The Wall – Die Wand (2012) World Cinema Series – Austria

Die Wand

Reading Marlen Haushofer’s Die WandThe Wall was one of the most profound reading experiences I’ve ever had. Weeks after I finished it I was still haunted by the story and urged everyone to read it as well. Over ten  years later the book is still in my mind as if I’ve read it yesterday. The story of a woman who is invited to a lodge in the Austrian forest and finds herself cut off from the world by an invisible wall made an incredible impression on me.

At the beginning of the story the narrator’s friends go back to the village just after their arrival. When they do not return, she goes to bed. When she wakes she expects to find them but they have not returned. She decides to walk to the village and find out what has happened. On the way she dashes into an invisible wall. She will find out later that the wall forms a circle around her and a relatively large forest and mountain area. The few people she sees outside of the wall look frozen in time. Obviously they are dead.

It is immediately clear to her that there is no escaping her condition and that, with the exception of a few animals – a dog, a cow and a cat – , she is completely alone. At first this is so overwhelming, that she thinks of killing herself but then, feeling responsible for the animals, she pulls herself together. After a time of adjusting, learning to survive, hunting, gathering and planting, she becomes self-sufficient. She even loves to be alone with her animals and so close to nature. She becomes one with the nature around her.

One day she feels that something is wrong. At first it’s just a hunch, then she finds signs. She might not be alone after all.

Marlen Haushofer did an amazing job at showing us that being alone may not be the worst. The end of the book is harrowing.

When I saw that The Wall has been made into a movie, starring one of my favourite actresses, Martina Gedeck, I had to watch it.

The Wall is an amazing film and Martina Gedeck does an astonishing job. She’s almost the only actor in this film and most of it is narration.

The movie is as harrowing as the book, maybe even more so. Plus it adds spectacular images of the Austrian mountain region.

The book and the movie explore the human condition and the curse it harbours. Humans are not only the only beings to be aware of death but they are also the only ones capable of evil. Book and movie say a lot about the relationship between humans and animals. The profound friendship that can arise, as much as the horror of having to kill animals if you want to survive.

While I loved the film, I think it’s not easy to watch if you’re not familiar with the book and not a very literary person as there isn’t much action but a lot of narration instead. The protagonist tells at the beginning of the film that she writes down everything that has happened to her in order to stay sane and so we see everything and hear the voice describe her thoughts and feelings at the same time.

As I said, it’s a harrowing book and some of the very sad things that happen affected me even more when I watched the movie. Still it’s excellent, very philosophical and profound.

I found an English trailer which puzzled me a bit. It’s not dubbed. It seems the movie is available in two version, one in which Martina Gedeck speaks in German and one in which she speaks English. I think they chose this approach as a subtitled version would be very tiring as she speaks almost constantly.

The book will be reissued this summer. Unfortunately with a really awful cover. I find it sad that they used a cover like this and that’s why I would like to emphasise that The Wall is a classic of Austrian literature, not some dystopian YA novel. (As you know, I personally like YA literature, but I think there is a huge difference between this literary novel and a YA novel.)

Don’t miss watching this stunning film or reading the book.

The review is part of the World Cinema Series 2013 and Foreign Film Festival 2013.

57 thoughts on “The Wall – Die Wand (2012) World Cinema Series – Austria

  1. I had never heard of this book but it sounds very, very intriguing to me. The trailer looks to be amazing. I will at least see the film soon. It looks like some of the old Twilight Zone episodes.

    I also welcome narration over action. There is nothing wrong with plot driven stories, but lately it seems that as a society we losing our ability to appreciate tales that are mostly about character and ideas.

    • I’m pretty sure you would like the book as well but the movie is stunning too.
      I agree with you, it seems people have a hard time to watch a film like this, just following pictures and a voice, hardly any music.
      The book is creepier, the build up is slowly. I hope you get to see it.

  2. Thanks Caroline: I hadn’t heard of this so I’ll watch for it now. Perhaps the film will be released in America dubbed as I think I heard a director say that around 3% of the American audience will watch a subtitled film.

    • No, I dn’t think that’s needed, as they made two versions, English and German, it’s her voice both times. It’s done very often when it’s a big German production. Most German actors talk English very well.
      I hope you’ll find it.

  3. Hi Caroline – I totally agree: The Wall is a fantastic book! Haushofer has created a very strange and exceptional atmosphere in this text, (making us all feeling trapped?)
    I had no idea The Wall was made into a movie – thank you so much for reviewing it!
    (And I also agree on your critique of the new cover – it doesn’t fit the content at all!)

