Saturday 25 August 2012

Die Büchse der Pandora (1929)

Die Büchse der Pandora
What is this fascination with the Femme Fatale?

I am losing count on how many movies I have seen about the dangerous woman who leads men into disaster. Especially in older movies women are either complacent trophy wives or dangerous femme fatales. Of course to a varying degree, but rarely beyond those two roles. My suspicion is it is because the movies are made by men and thus governed the male conflict of order and harmony version sexual animalistic lust. In that view the female is what we sexually hunger for, but this hunger threatens to ruin our orderly harmonic universe. Okay, I am no psychologist, but it kind of fits. This would explain why the sweet girls are usually strangely asexual, while the hot, sexual girls are portrayed as dangerous destroyers. They do not see themselves as such, it is a viewpoint imposed by men scared of their sexuality.

Maybe the most iconic example of this phenomenon is “Die Büchse der Pandora” (Pandora’s box) by Georg Wilhelm Pabst.

The protagonist and antagonist as the same person is Lulu (played by American Louise Brooks). She is a silly, happy girl with a boyish sexuality, who lives by her emotions and throws her attention around as a child. In itself just an innocent if childish person. The problem is the effect she has on men. With her easy uncaring sexuality she literally drives the men around her insane.

 It is an entire gallery of men.

There is Dr. Schön, a highly respected man who wants to marry another highly respected (and pretty) woman, but cannot let go of Lulu and end up dead and disgraced for it. There is Alwa, the son of Dr. Schön, who is also in love with Lulu, who throws away his comfortable life for a life on the shady side with gambling and booze and ruin to save Lulu. There is Jack the Ripper who succumbs to his desire to kill women by her influence and then there are the two parasites Schigolch and Rodrigo, who attach themselves to her for the fortunes that drip in her wake.

This is by no means a happy movie. If anything it is traumatic. It starts happy happy in an expensive apartment in the city, but descents to a cold and barren rooftop room with prostitution as the means for sheer survival. Everybody crave Lulu and everybody are ruined in the process and in the end even Lulu herself. Quite depressive, really.

I cannot help thinking that all these men are victims of their own deficiencies. If Dr. Schön is getting married to a pretty girl that he loves, why is he seeing a pleasure girl like Lulu? Is that not asking for trouble? If Lulu insists on sabotaging the variety show because she will not perform in front of Dr. Schön’s fiancée, why not let her sulk? It is her own future she is ruining, not Dr. Schön’s.

And Alwa, would it not be most natural for him to distance himself from Lulu, being as she is involved with his father’s death? And considering what it is costing him to help her? He does not owe her anything.

It annoys me when people in movies throw themselves into unnecessary trouble like this, but I suppose it is to express that deeper male conflict mentioned above and Lulu is just the catalyst.

The only person who seems to see Lulu not as an object but a real person is Countess Geschwitz. She sees Lulu as a victim and wants to help her for Lulu’s sake, but even she is destroyed by it as she has to sacrifice herself to the vermin Rodrigo to save Lulu and make herself, I presume, a murderess.

The object of the movie is to present the ultimate Femme Fatale, but what I really see is a victim of male vanity and weakness. It is terribly sad but also very well done, no doubt about it, if at times annoying.

Louise Brooks is brilliant as Lulu and this is definitely her movie. Her face and particularly her haircut became incredibly famous because of “Pandora’s Box”, and I suppose you can still today go to a hairdresser and ask for a “Lulu”.

As for me, it took a good long night’s sleep to recover from this movie.


  1. I loved this one. Louise Brooks is in many ways the first modern woman in film. If you put her in a film today, she wouldn't look out of place at all.

    1. I agree on that. Something about her appearance (and not just the haircut) makes her very mordern. It is definitely a good movie, I just get so depressed watching it.

  2. Louise Brooks is actually from the city where I live now, and the classic film theater I frequent has pictures of her up all over the place. I always think of this movie when I think of her.

    1. Wow, that is really funny. She is quite an icon, but that of course makes it special.

  3. This is my favorite silent film on the list. Louise Brooks' performance is just tremendous. I was not traumatized by it like you, though. I see men do destructive things all the time for the attainment of a woman--hence, I'm used to seeing people do stupid things.

    1. There is stupid and then there is utterly insane. These men loose all their buttons. That could easily have felt heavy handed, but the film is so deftly made that it does not. Louise Brookd here is stellar.