Why Does Herr R. Run Amok, and How is the Food at Bacchus Bethesda?

Spoiler alert: these two questions have nothing to do with each other.

In the newspaper over the past few days, there have been articles about a currently married woman, who went to the home of her ex-husband and murdered his second wife and his son. Today there’s a story about an ex-priest, now well-respected domestic violence and anger management counselor who was angry that a car was blocking his parked car and pulled a gun on, and threatened, the two men in that car (who just happened to be deputy U.S. marshalls on some sort of stake-out).

What makes “ordinary” members of society engage in such anti-social behavior?

This brings me to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1970 film, “Warum Lauft Herr R. Amok?”, or “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?”.

Herr R (R stands for Raab) is a most ordinary (one could even say ‘boring’) young German draftsman, who works in a nondescript office, wears white shirts and a tie to work, has an attractive wife and son, in-laws, an apartment, friends, and no clear interests (intellectual, athletic or otherwise) at all. He and his wife are clearly growing apart, as evidenced by the great silences that exist in their house. He tends to drink too much when out and grow, if not downright silly, embarrassing. He has an opportunity for a promotion but does not have the ability to close the deal. His blood pressure is a little too high, he smokes a little too much (so does everyone in the film), and he doesn’t know how to take a vacation.

One evening, he is sitting at home watching television. His wife is in the room, as is a friend of hers, and they are talking about an upcoming ski vacation that her friend is going to be taking. Raab gets up, turns up the volume on the TV, slowly picks up a heavy candlestick that sits on a living room table, and pummels his wife’s talkative friend, his wife, and then his sleeping son, to death. He then goes to bed.

By 8:00 the next morning, Herr Raab is back in his office. Nothing seems amiss. He works hard if silently.

At about 10:00 a.m., Herr Raab goes to the restroom…….and hangs himself.

The film was made very inexpensively. It is in black and white. There are no outdoor scenes. The acting was terrific – so good, it was, that it doesn’t look like you are watching a fictional film. It looks like the camera is filming real life, boring as it is, with understated and sometimes disconnected conversations and long gaps in the conversations. I don’t believe there is any musical score (or if there is, I sure didn’t focus on it). It’s like a fascinating amateur home movie.

But what to make of it? The critics seem to say that, like the folks in the newspaper articles I mentioned above, Herr R. was just an ordinary man, getting along in society in a common way, until one day he snapped. Perhaps this is correct. But I wonder if there might not be a broader message. Germany, that most conservative and society-conscious country, plods on in its staid, boring way until one day……..they decide to kill the Jews and, in effect, commit national suicide.

I don’t know what Fassbinder had in mind. Fassbinder made about 40 films. I have seen only this one. I know little about him, except that he made these 40 films in only 15 years, and died in his late 30s (1982) of a drug overdose. It’s a sad world.

But it’s not so sad if you are having dinner at Bacchus of Bethesda, as five of us did Tuesday night. An array of vegetarian appetizers (and one ringer, the lamb/beef sausage), and varying dishes of chicken, swordfish, lamb and more for the entrees, a variety of Greek pastries for dessert, along with the Turkish coffee (who says the Greeks and Turks can’t get along?). And some very good merlot.

I asked the waiter (who is the brother of the owner) what the wine was. He said he was embarrassed, but that it was Yellowtail 2005. I wasn’t necessarily surprised – but I didn’t know that 2005 was a banner year for their merlot. Yellowtail merlot is consistently a good bargain red, I believe.

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