Friday, December 12, 2008

The Incomplete Menorah: Instinct versus Enlightenment in Pandora’s Box

Louise Brooks is a sunbeam in the 1928 film Pandora’s Box. The film itself is a reflection of the decay of Weimar Germany and was directed by George Pabst. Pandora’s Box is based on a series of plays by Frank Wedekind concerning a character Lulu in a regressive struggle between the instinctive and the enlightened.

Lulu is a courtesan and would-be stage performer. Her relationships with the cultured Dr. Schon and his son Alwa form the basis for the two parts of the film. In the first, Dr. Schon destroys himself. In the second, the other characters ruin themselves. Two metaphorical associations early in Pandora’s Box make it clear that Lulu is a character driven by instinct, devoid of enlightenment.

Pabst uses a menorah in the set decor. It is prominently displayed in Lulu’s modern apartment and our attention focused on it several times. It eventually becomes apparent that it is missing the 9th, center branch. This is the branch for the candle that lights all the other candles. The implication is that Lulu is a character without enlightenment and one incapable of obtaining enlightenment like the Lilitu.

Pabst goes on, though, to reinforce this point. We also see in background during Lulu’s dance for Schigolch and in several closeups, a painting of Lulu as Pierrot, the trusting fool in mime and the comedy of artists. Pierrot is the object of other’s machinations, and is fully unaware of reality. Lulu is driven by instinct, and like Pierrot driven to calamity.

Pabst additionally asserts that enlightenment is fragile, in school with Adorno and Horkheimer. The old German culture, manifest in the main characters other than Lulu, rapidly disintegrates in the face of Dionysian instinct. High culture breaks down without a personal commitment to the processes of enactment, selection and retention.

Schon’s fiancé, in contrast to Lulu, personifies this commitment. Yet, she is abruptly rejected in a series of rebuffs during Lulu’s theater revue, which is financed by Schon. The fiancé is bewildered by Schon’s embrace of the instinctive Lulu, rudely brushed aside by the backstage manager, and her ostracization complete, she leaves the backstage world in two movements.

The die is cast at that point for the eventual ruin of the other characters, all of whom profited in their own way within the enlightened framework. A transition (a ship) over a season (3 months) takes place to a world governed by instinct. Pabst’s final act in this film postulates that this world is populated by sociopaths and those who administer to broken souls. Pandora’s Box in 1928 foreshadowed what would happen a decade after its release. During that intervening decade, three of the main actors in this film had to escape the new Germany for America because they were Jewish: Fritz Kortner, Franz Lederer, and Siegfried Arno.

This is a great film, carried by Amazon at Pandora's Box

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