i.e., directly affected by the Second World War. With all the fighting done, it was only expected that several “murderers” were, in fact, “among [them]”—those murderers who managed to evade being prosecuted after the war. Aside from effectively capturing the dismal atmosphere of a berubbled Berlin, The Murderers Are Among Us urges members of the film’s audience, who may be in similar predicaments to Hans’s, not to take justice into their own hands; but rather, to leave justice up the the law. Order cannot be built upon chaos. And in 1946, when the world hung precariously on its war-worn thread, it was necessary that as much order as possible was maintained—especially in issues of crime and prosecution, which were then ubiquitous.

It is not surprising, therefore, to read that “the film was [originally] supposed to be named The Man I will kill and Mertens was supposed to succeed in killing Brückner, but the script and the title were changed because the Soviets were afraid that viewers could interpret that as a call for vigilante justice.” Staudte’s original intention to have Brückner killed in the film suggests the ‘‘people’s’’ inclination to avenge innocent war victims on their unprosecuted oppressors. The Soviets’ decision to alter the film’s conclusion, on the other hand, indicates the careful measures that were taken to counter vigilante justice. Interestingly enough, Mertens’s moral dilemma is itself present in the Soviet-Staudte effort to produce The Murderers Are Among Us, in that both of Mertens’s approaches to bring about justice are represented.

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