Even before we begin, I would like to give a standing ovation to Teresa Palmer. Her performance in Berlin Syndrome is hands down one of the best of hers I have ever seen. She has grown as an actor and it shows on her face. Her act is so natural and realistic that you get an impression you are actually witnessing a stranded girl. Totally uncontrived feel!
What appears to be a mere psycho-captive tale is, in fact, something that beats the eye. There is something deep going on in Berlin Syndrome and for that, I have decided to write you a thorough analysis. With some cool metaphorical comparisons thrown astray the writer of the eponymous novel Melanie Joosten was definitely on to something. Maybe you failed to notice that allegorical crux, of which I speak of. Don’t worry I have got you covered.
Meanwhile you can check out my other movie analyses too.
Berlin Syndrome Explained (Spoilers Ahead)
Okay, to begin with, we see our protagonist Clare (Teresa Palmer), a tourist photographer bumping into Andi (Max Riemelt), a local Berlin guy who is also an English teacher. This part is the “falling in love”. When you are complete strangers but you get smitten by the way the other looks. Despite not knowing anything about him/her you begin to fall, fall hard. You become unreasonable then and you focus more on falling and become desperate for it.
Clare: What makes you think I have problems?
Andi: People who travel alone are usually in search of something.
Andi presses that vein, the one that always hits the jackpot in a relationship. You might know it as “he/she understands me so well”. The ‘connection’ is established in those few seconds of exchange, and we can see Clare falling for the guy instantly. Her expressions by the way – perfect!
While the following line might seem as a petty gaffe, there is something deep in it if you really look at it.
I always come here to complicate life.
How often do you do that? Venture into an unruly place like love? When you are not in a relationship your life is simple, untangled. But when you choose to be in a relationship, you ‘complicate’ life. You layer your partner up with your expectations and you want him/her to become your idea of perfect love. Then there is that tinge of insecurity, of possessiveness, of guilt and then things begin to crumble. A relationship is a perfect paragon of how one, despite knowing what it could do to you, chooses to intentionally ‘complicate’ life.
But the line was, of course, intended as a deliberate pickup line to sound funny to tourists, we later discover.
Our world carves out reflections. Whatever someone does and finds it life changing, inspires others to follow their lead. It might not necessarily bring the same effect on the pursuer. We all want different things in life, but we do want to get the taste of someone else’s elation. On being asked why was Clare traveling, she confesses:
You know, those life experiences…
That people talk about all the time?
I wanted to do that.
No matter what place you are in, everyone feels that way sometimes. Waiting for a chance to storm yourself out, to get out from your life.
Clare thinks of herself as one of those cliched stereotypes calling herself predictable, but Andi considers that to be really brave. For a local person who has his life sieved in his own surroundings, it seems like a bizarre idea to leave everything behind. Andi might have been wheedling her up then, but he was genuine in considering it a brave move.
We end up in an awkward situation wherein the relationship doesn’t feel like going anywhere when Clare speaks about going to Dresden. It upsets the easily upset Andi. She goes to her room but that taste of longing in the mind of Clare stays, as she finds a photograph of Andi on the streets. She then bumps into him in a library and finds Andi staring into a book of art.
That one’s my favorite. She’s holding her hands like that to hide her deformed finger.
The irony in the above statement is that Clare ends up being exactly that girl in the book. We are coming to that part.
Believing in You
This is one part of the relationship when you think of yourself as no big deal, but your partner begins to point out all those things that you secretly want to hear. He/she loves you for who you are, and it feels great when all your good stuff is brought out in the open for you to see.
You photograph disappointment. I mean, all this ddr shit, all these dreams…it is all invalid.
But then there are disagreements that you choose to overlook and often change the topic to avoid getting into fights. So she does.
The next line that Andi delivers forms the basis of the entire movie Berlin Syndrome.
You can suffocate anywhere. You don’t need a wall.
