To conclude this essay, we canclearly see through Fassbinder’s work that the character of Maria Braun does representGermany struggling to live in the new modern era after the First World War,thus proving that the main focal point of the melodrama Die Ehe Der Maria Braunis a critical representation of German identities and what it means to beGerman.
In the final analysis, it is interesting to note the structure of thefilm as a whole; the film’s structurally motivated ambiguity extends beyond thequestion of whether Maria’s death at the end of the film is the result of anaccident or a deliberate action. It is rooted in a complex disclosure onGermany’s identity after the First World War in which private emotions andactions are reflected in public developments and vice versa.A common occurrence regarding nationalidentity is how the film was concerned about what memories the German peoplehad about their dark national past. Maria Braun herself can be seen asrepresenting the country’s past. In the words of Jean de Baron, “the fate ofthe heroin parallels the fate of Germany; conquered, corrupted, reconstructed. MariaBrain not only symbolises Germany, in Fassbinder’s eyes she is Germany.” (Marcia,Landy, 2001: 190). The concept of corruption is explored towards the end of thefilm.
Maria learns that whilst Hermann was imprisoned he had made a deal withOswald’s wealth for allowing Oswald to enjoy Maria until his death. Hermannessentially agreed to sell Maria to Oswald, which indirectly reflects Germany’snational past. As Maria’s dream is destroyed, the film implies that the Germannation was deceived as well. The West German Chancellor, Adenauer, was heard onthe radio in the background, first declaring that Germany will never rearm,then later insists that Germany must rearm. The German Chancellor has made asecret agreement to rearm Germany. The film therefore addresses thisrealisation that Germany’s post war prosperity was based on a series of falsepremises.
Furthermore, one important featurethat reflects national identity and national past in the film is thesoundtrack. Die Ehe Der Maria Braun uses soundtrack to highlight new nationalbeginnings. At the very end of the film Maria dies from an explosion she caused,whilst simultaneously the radio commentary excitedly exclaims “Deutschland sindWeltmeister!” Contextually, West Germany defeated Hungary and won the 1954football World Cup. Germany is shown to have regained its standing status inthe world by winning the match, showing a fresh beginning. The film thereforeuses the sport of football to convey the message of national unity. Maria andHermann depart Germany when they die but they leave Germany in good hands,leaving the country to celebrate its football triumph but most importantly itsnational success.With the most important factorsthat shaped West German culture in mind, the final area to discuss concerns thetheme of national identity shown throughout the film. The quest for identity isportrayed as the central motive on both personal and public levels throughout thefilm; it opens up with Maria leaving the black market.
Her mother asks her “isthat you Maria?” This is the first of a series of questions and incidents inthe film where characters go searching for Maria, the proclaimed representationof Germany as a whole nation. Similar to this theme is theimportance of gender in the film. The protagonist Maria Braun does not appearto be as traditional as German women at that period of time typically were. Inthe opening scenes of the film the audience sees that Maria and Hermann are amarried couple and therefore immediately draw the conclusion that she has thatfaithful allegiance. Furthermore Maria has her own job, at first in the bar andlater on she becomes involved with Oswald’s company. Taking a closer look, itbecomes clear that Maria’s life is mostly surrounded by men. Most of thesuccess and prosperity she has towards the end of the film is all because ofOswald and the rewards she earns shouldn’t be deserved for her but rather forHermann, therefore this characteristic of being rather dependent on men servesits purpose in this incident.
The role of gender is a very important themethroughout the film, especially for Hermann. For example he ends up going to jailfor the crime that Maria had committed in order to protect her, therefore itcan be asserted that the traditional gender roles were very important toHermann. Perhaps it can be concluded that Hermann’s attitude towards genderrole reflect many other men during this time. However Hermann goes on to showthat these gender roles are more important than Maria’s happiness. This isemphasised when he has completed his business with Oswald, as he proves thathis own financial independence is more important than the happiness from Maria.I find that Hermann’s situation is very similar to other men during this periodof time, because they come back from the war to find that the women have becomea lot more independent compared to before.