    • Thanks for saying that Sugrun. It’s sad that they want to market this like that, isn’t it? And while it does describe the end of civilisation in some way, it’s far more existentialist than anything else.
      Well said, yes, she describes us all a being trapped and just uses an extreme approach to show it.
      Have you ever read anything else by her? I’ve got Die Mansarde here.
      The movie is very powerful. I would be intersted to hear what you think of it.

      • I have The Loft somewhere in my library (unfortunately I’m unable to read it in German), but have yet to read it. Don’t know why – maybe I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed after my remarkable experience with The Wall; but I will get to it!

  4. Wow–that looks quite powerful. I like the idea of being solitary and am so much of the time already, but this is solitary in an entirely different way–it seems very uncomfortable to me. I’d like to read the book but I am not sure I could handle the suspense or the feeling that it will likely end badly. The US edition of the book must be a still from the movie I think–the UK version, I think too, is not the best choice and gives much different feel to the book (maybe they are capitalizing on the popularity of other current dystopian novels?). The scenery does look breathtaking though.

    • It is powerful. I’m sure you’d like the book. She writes so well but it’s not cheerful. You are forewarned, I wasn’t. The beginning is really quite horrible but once she learns to cope one is almost jealous of her, the peace and unity with life around her and then it happens. I can reveal too much as book and movie illustrate something in a powerful way and it’s great to discover it for oneself.

  5. Gedeck is one of my favourite actresses and I’m glad she continues to star in great films. But the book – this I will definitely want to read this summer! Thanks for pointing it out; not many modern German books create that much excitement anymore…

    • Yes, she is fantastic. I’ve seen so many movies with her. This was a very difficult role.
      The book is amazing, it’s not that new though. Modern, yes but I just check – it came out exactly 50 years ago in 1963.
      I hope you will like it.

  6. I tried adding the movie to my rental list but it isn’t released yet. I’ll have to remember this. I know the better half, who hates Hollywood films, will love this film. The trailer is spectacular.

    • I hope so too, Jackie.
      I think it’s very chilling. As a dog owner you’ll relate to it anyway, I would say. I still had my dog when I read it.
      I’m looking forward to hear what you think of it.

  7. You’ve sold me on the book and the movie, Caroline. I’m so glad the English version isn’t dubbed. I just won’t watch dubbed movies, because it’s not the same performance at all. Inflection and tone are so important.

    What a shame about the cover. I’m betting the author was not happy with it, but you never know.

    • Marlen Haushofer actually died quite young, I think just a year or so after the book came out. She had some nasty form of cancer. Bone cancer, I seem to remember.
      She wrote other books before but this is her most famous one. The tone in shich she writes is very sober, I don’t think she’d have been happy about this cover.
      Book and movie are incredible but if you chose only one, then I’d go for the book. And as I said to TBM … Keep tissues ready.

  8. It’s pouring with rain here, I’ve got a difficult weekend socially on the horizon and I have a headache, so this book is not for right now! Maybe one day, if I’m feeling exceptionally courageous. I suppose, though, reading your review, I like books best when they reconcile me to life one way or another. I have no trouble imagining how awful life can be – it’s being reminded it can be good that’s the goal.

    • Then it’s not for you right now although it’s very well written and says a lot about the human condition. It’s a very feminist novel too but I totally understand.

  9. I agree with you…the book cover is bad.

    I think this is your first movie review here…or I could be wrong. Thank you for this, it sounds very interesting. A one man/woman show always fascinated me. I will try to find this movie, and I prefer the one in original language as subtitle never bother me much. Been reading them since I can read 😉

  10. Beautiful review, Caroline! This book and movie look quite fascinating! After I read the first paragraph, I knew that I had to read the book. I will try to watch the movie sometime too. The invisible wall makes me think of something similar that Stephen King wrote about in his book ‘Under the Dome’. I am wondering whether he got ‘inspired’ by Marlen Haushofer’s book. These days I am discovering that quite a number of famous books and sometimes even movies in English look very suspiciously similar to classic European novels (German, French, Dutch) and many times because the original was not available in English translation before or was not well known among English-reading audiences, nobody bothered to acknowledge the ‘inspiration’ and readers in English didn’t know about it. Although one part of me asks whether this is all true or whether I am just imagining things. I am going to read Haushofer’s book and find out. Thanks for this wonderful review and for the inspiration. I know that I am going to love this book 🙂

    • Thanks Vishy.
      This was such an interesting comment. I’m sure you are on to someting here and you’ll be surprised – I was wondering the exact same thing a while ago. I find many traces of untranslated books (or books like The Wall which are out of print) in English books and I was thinking that it cannot be a pure coincidence. I was even wondering if some people didn’t mine these treasures. Just like so many US movies are based on European originals. It’s not always transparent for the viewers.
      I hope you will like the book. I’d read it before watching the movie. I’m looking forward to read your thoughts on it, one of these days.

