Ways of Thinking, After the Bomb
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“After the bomb texts dramatize the necessity of embracing our humanity in a profoundly changed world” The ‘after the bomb’ era of 1945 to 1991 produced waves of new philosophies and ideals in the way people thought of how they should live, and why they were living. As people delved into the arts, texts began to get published reflecting the post-war attitude which focused on the nature of the human condition and a questioning of humanity on both a personal and political level. ‘Waiting for Godot’, by Samuel Beckett, 1948, and ‘The Lives of Others’ directed by Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck set in 1984 explore the four major paradigms of the time; Scientific, Religious, Philosophical and Economic. Through the use of these paradigms, art, dystopias and existential themes these two texts do not embrace our humanity, but rather question the turn it took into the changed world. Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot ‘, was written in the late months of 1948, which was three years after France was liberated from German occupation.
The text of the play was a period in which the atomic bomb and the cold war were part of an intense reaction to the war that included both cultural continuity and a sense of discontinuity and an end of a civilization. After WWII, Beckett’s plays began to portray ideals that reflected society’s way of thinking at the time, which consisted of uncertainty, disillusionment and confusion as what happened. News of the holocaust was heard around the world and people began to inquire as to how something so inhumane occurred, and how so many people stood and watched it occur. F.H.V Donnersmarck’s ‘The Lives Of Others’ is a realist film, set in 1984, Socialist Eastern Germany right before the collapse of the Berlin wall. During this time, opponents of the regime never imaged that their one-party state would give way, it was there to stay indefinitely.
The mindset of those who lived in east Germany consisted of two major types of people, those who believed in communism and those who believed opposition, no matter how noble, was the road to doom, Thus splitting the eastern nation into those that stayed moral and paid the price, and those that became ethical traitors to their neighbors’ and themselves, at times for the safety of their families. As Donnersmarck portrays a totalitarian East Germany, much of a reflection of the novel ‘1984’ by George Orwell , similar in that everyone was being watched and lived in fear showing the new way of thinking in that context. Becketts portrayal of his world in ‘Waiting for Godot’ does not embrace humanity, but rather questions its existence and morals that came with new ways of thinking which followed the new world, after the bomb being a metaphor for change. The religious paradigm is explored in this text through illusions of religion as well as the rejection of religion. “Two thieves…one saved…one damned”, this quote alone shows both, as we see Vladimir begin to question the injustice of Christianity, suggesting no cosmic system of justice.
This ties in with the ‘after the bomb’ metaphor as WW2 passed, people all over the world questioned the injustice of what happened in Germany, and thus began to question god. Linking to the changed way of thinking, as pre-war times, Europe was devoutly catholic. The economic paradigm was also intently explored through the characterization of Pozzo and Lucky. We see here the dynamics and representation of a master and slave relationship directly referencing to humanity’s intrinsic urge for hierarchy. “You’re being spoken to, pig! Reply!” Pozzo the perfect social comment of upper class cruelty is juxtaposed by Vladimir “to treat a human being like that…it’s a scandal!”, not only a direct reference to ww2, but also a metaphor for the changed way of seeing the system, as modern thinkers began to rally for equality. It is through these examples that we can see a post-war text is not embracing society or humanity but rather streaming a commentary. Donnersmarck’s portrayal of eastern Germany in his film ‘The Lives of Others’ uses different paradigms to question and not embrace aspects of society at that time.
The philosophical paradigm is explored as the director openly compares the beliefs of the communists, and the moral system of those that opposed. “Your subjects are enemies of socialism, never forget that”, the communist were watching everyone, as they arrested civilians for even the slightest evidence of conspiracy. Yet through Donnersmarck’s play with the paradigm we can see that this mentality of paranoia, suspicion, distrust and hate also ran through those that conspired against the regime. “The stasi got to her, and she ratted on you”. Though the philosophical paradigm, it is evident that there is a social commentary on how humanity gave up on itself and society turned against one another through an era where the only way of thinking was through fear, distrust and self preservation. A recurrent issue in ‘Waiting for Godot’ is the awareness of the senselessness of life. This is directly linked to Samuel Beckett’s post war context where waved of existentialism we’re propping up as we see this flow into his writings through the use of existential themes such as absurdity, alienation, anxiety and death along with its inevitability.
“No use wriggling, the essential doesn’t change, nothing to be done”, suggests the hopelessness of the human condition, commenting on the actions of what humanity has done [ww2] and how we can/will not change. Throughout the play, we notice the lack of a time space continuum…”time has stopped”, hinting that the characters would be stuck in the same place forever, this ideal can be seen as a metaphor for the situation of the human condition, as we appeared unable to move forward past the destruction of the war, represented by the desolate wasteland setting of the play, during the ‘after the bomb’ period. Through all this questioning of the human condition, it is apparent that Beckett’s post war text was not embracing humanity but rather observing and regurgitating its faults. A running theme throughout ‘The Lives of Others’ is the nature of art and how artists and their audiences are affected by it.
“Writers are engineers of the soul,” someone says while toasting Dreyman, though this is ironic given that the playwright doesn’t have the freedom to openly write whatever he wants to in the totalitarian society. There are two good men in “The Lives of Others,” and they are presented in counterpoint, never on screen at the same time. One, Georg Dreyman, is a successful playwright, tall and handsome, with a natural grace, leads the other, Capt. Wiesler who, in contrast, appears at first to be a stereotype of a Stalinist bureaucrat. Wiry and bald, he lives alone in a generic drab, gray high-rise apartment building. By portraying these two men as good and perhaps the only ‘real’ patriots of their country the only people who take the Republic’s stated ideals at face value, the audience is forced to judge the rest of society and compare them morally.
Through the use of this comparison we can see that this film set in the ‘after the bomb’ era can in a sense be viewed as embracing humanity, through the portrayal of these two ‘good men’, but can also be seen as negatively commenting on humanity as we compare the rest of East Germany to these two unique figures. Through the use of economical and religious paradigms in ‘Waiting For Godot’, and Philosophical paradigms in ‘The lives of Others’, as well as prevalent existentialist themes and comparisons in both texts, it becomes apparent that rather than embracing the humanity that had formed post-war, questioning of its new actions and values took place when the traditional ways of thinking shifted in the profoundly changed world.