Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The tarot, Netflix, and Dr. Mabuse

For several years in the early 1990’s, I was a frequent reader of tarot cards for other people. I remember my sister seeking guidance from the cards, and my wife, and assorted friends. I didn’t read them to offer divination, I read them the way Carl Jung read them: as a key to the subconscious of the seeker.

When you read the cards in this way, allowing people to make their own connections, they reach metaphorical associations and conclusions they wouldn’t have otherwise. “The dark-haired woman” becomes fixed in their mind as “Sally,” the friend they hadn’t been thinking of, but who of course will be rushing to their aid now that they’ve thought of asking her for help.

Some time last year I joined Netflix, and in an odd tarot-like way the system has brought me circling back around to earlier artistic interests and obsessions of mine, as well as new associations. Specifically: Thirty years after first being introduced to dadaism and expressionism, I’ve had a recent re-immersion in the latter thanks to the films of Fritz Lang and, especially, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.” Just as it would not occur to the questioner to think of “Sally” until the cards jog their memory, I would not have found myself brought to this film had I not begun my Netflix account with two Werner Herzog films (“Fitzcarraldo” and “Aguirre, Wrath of God”), which led the system to suggest other arty German films. It’s wonderful at this point to discover an artist like Fritz Lang and feel as thought you’ve found something fresh that you also already knew in some way.

last_testament_dr_mabuse.jpgAnd what is “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” about? A svengali of evil, evidently dead but somehow still operating, sets in motion a chain of events that are seemingly unrelated but deeply connected in ways that the film’s lead, Inspector Lohmann (played with riveting naturalism by Otto Wernicke), cannot ever fully puzzle out. “Mabuse” is a puzzle box where all the pieces don’t fit, or perhaps more appropriately, where they fit in more ways than seem possible. The film includes a chase scene that goes nowhere except right back to where it began, a locked-room escape that turns the villain’s weapon into a mechanism of egress, and any number of appearances by characters who aren’t really there, either in the form of silhouettes, recording devices, spectral images, voices from the grave, or imputations from an evil manifesto.

After watching it no fewer than three times, the second time with the excellent commentary track by “Mabuse” scholar David Kalat, I still haven’t fully solved the film and never expect to. Rather than having gained an explanation from it, I’ve gained an enlightenment. That’s what tarot does for you, and that’s what art does, too.

3 Responses to “The tarot, Netflix, and Dr. Mabuse”

  1. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » One thing the tarot didn’t predict Says:

    […] Now that I’ve mentioned “tarot” in the headline of a post, half of the sponsored links have flipped into tarot and astrological services. (Which may be gone by the time you read this.) […]

  2. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » Another appearance of Dr. Mabuse Says:

    […] Dr. Mabuse, as you may recall from this earlier post, writes a manifesto of evil that compels acolytes to bring down society through chaos and confusion. To contemporaries — including Josef Goebbels, who initially banned it — the second Mabuse film, “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” presented an allegory for Hitler, who wrote “Das Kampf” and then inspired others to implement it. […]

  3. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » The other directors Says:

    […] Lang, as anyone who followed the Mabuse thread (here and here) could […]

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