Back to the Future

Posted by Michael [play this on repeat as you read this post]

Robert Zemeckis’ epic trilogy taught us to importance of recognizing the consequences of our actions and our ability to shape our own future. (If you haven’t seen all three Back to the Future movies, come talk to me so we can plan a movie night) Edgar Reitz’s Heimat includes similar thematic subjects. Linked to the obvious thematic subjects of home and homeland discussed last week, there is also a clear portrayal of the importance of both past and future. The question to each character becomes: which is more important?

The past is probably the easiest to see and most obvious in the first episode seen last week. As Paul works on his radio and mayor Alois builds his automotive collection, many people in the village withdraw from them and shun the new technology. Paul’s parents remain skeptical, and many townspeople mock the motorcycles and throw stones at the automobiles. Why are they so attached to their old ways? Clocks had to have been new to them at some point as well, yet they’ve embraced them well enough, asking for the exact time of day many times.

The future… “oh, I can tell you about the future…” This one seems trickier. We can always blame the older people for being old and stuck in their habits, but how do explain when something new really takes off? The rising nationalism seems to spread through the village like wildfire. Heimat, purposely or not, gives enough examples that one could glean from it what makes an idea “stick”, or what makes it “heavy” (“there’s that word again…”), at least in a rural setting. Towards the end of this weeks episode they had power or telephone lines being installed. Who’s idea was that? Did it originate within or from outside the village? Do you think they all will agree that it will be beneficial to them, or another thing to poke fun and laugh at?

Hope appears as another way that various characters look towards the future. Maria hopes that Paul will come back, and instills this hope in their children. Hope can can sometimes be the only thing someone is left hanging on to, but it could be a hindrance if taken too seriously. Dwelling on the future too much takes focus away from the now and can be dangerous if it becomes too distracting. Is Maria’s hope becoming dangerously distracting? It it ungrounded and foolhardy? Is it right for her to fill her children up with such high hopes of their father’s return? If you knew whether or not Paul was returning would it change your answer?

What other temporal evidence fluxes through this film? Well, the full title itself gives that answer. “Chronicles”, as we’ve mentioned, imply a history, or a story over an extended time period. As Doc explains in Part 2, we can’t think of time as a single, unchanging time, but a series of possibilities, such that the changing of any single event will cause a change to all future events and create an entirely separate “time line”. And just because they didn’t have any DeLoreans around, doesn’t mean the same idea can’t apply. The entire film is filled with little seemingly insignificant events that lead on to bigger things. Though we aren’t sure what, something made Paul depressed and lead to him running off to America. Something (or someone) left a dead woman for him to find that later upsets Maria when others find what seem to be her clothes. Eduard explains to Lucie how his searching for and finding of a piece of (possibly) gold lead to him marrying her. What other smaller events produce a chain like this? The story continues over multiple generations. Do you think events like these will reappear even in the later generations (i.e. if Eduard and Lucie were to have children, would they ever mention the piece of gold)?

I think that should do for now. If I come up with anything else, I’ll add it in a comment. I didn’t have time to really brush up on my BttF, so this is a little drier than I would have liked. And I tend to boil things down pretty low, so if you have any questions about what I’m actually trying to say here, add those too and I’ll try to be as quick with an answer as possible (I think it’s a shame people aren’t really keeping up with their own posts and going back to respond to the comments, but I suppose many don’t have the time to do that and move on to the next one). But now Darth Vader has come down from the planet Vulcan and said that id I don’t stop this post and get it up in a hurry that he’ll melt my brain.

