The Third Generation, 1979

An early cursory comment that capitalists invented terrorism as a means of selling security (that, in turn, will safeguard their own survival) provides the trenchant context for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s delirious and provocative satire, The Third Generation. Alluding to the emergence of a new generation of terrorists who, unlike their predecessors, lack a coherent agenda for their radicalism, the film may also be seen from the perspective of the generation of Germans born after the war whose lives were lived in relative privilege from their forefathers, having been raised during the reconstruction and the expansion (and globalization) of the German economy and dissociated from the stigma and austerity resulting from the war. This analogy is further reinforced in the early shots of a television broadcast featuring excerpts from Robert Bresson’s The Devil Probably – a film that captures the sentiment of disaffected youth (representing a generation after May 68) – being recorded by Susanne Gast (Hanna Schygulla) for her supervisor, industrialist Peter Lurz (Eddie Constantine). Using the referential, secret passphrase “Die welt als wille und vorstellung” (after Arthur Schopenhauer’s four volume treatise) after Lurz’s arrival, Susanne sets an ambiguous covert plot into motion, alerting ringleader, August (Volker Spengler), Susanne’s composer husband Edgar (Udo Kier), schoolteacher Hilda (Bulle Ogier), friend Petra (Margit Carstensen) and her husband Hans (Jürgen Draeger), and subsequently, even recruiting recently discharged soldier and explosives expert, Franz (Günther Kaufmann) who has arrived at the apartment to reunite with his drug-addicted lover, Ilsa (Y Sa Lo). Part deconstruction on the aftermath of the Baader-Meinhoff affair, part criticism of bourgeois alienation (and complacency), and part exposition on celebrity and media addiction (note the saturation of ambient sound, presumably from a constantly running television that crystallizes in the shot of Ilsa with arm outstretch against a foreshortened radio antenna that seemingly displaces a heroin needle as the instrument of her overdose), The Third Generation reflects Fassbinder’s singular melding of manic ingenuity with contemporarily relevant social commentary, where the incisive observations serve not only as a reflection of a country’s troubled past and uncertain present, but also foretells the corrosive, self-serving dynamics that will define the geopolitical climate of the future.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.