As a result they felt that they haveno place in society as much as they used to.Moreover, Hermann Braun, thehusband of Maria, plays an important role in the case for the role of women insociety. Throughout the film we can see that he has acquired his wealth byturning Maria into some form of object that he can exchange at his own willwith Oswald.
This part of the plot is described as an attack on the traditionalgender roles which Maria seemed to subvert but are re-established through theagreement between Oswald and Hermann. This refers to Braun’s male insecurity –Hermann’s inability to accept his wife’s independence as the basis of theirmarriage. This can also be linked to the issues of sovereignty and self-determination.
Another important theme that mustbe considered when discussing West German culture is the role of women insociety. A popular viewpoint of this film in particular is through a feministviewpoint; the character of Maria Braun symbolises the fate of not only Germanwomen but women around the world for whom the immediate post war period hadbrought the kind of autonomy and liberation to. Therefore national identity canbe strongly linked to the struggles of women. This liberation can be supportedby Maria’s pleasure in playing the male role and in succeeding in a man’sworld, in particular when she acquires the job at the bar and is able toprovide for her ill mother. This pleasure is gained by the compromising of herown identity – she made it in this period of time because she plays by society’srules, which conveniently have been made by the men themselves. In addition, further historicalbackground dates back to the end of the First World War, where the countryfound itself in a significant identity crisis. The first attempt at democracy(Weimar era) had ended as a complete disaster, therefore Nazi dictatorshipthrew the country into destruction that has not been seen since the 30 YearsWar.
At a point of Stunde Null, therewere two initial reactions; the first was to forget about all that happened inthe past, resulting in a “self-willed amnesia” and reluctance to the citizen’strue “Germanness.” On the other hand, despite the shame there was someawareness that behind a shattered nation destroyed by war and conflict, therewas a long and great cultural heritage that justifies a sense of nationalpride. It was these two attitudes thatprovided the basis for what it truly means to be “German.
“This argument is supported by Fassbinder’schoice of historical detail within the film and the continuous use of radiobroadcasts as a primary source of information. In the early stages of the film,the radio broadcasts the missing names of the soldiers at war, giving theaudience a sense of authenticity. Further, the news dealing with the rearmamentagreements conveys more political messages for an audience looking for morevalid explanations to the events that occur. Despite the apparent loud volumeof the radio broadcasts the characters in the film continue to go about theirdaily lives and ignore the message being delivered, emphasising theobliviousness of political developments and thus provides an explanation of thehistorical continuities and missed opportunities. A common character traitamongst the oblivious German citizens, they are too envisaged within theirprivate lives and struggle for success that they ignore the decisions made bythe leading politicians until it was too late.
One of the more significant themesthat shaped West German culture regards historical events and the idea that theGerman people continuously dwell on the past which ultimately affects theirfuture actions in this post war era. As shown in the film, Fassbinder’shistoric reconstruction is first and foremost a “construction” or “spectacle”that creates the impression of reality through heavy reliance in contemporaryfilms, radio broadcasts and narratives rather than any unmediated reality. Thiscan be further justified in the opening and closing sequences of the film. Theyshow a confirmation of unbroken continuities in post war society and politics.
The closing sequence in particular not only extends the impact of the storyinto the future, but also suggests retrospective re-interpretation of the film’snarrative, adding a symbolic dimension to the realistic story and elevates the protagonist’sstatus to a typical representative of the German condition as we know it in theimmediate aftermath of the war. Die Ehe Der Maria Braun isdescribed as a melodramatic film dealing with the story of a woman strugglingto succeed in a predominantly man’s world on her own accord as well as a storyof the age in which she lives in. At the time in which this film was made, nationalidentity and what it means to be “German” was a popular theme amongst workscreated and Reiner Werner Fassbinder was perhaps the most significantfilm-maker of this movement. This essay will discuss the forces to which Germanculture and national identity was shaped as portrayed in Die Ehe Der MariaBraun as well as the significance of these events in the film over a widerhistorical context, linking back to the ambiguity of German identity.