Opening 5 Sep 2013
Who was Wilhelm Reich? A mad scientist and charlatan? A visionary who was way ahead of his time? A gentle and humane researcher? Or an egomaniac? This film won’t give you any definite answers, but it will inspire you to find out more about this fascinating figure from the field of psychoanalysis in the first part of the 20th century. The main role is played brilliantly by the Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. He presents a version of Reich as a kindly, intelligent, obstinate and persevering researcher, who is convinced that there is a kind of greater cosmic energy from which most people have become disengaged and with which we must reconnect to be healed.
The movie starts out in Vienna in the year 1928, where Wilhelm Reich first presents his ideas about the implications of cumulative neurosis in society on our capacity for sexual fulfillment. His audience is a group of sceptical and disapproving middle aged men in black suits and ties. Reich had become one of the youngest members of the Viennese Society for Psychoanalysis but was eventually rejected by his peers because of his radical ideas and a conflict with Sigmund Freud. In the movie the scene quickly switches to a desert in Arizona in the year 1955. Reich is operating a cloud buster, assisted by his daughter Eva from his first marriage, his young son Peter from his second, and his loyal research assistant. He is trying to induce rain in the desert. A group of cloak-and-dagger men in a black car drive up and arrest him for having disregarded an order from the US district court to discontinue his research. Then a series of flashbacks show us how this came about.
Reich was the son of Jewish parents and had to flee Austria to escape the Nazis. He fled to Norway and then to the States, but we don’t learn much about this phase in the movie. In the States Reich was once again confronted with persecution for his ideas, this time because of his unconventional thoughts about sex and his affiliations with Communism. The movie focuses on the contrast between Reich as a tolerant free thinker and various representatives of the CIA, FDA, and the Department of Health, who are shown rather stereotypically as narrow-minded, repressed neurotics, just as Senator Joseph McCarthy, their role model at the time, apparently really was. One of the most insidious figures in the movie and in real life is a psychiatrist named Dr. Cameron, who was hired by the CIA to develop methods of psychological torture and brainwashing.
After emigrating to the States, Reich eventually retreated to a beautiful and remote estate in Maine where most of the story in the film takes place. (In reality the site of the film was somewhere in Austria.) Here he worked on developing so-called orgon boxes, in which cosmic energy is accumulated to be used for healing anyone who spends time in such a box. Reich communicated and debated with many prominent scientific figures of his time, including Einstein. However, Einstein refused to confirm the existence of a unique form of energy in Reich’s orgon-boxes, and Reich fell into greater disrepute.
In 1955 Reich was sentenced to two years in prison and forced to destroy his orgon boxes and all his books. This is shown in a dramatic scene in the movie when Reich / Brandauer grabs an axe and chops away at his instruments in a fit of anger. Reich died of a heart attack two months before his sentence ended, still convinced of his ideas. Many of his ideas were revived during the sixties in the course of the sexual revolution in Germany. Not many of you will remember this time, but I do!
You may not care for Brandauer as a person, since he is known to be an arrogant womanizer. But he is a wonderful actor, and this movie shows him at his best, highly nuanced, engaging and convincing. (Pat Nevers)