I like to fancy myself somewhat adept at interpreting the meaning of movies, but sometimes, I get stumped just like everyone else. It happened to me in “A Serious Man,” though with the proper context, some light has been shed on the directorial intent. I was also pretty perplexed by Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” although I could sense vast levels of interpretation bubbling beneath the surface.
Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon,” on the other hand, has me totally bamboozled. I have absolutely no idea what it’s really about. Sure, ostensibly, it’s a movie following a pre-World War I German town as they are terrorized by a series of strange deaths. But I don’t think Haneke means it to be taken at face value. No one of that stature just makes a movie set in the past and means it to be just that.
The story, though extremely slowly revealed, is rather interesting. I could scarcely keep track of the ten trillion villagers, much less give you any of their names, but I was always able to follow the events. However, I was just blindsided by the ending – or lack thereof, making me doubt if I really understood what had happened in the movie’s first two hours.
I was a little angry that I left the movie with no sense of resolution, catharsis, or finality. And perhaps that was what Haneke was trying to achieve with “The White Ribbon.” But in a strange way, I almost feel like the film isn’t over, like I’m just missing the last chapter or something. It’s the same way I feel about “Lost,” one of my favorite television shows of all time – even though I still haven’t watched the last season, perhaps because I don’t want it to end.
Certainly, I would like to be freed from the not-so-nagging frustration of not knowing quite what “The White Ribbon” is. And maybe in a few years, I’ll re-enter that world of haunting visuals, intricate scripting, and deliberate direction. Though I’m not sure if I will emerge with any sense of closure, after one rewatch or several. B /