“Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?” – Chris Luedtke

I’ve never been thrown in this situation before. Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? has managed to stir two emotions in me: anger and admiration. On one end, we have a film that does nothing but walk in monotonous circles for an hour and fifteen minutes. Then suddenly, something shocking happens. But what’s shocking is all built up from the anger of waiting, and suddenly, everything turns to brilliance. Confused? You should be.

The thing about Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is that it is simple. Almost too simple. The story tracks the life of Herr R. (Kurt Raab) and his regular everyday life in 1970s Germany. Want more? Too bad, that’s it. There is your story synopsis. If you were to just throw this in your DVD player without reading the overview, you’d be wondering if you got the right film.

The majority of the film is shot handheld. In fact, I would be willing to bet it’s all shot handheld. One shaky camera documenting Herr’s existence with his family, job, and everyday life. It’s very excluding experience. But in its flaw is its beauty. The film is supposed to make you feel excluded and bored. It’s essentially cinéma vérité, or the capturing of real life without a script. I am guessing there was a script, since Fassbinder is credited as one of the writers. I also would have to give the film some extra credit for having such a detailed script for its basic, bare bones entertainment.

Do we get a sense for characters in here? Yes and no. We get a sense for who they are, how three-dimensional they are, and how basic their lives are. It ended up boiling down for me as a very sad and boring life. The thing you will never forget in here is their monotony, but I think that’s the main point, the drive behind everything. There is meaning in meaninglessness, and Fassbinder is probably one of the only directors that could effectively pull that off.

Sound like an odd experience? It’s very odd. The problem is that our frustration builds to such a boil that we eventually want to just hit the fast forward button, the stop button — anything to end this experience. However, its something that must be endured. It’s not a pleasant experience, and it’s the second slowest film I’ve ever seen.

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? could have been a short film with the exact same effect, but I think Fassbinder really wanted this to be full-length for extra feeling. Is there feeling by the end of this? Is everything justified? Depends on the way one looks at it. Some will say yes, others will say no. Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? is a difficult film to critique and much more difficult to sit through, not because it is disturbing but because it reflects our lives far too well.

Rating: ★★½☆

-Chris Luedtke

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