We have these tangible physical characters that we can see and touch, and some of you might as well be thinking that the movie is all about the room that we can see. The walls that have surrounded Clare are the only thing that she needs to escape from. But that’s the whole point of Berlin Syndrome. Walls in the movie are abstract. Andi kidnapping Clare is nothing but a degrading relationship she can’t escape from.
As they are having a discussion, we find Andi asking Clare about a locket she is wearing. The first question that escapes his mouth is that of a jealous concern.
Did a boy give you that?
We are yet to find out the psychological state of Andi’s head. For starters, we know that he is an extremely conservative guy with that question. Or maybe that piece of jewelry bothered Andi’s idea of his perfect mate. The necklace was somehow belittling the natural beauty of Clare in his mind.
The First Phase of Love
Andi takes Clare at a secluded and empty place. He remarks that Berlin is full of such quiet places. They have sex that night, as Clare remarks in bed:
I don’t want this to end.
Andi’s lament gives away a sad sense of yearning he has for his first relationship.
All firsts end. First airplane ride. First time you get your ears pierced. First drags of cigarettes. First fuck.
You realize it is true. There is nothing like it. The firsts of everything. There is a sense of thrill, of excitement that goes missing the moment you repeat it. It doesn’t feel the same then. Andi misses her first love, and it is clear on his face. Her arrival brought back memories of his past of which she knows nothing about. She goes on in the background:
I wish we could stay like this, where we don’t know each other.
The “getting to know” part is the best stage in the prospect of love. That’s the part where you are complete strangers, and everything the other does makes you fall more in love. It grows exponentially. You like petty mistakes, you love your partner for his/her petty sweet nothings. That’s what Clare, or any person really, is smitten with, and she wishes something abominable that is about to change her life forever:
I wish I could stay.
The next line states the one ugly truth of relationships.
What happens when you know someone?
It dictates the way of life. You begin to see the problems, the loopholes, the flaws, the mindlessness and that’s when you realize you made a big mistake. When you know someone, you see them with their problems. You begin having second thoughts. That’s a downward tumble for you right there.
The House Arrest
Leaving Clare without a key the other day, locking her in, Andi begins to show his true colors. In his class he is trying to teach his children a line from a James Baldwin novel called “Giovanni’s Room”.
Perhaps home is not a place, but simply an irrevocable condition.
That’s quite a poignant line right there, saying a million words in a one liner. A further hint at why the Berlin Syndrome movie is not at all what it apparently appears to be. When you get used to something you frame it as home.
Franka’s (Emma Bading‘s) take on the line puts things in perspective:
The character is constantly moving. He feels a little bit shame about himself but he says he is finding himself, but he’s just escaping.
When Andi returns Clare ignores his first mistake and once again has sex with him. The other day she realizes Andi has been deliberately locking her up. He has even removed her sim card, and is trying to stop her from leaving him. She can’t even find her necklace that was given to her by her mother. It is suggestive that Andi has taken everything that she loved or whatever felt like home away from her.
Andi’s act is a blunt form of possessiveness where your partner is suffocating you by keeping you just for him/her. Andi has trust issues, and that conservative thinking once again flares up for you to see.
I didn’t think I would be able to get back in and then I realized that I couldn’t even leave.
You observe that he has taken Clare’s words too seriously.
You said you wanted to stay.
And then tortures her into taking photographs of her. It is an obsession he has no control over.
There is no reasoning with Andi. He’s a psychopath who can’t be reasoned with:
Clare: You could do so many things.
Andi: But I just want to do this.
Andi is like that quiet beast you know nothing of, and when you try to tame it, it unleashes its fury on you. Clare becomes a victim of house arrest as Andi keeps going to his school to teach. He is also visiting his father, the only good thing in his life that keeps him adrift towards sanity.
The First Fight
Next series of events deal with Clare trying to escape the house by driving a screwdriver through the hand of Andi. He ends up hurting her fingers, making an art of her too like that painting she was watching in a library few days ago. If we tack it up against the relationship theory, it is one of those moments of extreme bewilderment where Clare’s trying to shake Andi off, but the plan backfires and her act of revolt ends up hurting both of them in the process.
