Home Video Hovel: The Wall, by Sarah Brinks
Sometimes I have to wonder if I like films like The Wall because I wasn’t expecting them. The Wall took me by surprise almost immediately. I kept thinking I knew what kind of film it was going to be and kept being wrong in a delightful way. The Wall could be described as slow, contemplative, and languid but I would have to disagree with that assessment. In fact I have to agree with reviews on the DVD box that The Wall is beautiful, astonishing, and intoxicating. The Wall never rushes and it draws you in.
The Wall is about a unnamed woman, played by Martina Gedeck, who finds herself completely alone except for a dog named Lynx in the Austrian mountains. An invisible wall mysteriously descends around the area she is in and she and Lynx are trapped. She has to learn to survive in the mountains alone, cut of from all other people. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as Gedeck writes her story down years later. You see how it all began and how she got to the point at which she starts writing down her story. The majority of the film is Gedeck narrating, which she does in English. However in the flashbacks when she is speaking to her friends, to the dog, or any other animals it is in subtitled German. I appreciated that the narration was in English because it allowed me to really focus on what was happening on the screen. The setting was so beautiful and Gedeck’s performance so captivating I didn’t want to look away.
The Austrian mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the film and also help show how isolated and dangerous the setting is. As Gedeck explores the area that is not blocked off to her by the mysterious wall, you get to see the different valleys, forests, and pastures that she has access to. In the beginning Gedeck and Lynx test the wall often and in many places. As the film progresses she stops returning to the boundary and simply accepts her situation. The visual effect of the wall is handled very nicely, especially when she first walks into it unexpectedly. The wall is completely transparent and gives off no light or sound. Gedeck does what anyone would do and tries to beat it, call through it, and even runs her car into it. One of the things that I appreciated most about the film is you only ever get the answers that Gedeck gets. She doesn’t know what is happening or what the wall is, so you don’t know either. The lack of answers never feels unsatisfying because you are so invested in Gedeck and Lynx and the other animals.
For those of you who think this sounds an awful lot like the recent CBS series Under the Dome, fear not. Unlike Under the Dome, The Wall never gives in to the temptation to sensationalize or dramatize her situation. Frankly, her bizarre situation is sensational and dramatic enough. There is clearly a mystery behind the wall but the business of keeping herself and her animals alive was enough to keep her fully occupied.
In The Wall, Gedeck only has animals for company. As a result she thinks a lot about the animals and her relationship to them. She credits them many time for being the one thing that kept her from taking her own life. She is also deeply effected by the fact that she has to learn to hunt and kill animals in order to stay alive. She is haunted at times by the ghosts of the deers and birds that she has shot just so she can stay alive. Gedeck becomes deeply connected to nature throughout the film. She learns to farm, hunt, and scavenge her few miles of land to stay alive. You see as her body and mind become hardened and hearty through the necessity of hard, physical labor.
The Wall is similar to Moon and Cast Away in that it is a one-actor showcase. Gedeck spends probably 99% of the film as the only human on screen. Gedeck handles the challenge brilliantly. She has the kind of face that can express so much emotion. At the end of the film we see a very dramatic scene and the Gedeck in the present who is narrating the story stares into the camera and you see all of her pain, sadness, and hardship right in her eyes. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic; it was kind of magical. I also have to give due credit to Lynx the dog. The director spoke in an interview about not training him to be fixated on rewards, but more encouraged him with “good arguments”. So Lynx, unlike many dogs on screen looks very natural and effortless. Lynx is a gorgeous Bavarian mountain hound and much like Gedeck in the film you begin to see him as much more then just a dog, he was a companion, a source of joy, and a comfort throughout the film.
I highly recommend you watch The Wall. I was so entranced by it that I now want to read the Marlen Haushafer novel that it was based on. Much of the narration sounds like it was lifted right from the pages of the novel and help to pull you into the story. The Wall is a deeply thoughtful film about the profound sadness that can come from solitude and also the strength of will it takes to survive in an impossible situation. The film also explores the bond between man and beast and man and nature. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved by The Wall but was delightfully surprised and moved.