12 responses to “Back to the Future

  1. It’s pretty cool how you managed to bring in other examples of “time travel” into Heimat, and I do believe that the small “clues” we are witnessing (such as the dead body or Paul’s conversation with his fellow German emigrant) will eventually build into major plot points during the series. The rapid technological change in the town of Schabbach is another very interesting point you brought up; I can see this new change (electrical wiring, increased use of automobiles) as being embraced more fully by the older generation than Paul and Alois’s previous “hobbies”, primarily because this progress corresponds heavily to the crazed nationalism of the village. Why are there so many cars? (sadly, no DeLoreans) For Hitler’s birthday celebration, of course! Why are electrical and telephone wires being established? To keep in contact with the Fuhrer! (indirectly). This nationalism, I think, will force the elderly to change their view of technology, else they be persecuted, for the Fuhrer “sees all.”

    • Interesting… so fear can be used to push people into the future. Reminds me of China’s Cultural Revolution too. Perhaps it was actually fear of the unknown that made them hesitate before?

    • Rob, I think you have a good point here about fear inducing acceptance of new technology, but I also think that change comes regardless. How many times in your city have you seen your favorite buildings, parks, etc. be torn down and replaced by something bigger and better? How often does our current technology become obsolete by newer, faster, smarter versions? We don’t have much say in these matters. The difference between Paul’s time and our time is the vast improvements made between updates of technology. Think about it this way: Paul’s village went from having no power to having electricity and cars, whereas we go from having the iPhone 3G to having the iPhone 4.
      But I think I’m getting distracted. The main point is that technology progresses without our consent, and younger people are almost universally more excited about new advancements than older people. And what is it, “the children are our future”? Because the younger generation, like Paul with his radio or Pauline with the car, is excited about technology, the future will always bring advancements.

      • I like where you’re going with this, but I would argue that we DO have a say in our advancing technology. As american consumers, we speak with our money, so as long as we buy the latest version of everything, companies will continue to sell newer versions. We (almost) never see the reverse happen because not enough people ever support staying content with something or feeling the older version was better (there are always exceptions, of course, like the backlash from Windows Vista).
        We can also look at many other societies, typically poor, rural areas in developing nations, where even the children will prefer the old ways over newer technology. Sometimes a new technology may be too new, and their lack of understanding inhibits their ability to make the technological leap.

    • Hey Rob,

      I couldn’t agree with you more that the small clues here and there will evolve into major plot events or become strong thematic elements throughout the rest of Heimat. I believe that their little town is going through a truly revolutionary time period right now. You mentioned the technological change that is sweeping through, and the support for Hitler is certainly growing. In our class conversation we mentioned the roles of flies in Heimat and whether or not they are simply a nuisance on the set or if they have a greater, intentional meaning. As I am thinking about it now I do not ever remember flies landing on the mayor or on Paul. Because these two characters are on the forefront of the technological change in their village the “fly placement” could perhaps suggest that the people the fly lands on are behind in the revolution of the time.

      If I have forgotten a particular instance with the flies that would disprove this idea or if there is more circumstantial evidence that will support it please mention it below.

      • To test this theory, not only must we watch for flies on Paul and the mayor, but anyone else that seems to be moving forward. We know that Nazism will be a big part of Germany’s future (and have already seen it start to spread to the village), so it would make sense that people who embrace this new “-ism” would be moving forward. Therefore we shouldn’t see flies on Eduard or Anton. We’ll see what happens next.

  2. I’m in agreement with Rob I believe that some of the insignifcant scenes that we have seen in the series so far (such as Eduard in the river looking for cold and the conversation between Paul and his fellow German) will connect to later events. At least I hope this is the case or else I do not know why these scenes were included. Another potential minor event that could lead to bigger things in the future is the scene where the Mayor’s son is talking very seriously about Berlin and the regime. Both that and the scene where Eduard is teaching Anton how to march could be foreshadowing of what lies ahead for not only these young German boys, but all young German boys. As far as the issue of Maria’s hopefullness, I am kind of torn on that issue. I do not think that she should be completely hopeless because something tells me she hasn’t seen Paul for the last time, but not knowing when or if she will ever see him again is obviously weighing on her mind. I feel like she has to be hopeful around her children though because if they see their mother has no hope for their father’s return then that will in turn affect them.