      • Interesting and nice to know that you have been wondering the same thing. I don’t know whether it is just a coincidence, but for some reason I seem to be stumbling upon European books which were published earlier which seem to have inspired newer books in English. I haven’t read some of these and I am hoping to do that sometime. Some of the book which recently caught my eye this way were Patrick Modiano’s ‘Missing Person’ (Robert Ludlum’s ‘The Bourne Identity’ seems to be very similar to this), Herman Koch’s ‘The Dinner’ (when I read the story outline on the back cover, I immediately remembered the Roman Polanski movie ‘Carnage’ which came out a couple of years back. I discovered that the Polanski movie was based on a French play by Yasmina Reza.). I also remember reading about a book by a French writer in Stu’s blog (Winston’s Dad) which looked very similar to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series. Unfortunately, I am not able to find that post now. It annoys me no end when ‘inspirations’ aren’t acknowledged.

        I can’t wait to read ‘The Wall’. I am sure I am going to love it.

        • I really hope you will love it. I know that it’s the type of book you usually like. It will be interesting to read you thoughts.
          I didn’t know about Cranage and Dinner but I might have read Reza’s play. I like her very much.
          I find it bad to not acknowledge. Many people write new versions of older things but at least they should say it.
          I’ve read so many books by Modiano but I dodn’t think I’ve read that but I would need the French title to be sure.
          That book Stu wrote about, could it have been Laurence Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore? I don’t know Forde and just skimmed the descriptions. Maybe?

          • I can’t wait to read ‘The Wall’. Glad to know that you like Reza’s plays very much. Maybe I was wrong and ‘The Dinner’ and Reza’s play ‘Le Dieu du Carnage’ are different. I just checked their publishing history and it looks like Reza’s play came before Koch’s book. Maybe Koch was inspired by Reza. I saw the movie version of ‘Carnage’ and liked it very much. It had Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz and was very powerful. The Modiano book is called ‘Rue des Boutiques Obscures’. Have you read it? How did you find it?

            Thanks for telling me about Laurence Cossé’s ‘A Novel Bookstore’. I checked out the description in Amazon and found it quite interesting. I want to read it sometime 🙂 I couldn’t find it in Stu’s blog though. The book that I remember reading about had a plot like this – there is a writer who is working on a book and some of the characters in the book have a life of their own and so don’t listen to the writer. This was also the basic premise of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series – that characters in a book have a life of their own and they suddenly disappear from the book (in the first book of the series, Jane Eyre disappears from all editions of her book and literary detectives go in search of her to convince her to come back).

            • I must have skimmed the description of a totally different Forde book! That sounds nothing like Cossé. Emma reviewed Cossé. I think she liked it quite a bit. She even has apage on her blog where you can find all the books mentioned.
              I’ve read Rue des Boutiques Obscures and know I liked it because with the exception of one Modiano I liked them all, especially the earlier ones. I like the mood in his books. Melancholic.
              Carnage has a great cast. I’d like to watch that. I’ve never seen Reza’s plays but have read a few. She’s such a great playwright.

              • Hope you get to watch ‘Carnage’, Caroline. I found it quite gripping and powerful and it had just four characters (two couples) and the whole story happens in the drawing room of a house.

                I am looking forward to reading ‘Rue des Boutiques Obscures’ soon.

                Nice to know that Emma reviewed Cossé. I will check out her review. If I am able to find the name of that book which Stu wrote about, I will let you know. Will have to do some serious search on his blog 🙂

                • I would love to know which book it was. maybe if you leave a comment? He has categories on the side bar, if he hasn’t read too many French novels you might find it.

                  • Thanks for the suggestion, Caroline! I checked out Stu’s sidebar and searched by France and found the book 🙂 It is Raymond Queneau’s ‘The Flight of the Icarus’. It looks remarkably similar to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series (especially the first novel ‘The Eyre Affair’). In Queneau’s novel, the main character in the novel is a writer. One day he discovers that the main character in the novel he is working on has disappeared and he tries to hire a detective to get the character back. In Fforde’s book, Jane Eyre disappears from all the copies of the book and literary detectives go to find her and get her back into the book. Have you read Queneau’s book?

                    • I’ve read other books by Queneau. He’s highly original and quite hard to translate, I’d say as he used vernacular. I think you would like “Zazie in the Métro” it’s very funny.

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  15. The American R1 DVD is very good it defaults to the English voice over but offers the German with subtitles I love both. When I want to sit and watch with total viewing mentality I choose the German but if I run it while checking my emails I use the English.

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