What would be the worst thing I could ever do to you? Don’t worry, I would never do it.
With that, it gets established that she can’t fight Andi. He is too strong for her. The question of her leaving is answered with something that forces pain to linger. So that goes out the window.
She once tries to tell him that she misses her mom to which Andi replies:
There’s no point in missing something you can’t have back.
Now comes the time when you realize when you can’t escape from a relationship, it is time to embrace it. When life gives you lemons you make lemonade, right? So Clare accepts her fate letting Andi has his way with her. He is queer is all, she thinks and comes to terms with.
But she isn’t happy. She shows her discomfiture and displeasure in the only way she thinks possible by doing the opposite of whatever he wants of her.
Can’t you just be normal?
We see a broken Andi, who has lost his father, being accepted by Clare completely.
I thought you weren’t gonna come back.
Andi was gone so long that Clare ran out of resources. She needed him for survival but watching his vulnerability kick in, she pities him. Clare then decides to open up, to tell him about her day, just like one does in a relationship.
Clare: How did you choose me?
Andi: You paused on the street.
Just when they were talking about the day he had met her, she asks him about his first love to which Andi replies:
There was no other girl.
Like a nagging person in a relationship who wishes to know about your past indulgence, she is asking him questions about his first girl.
Do you still think about her?
Andi never speaks of it though he begins to see the pattern in relationships. Clare is full of it, and we can see the annoyance kick in as she talks and rants about things. For Clare, she wishes to have someone to talk to and after accepting her life as is, Andi is the only person she could talk to. But when you spend too much of time with someone that’s when you begin to see the flaws, and so Andi begins to falter.
We see Andi getting smitten by another tourist but he soon wipes away the thought. That goes on to show how you get bored of a thing when you have it for too long. That’s exactly how relationships work.
Andi’s narrow-mindedness is shown aplenty when we see him getting offended by a mere touch of his coworker. He derides her considering her throwing herself at men all the time. He is a one woman guy and the extent to which he is willing to go is really disappointing to watch.
Andi is at the same time concerned about their relationship too. He thinks that he is making Clare happy, but clearly, she isn’t.
How do you think this is going, from one to ten?
For Andi, her happiness is of paramount importance too. He can’t let her go, but he is willing to loosen up a little.
He offers her his dead father’s dog Lotte like your lover making you happy occasionally with gifts and stuff. You know, to keep the romance alive.
Clare’s acceptance, however, doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t escape if she found a window of opportunity. We see another man venturing into the place while trying to get some cleaning done. Andi kills him. It is metaphorical for your partner closing all your doors for any chance with others.
It’s your fucking fault, okay. Now we have to clean this mess together.
However, there does arise a real window of opportunity in Berlin Syndrome after all, when Clare hides a captive image of herself in Franka’s file. In a theatrical series of events, we see Franka running to Andi’s abode and then hiding there as Andi immediately follows.
Eventually, Clare locks Andi in his own house in a breathtaking climax as she forces Andi’s very own medicine down his throat. She lets him choke on his own theory leaving him for good as we see a tired Andi sitting in his comfort chair wondering about his choices. (or the breakup)
Finally, the curtain falls to freedom.
You can order the Berlin Syndrome movie from here:
The Final Verdict of Berlin Syndrome
Berlin Syndrome is a movie that might appear as a simple tale of house arrest and abduction but it is something more. It is on human relationships and the way it swallows a person whole. Its characters are exemplary paragons of humans who find themselves either in the driving seat or the receiving end.
Andi is like a driving force in a relationship while Clare is the one who is constantly abused. Even though there is a psychotic angle flung here, you can’t rule out its palpability. There are still conservative extremists extant in today’s society that would literally do anything to keep you close.
Berlin Syndrome is a wonderful poetic flick with an amazing screenplay to be understood by its real allegorical import.
Check out the trailer of Berlin Syndrome movie here: