Friday, March 12, 2010

Jerichow -- jealousy, mistrust and debt

Director: Christian Petzold, 2008 (NR).

As Jerichow opens two men pull up outside a church cemetery. A funeral is taking place. They are seeking Thomas (Benno Fürmann), whose mother has just been buried. When they take him home, we realize they are after him for something. It turns out to be money. We never learn who these two are, or what this money is. But when they leave, Thomas in his old house broke and unconscious, a mystery man. But broke is the keyword.

Taking a job as a cucumber picker, his prospects pick up when he sees a car crash occur. Ali (Hilmi Sözer), a Turkish businessman living in this German town, has had too much to drink and needs a driver. Suddenly, Thomas has a job. When Ali introduces him to his young, attractive wife Laura (Nina Hoss), the trifecta of characters is complete.

Jerichow is billed as a German neo noir reworking of The Postman Always Rings Twice. That 1946 classic film noir was itself remade in the 1981 film of the same name with Jack Nicholson as the restless drifter. This German version is slower and brighter. Jerichow is a small East German town on the Baltic Sea. Here Thomas is not a drifter, but has come home penniless. The Greek husband is now a Turkish husband. While the scenery is prettier, the dialog is minimalist, and the characters mysterious.

Knowing the original storyline, it is inevitable that Thomas is attracted to Laura, the femme fatale. His attraction turns into passion when Ali has to be brought home drunk by the two of them. This classic love triangle unfolds amidst jealousy and mistrust.

Ali is jealous of his wife. There is a righteous and rightful jealousy. A husband should be jealous for the love and affection of his wife. She should not be tempting other men, and jumping into bed with anyone but her husband. That is fundamental to the marriage covenant. Jealousy applies to our relationship to God, too. He says of himself, "for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God" (Exod. 20:5). God deserves the love and worship of his people and is appropriately jealous for it. This is not a sinful jealousy; neither is that of the husband.

But Ali's jealousy leads to mistrust and deep suspicion. He is constantly checking up on Laura. Though he has pushed Thomas and her together, and even suggested to Thomas that she is attractive, he seems to be looking to catch her out. Their relationship is not built on trust and growing intimacy.

When we become suspicious and mistrusting in our relationship we pour a slow-acting poison into it. Rather than bringing it into the open for discussion and resolution, we begin to sneak around trying to trap the other person in the act. This is not healthy for a marriage. Intimacy in marriage is built on love, respect, and open communication. God's blueprint for a growing marriage is quite simple: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. . . . Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Eph. 5:22, 25). This is in the context of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21). Husbands want to be respected; wives want to be loved. Both want to be able to communicate their hopes, dreams and feelings to the other without fear of shame.

Eventually we do learn some secrets from Laura and Ali, but Thomas remains an enigma. Strong, silent and handsome, it is hard to feel for him as we simply don't know him. None of the three are particularly likable.

In a moment of vulnerability Laura says to Thomas, "You can't have love without money." If "love" is what draws these two together, it is money that will cement their relationship or leave it hanging.

And that brings us to the keyword of the film -- money -- and the main theme: money as a driver. Many people would agree with Laura, seeing money as a key enabler. But this is untrue. You most certainly can have love without money, though it might make it harder. Many students graduate from American colleges deep in debt, with little money but lots of love. Universities not only award degrees but are also the places where love blossoms and marriages bloom. Moreover, there are many couples living on the poverty line buoyed by marital love even while lacking monetary cash.

Jesus frequently taught about money. In his sermon on the mount, he said we cannot love God and money (Matt. 6:24). Here it would seem you can't have love and money. But the focus is on serving a master. If we love money so much that we would serve it, doing anythnig to get it, then we cannot love God. He brooks no rivals. Paul put it this way, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). Love and money are not antithetical. But neither are they requisite. Love is central, money is peripheral.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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