Synopsis from a BBC review:
Andreas, a middle aged man, arrives in a mysterious and idyllic city with no memory of having travelled there. He is given a nice job with friendly people, but realises there’s something decidedly odd about his new surroundings because the food has no taste, his body regenerates every time he injures himself and some grey caretakers are always around.
The Bothersome Man can be seen as an allegory of many things. The city he arrives at can be seen as some form of socialist utopia, some form of Purgatory, or some absurd Kafkaesque nightmare reality. Andreas enters this world from a previous life and is expected, welcomed and inserted into the social structure. It is in many ways a rationalist and utilitarian model of harmony, egalitarianism and peaceful co-operation. The interpretation which follows will explore the film as a satirical and fictional variation on the numerous ideological structures of recent history exaggerated for artistic effect.
The scientific creation of a new social order informs the philosophical and political theories of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as Positivism and Utilitarianism and these theories continue to influence our own concept of society. Democracy in the present form developed from the literary fantasy which imagined an electorate composed of independent, rational individuals deciding on which party to elect after weighing all the pros and cons. The extension of universal suffrage in recent history is evidence of the prevailing dominance of this rationalist mythology. This fictional example is demonstrative of the limits of rational theory when applied to the human sphere. The ‘social sciences’ have no methodology to deal with the metaphysics of the human being other than to assign them to the sphere of irrationality and superstition.
The submerging of the individual into the mathematically determined schema of ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’ is a distortion of the living realm of human existence. The promotion of a narrow, myopic viewpoint focused only on material comforts results in the obsessive concern with surface and appearances. In the film interior design is a favourite leisure time activity within the cycle of work and shopping, production and consumption. The levelling of the mass of citizens to the lowest common denominator is a by-product of the emphasis on quantity over quality and results in the bland, flavourless atmosphere of the surroundings. In such a schematic a people are divested of an identity and a destiny and become merely an agglomeration, material to be measured, numbered, classified and delineated by statistics and demographics within a bureaucracy. The cubicle dweller and phone-jockey of modern office life are part of this same rational and mechanistic conception of existence and become, for purposes of utility and efficiency, an extension of the machinery of the State.
The domain which Andreas enters resembles the moribund world of late post-industrial capitalism; the demographic and ideological sterility of Western civilisation being represented by the absence of death and birth. This is a world of comfort and ease where suffering has been erased by the negation of desire. The result is a situation where the beer doesn’t get you drunk, the sex doesn’t get you off and even the escape-hatch of suicide is sealed up. It resembles also a world liberated from the metaphysical dichotomy of flesh and spirit, the struggle between light and dark, a post-Christian West uprooted from the numinous soil which had nourished it and now reduced to a dessicated, petrified form, stubbornly persisting but void of essence.
Andreas is a misfit, a malcontent. He is the off-key remark that introduces a jarring dissonance into the smooth meanderings of social interaction. The ‘bothersome’ element that cannot be caught by the sieve of a bureaucratic ideology. He represents the discomfort and discontent that cannot be quelled or answered by the ‘social sciences’ of the governmental system. He is increasingly drawn to the faint inklings of a marginalised realm infiltrating this uniform monotony. Sounds and smells which testify to an alternate reality incompletely effaced by the simulacra of state-sponsored concepts of ‘the good life’. He is not alone in this discontent, there are others who are vaguely aware of the forbidden realm but who lack the reckless desire of Andreas, the lust for this absent or suppressed dimension which over-rides his desire to conform. A recurring refrain in the film is the advice given to him as a general folk wisdom:
‘You’ll get used to it.’
This is the slogan of the modern, sophisticated, and essentially totalitarian realm that induces a passivity and a fatality in its well-fed citizens, supplying all their bodily needs in a rational, egalitarian and humanist society that has only a few malcontents, like Andreas, who will be clinically, calmly purged before they spread their contagion.
In Notes from the Underground Dostoevsky has articulated the psychology of the malcontent which is never taken seriously by the architects of scientifically determined public policies.
As far as I can make out, you’ve based your scale of advantages on statistical averages and scientific formulas thought up by economists. And since your scale consists of such advantages as happiness, prosperity, freedom, security and all that, a man who deliberately disregarded that scale would be branded by you- and me too, as a matter of fact – as an obscurantist and as utterly insane. But what is really remarkable is that all of your statisticians, sages, humanitarians, when listing human advantages, insist on leaving out one of them. They never even allow for it, thus invalidating all their calculations….But let me repeat to you for the hundredth time that there is one instance when a man can wish upon himself, in full awareness, something harmful, stupid and even completely idiotic. He will do it in order to establish his right to wish for the most idiotic things and not to be obliged to have only sensible wishes.
THE STATE WE ARE IN
Modern ideologies follow the template of religions. They have their own dogmas and schisms, purists and heretics, hagiographers and apologists, martyrs and saints, as well as sacred texts and holy sites. They ape the theological in their eschatologies of historical development, set up an orthodoxy on the political, social and economic plane, turn from religion only to recreate it in another form by investing the idols of reason, nation, class or race with all the mystical attributes of the discarded deity. The State becomes an Absolute: it will canonise and anathematise in accordance with a doctrine shaped by the contours of its own will to power, dispensing its credo through the force of the institutions and the anaesthetics of the entertainment industry.
Within our own debased political discourse, where slogans and soundbites have replaced tracts and manifestos, the exercise of state power has merged with the entertainment industry (infotainment) to create the sorcery of the spectacle. The idols of stage and screen pay homage to the secular icons of liberty, democracy, humanity and equality. Celebrities are often little more than walking billboards and mouthpieces for ideological orthodoxy. The realpolitik of military and financial power and coercion is sheathed in the prophylactic of humanism. The evangelists of liberal-humanism ultimately sanction the tanks and bombs of humanitarian intervention, the heat-seeking missiles of liberal democracy, and debt-based finance. The gospel of liberty has resulted in the enslavement to the imperious commands of a never-satisfied desire which seeks and finds absolution in the secular embrace of a permissive and possessive regime.
(Mrs Merkel tries to convince Andreas not to vote for the AFD)