Different from the Others  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Different From The Others (German: Anders als die Andern) is an early film in defense of homosexuality.

The film which was produced in Germany during the largely liberal period which existed in that country between the world wars. It was first released in 1919 and stars Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel.

The story for Anders als die Andern was written by Richard Oswald with the assistance of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film and helped fund the production through his Institute for Sexual Science, with the aim of presenting the story as a polemic against the then current laws under Germany's Paragraph 175. Paragraph 175 made homosexuality a punishable offense, causing many men to be placed in the same position as the character portrayed by Veidt.

The cinematography was by Max Fassbender, who two years previously had worked on Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, one of the earliest cinematic treatments of Oscar Wilde's classic tale of narcissism, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Richard Oswald later became a director of some considerable note, as did his son Gert. Veidt of course became a major film star the year after Anders was released, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Anders als die Andern is noteworthy as one of the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in cinema. The film's basic plot was used again in the 1961 UK film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde. Censorship laws enacted in reaction to films like Anders als die Andern eventually restricted viewing of this movie to doctors and medical researchers, and prints of the film were among the many "decadent" works burned by the Nazis after Hitler came to power in 1933. Some portions of the film have survived, and can be viewed today as an invaluable glimpse at both cinematic history and homosexual history.

Plot summary

Veidt portrays a successful violinist, Paul Körner, who falls in love with one of his male students. A sleazy extortionist blackmails Körner with threats that he will expose him as a homosexual. Flashbacks show us how Körner became aware of his orientation and tried first to change it, then to understand it. Körner and the extortionist end up in court, where the judge is sympathetic to the violinist, but when the scandal becomes public, his career is ruined and he is driven to suicide.

The film opens with Paul Körner (Conrad Veidt) reading the daily newspaper obituaries, which are filled with vaguely worded and seemingly inexplicable suicides. Körner, however, knows that Paragraph 175 is hidden behind them all--that it hangs over German homosexuals "like the Sword of Damocles".

After this thesis statement, the main plot begins. Kurt Sivers (Fritz Schulz) is a fan and admirer of Körner, a violin virtuoso, and he approaches Körner in hopes of becoming a student of his. Körner agrees and they begin lessons together, during which they fall for one another.

Both men experience the disapproval of their parents. Neither are out, but Sivers's object to the increasingly large amount of attention he focuses on the violin and his unusual infatuation with Körner, and the Körners do not understand why he has shown no interest in finding a wife and starting a family. Körner sends his parents to see his mentor, the Doctor (Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld).

The Doctor appears several times in the film, each time to deliver speeches more intended for the audience than the advancement of the plot. In this, his first appearance, he tells Körner's parents:

You must not condemn your son because he is a homosexual, he is not to blame for his orientation. It is not wrong, nor should it be a crime. Indeed, it is not even an illness, merely a variation, and one that is common to all of nature.

After Körner's coming out, he and Sivers begin seeing each other more openly. While walking together, hand in hand, through the park, they pass a man who recognizes Körner. Later that day, when Körner is alone, this man, Franz Bollek (Reinhold Schünzel) confronts him and demands hush money or else he will expose Sivers.

Körner pays him and keeps it a secret from Sivers that he does so. Eventually, however, the blackmailer's demands become too great and Körner refuses to pay. (Worthy of note: the scene in which Bollek reads Körner's reply to his demand occurs in a gay bar--probably the first screen appearance of one.) Bollek decides instead to break into Körner's house while he and Sivers are performing, but he is discovered by Sivers and Körner on their return and a fight breaks out. In the course of the fight, Bollek reveals to Sivers that he has been blackmailing him.

Sivers runs away and faces hardships trying to survive alone. Körner is left dejected and, over a photo of Sivers, remembers his past.

His first memory is of boarding school, when he and his boyfriend Max are discovered kissing by their teacher and he's expelled. Next, he remembers University and his solitary and lonely life there, and the growing impossibility of trying to play straight.

He remembers trying an ex-gay hypnotherapist, but finding him only to be a charlatan. Then he first met the Doctor, whose reaction was much different from those he had previously met. Among other things, he told him:

Love for one of the same sex is no less pure or noble than for one of the opposite. This orientation can be found in all levels of society, and among respected people. Those that say otherwise come only from ignorance and bigotry.

Remembering on, he recalled first meeting Bollek at a gay dance hall, and Bollek leading him on before ultimately turning on him and using his homosexuality to blackmail him.

Back in the present, Körner takes Else Sivers (Anita Berber), Kurt Sivers's sister, to the Doctor's lecture on alternative sexuality. This section of the film completely abandons the plot, but provides an insight into progressive late 19th century views on what would now be termed queer studies as the Doctor speaks on topics such as homosexuality, lesbianism, transgenderism, intersexuality, the perils of stereotypes, and the idea that sexuality is physically determined, rather than a mental condition.

Körner reports Bollek for blackmail and has him arrested. In retaliation, Bollek exposes Körner. The Doctor gives testimony on Körner's behalf, but both are found guilty of their respective crimes. Bollek is sentenced to three years for extortion. The judge is sympathetic to Körner, and gives him the minimum sentence allowable: one week.

Allowed to go home before his starting his term, Körner finds himself shunned by friends and strangers alike, and no longer employable. Even his family tells him there is only one honorable way out. He takes a handful of pills and kills himself.

Sivers rushes to his side as he lays dead. Körner's parents blame Sivers for what has happened, but Else harshly rebukes them. Meanwhile, Sivers attempts to kill himself as well, but the Doctor prevents him and delivers his final speech:

You have to keep living; live to change the prejudices by which this man has been made one of the countless victims. ... [Y]ou must restore the honor of this man and bring justice to him, and all those who came before him, and all those to come after him. Justice through knowledge!

The movie closes with an open German law book, turned to Paragraph 175, as a hand holding a brush crosses it out.

See also

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