  3. I think it is important that Maria instills hope in her children. She can’t give up on Paul, especially when she has been in love with him since they were children. How could you tell your children that their father is never coming back? And then what happens one day when he does come back? I think, though Maria is still set so much in the past with Paul, she also allows her children to live a normal life. They may work on the radio or she may get really excited whenever Paul is mentioned, but Anton is still joining the Nazi youth, not just sitting around waiting for his dad to show up. So I think it is alright for Maria to be acting the way she is, it seems to be normal.

    As for the piece of gold, I think it will definitely be brought up in later generations. Eduard seemed so proud of the gold and the tie that it brought to his and Lucie’s relationship. One day his grandchildren will sit around and listen to him talk about the little piece and how he met their grandmother…granted he doesn’t lose it in the war.

  4. I think the most prominent character that is stuck in her old ways is Katalina Simon. During the episode we viewed, she chooses to walk with the basket on her back and take the train to Simmern where her brother lives after being offered a ride by Lucie. The reason for her “backwardness,” I think, is because that’s what she sees as safe. Humans are afraid of change by nature, and Katalina is no exception to that rule. Later on when she is sitting in her brother’s home, Katalina is speaking with Fritz about the economy, and she pointedly states that in “three months the economy will be crashing again.” While everyone else is buying cars and investing in the government, Katalina and Fritz hold out because they are afraid of the bad times they’ve been through before. I agree with Michael that so far Heimat has been dominated by the differences between past and future and how characters react to each. Katalina is firmly rooted in the past, sticking to what she knows best. Paul, however, is the most prominent character that looks towards the future, for he physically moves on to America, the land of hope.

  5. I agree with Kristi, in the sense that it is very important for Maria tells her children to believe that their father will return. In reality, she has too. She still loves Paul despite his abandonment of her and she tries to instill that he loves their children as well. There are two scenes which I found interesting with regards Paul’s disappearance and Maria. The first is when Maria puts her children into bed and they say their prayers, “where the angels tuck them in”. One of the last prayers is that they hope for the return of their father. With this little prayer every night, Maria is keeping hope in the children that the father will return. If they do this every single night, her children will continue to believe that one day Paul will return. The second scene is when Maria and the children are working on Paul’s radio. It’s fitting that Paul’s children know how to work the radio and pick up signals from the cities, it is the passage of skills from father to son. After all not many people in the village know how to work the radio. One constant remainder of Paul is the radio and thus during this scene Maria makes her children promise that they will always believe that their father will return and to never give up hope. Maria has to tell her children Paul to return, how could she not?

  6. I agree that it is fitting for Maria to continue to instill hope in her children, but how long can that go on? Month after month, year after year, she is potentially planting false hope in her children. As Heimat continues, the children will grow older and start to figure out their father may not return. However, something tells me Paul will eventually return at some point in the chronicles. The scene where Paul is in America getting his hair cut in the barber shop struck me because of the empty look on Paul’s face throughout the entire scene. He says barely nothing, still looks miserable, lost, and confused. When the fellow German starts talking to him, it almost seems as if he is scared and reminded of what he has left behind. Does he regret his decision to leave his family behind? Is he apprehensive about the move to America, and now begins to realize his new home is not in “the land of hope?”

  7. It seems very plausible that Paul would be regretful of his decision, leaving everything behind without notice. The weight one’s conscience would carry in that situation would definitely help explain his miserable outlook. Plus, as we talked about in class, it’s possible that Paul will later meet up with his family, since both stories are carrying on simultaneously. It will be interesting to see if tonight this trend continues, and Paul’s story is continued. With the amount of time spent with the rest of the characters, we know that they won’t be forgotten. This is, of course, speculation, but the series is called Heimat, meaning home. This story could very easily contain Paul’s return to Germany and his family, finally being content, with Germany truly feeling like “home.”

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