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If you are Janis Joplin in disguise or a tortured theorist who cannot reconcile the world, you will naturally gravitate to the mind of Friedrich Nietzsche or the swirling pontoon boat that spins into the Vienna Circle of genius. I recently watched a movie called “When Nietzsche Wept.” It’s obvious this philosopher does not initially have all the answers to mankind’s dilemma. He says there is no God but is tormented by headaches, unrequited love, and a fear of humans so great he can’t even trust a respected doctor. His female archangel Lou Andreas-Salome, played by the stunning Katheryn Winnich, compels a doctor who developed a new talking theory to cure Nietzsche before he attempts suicide.
Nietzsche is not a character the audience can gain sympathy for until he blossoms in compassion. The doctor chosen to treat Nietzsche is Josef Breuer, who is best friends with a more passively played Sigmund Freud, who was in his pre-fame status during this time in history. Between Nietzsche’s rationally driven benign lectures of mankind’s fate, his lack of trust, and his demands for love, I did not develop any sense of empathy for a writer tormented by his own demons. However, the movie transitions halfway through when an agreement is made between Josef Breuer, his physical doctor, who bids Nietzsche to help solve his unresolved conflict in exchange for Nietzsche receiving services to cure his physical ailments. Breuer and Nietzsche are leaders in their field, but behind the curtain they suffer innumerable torments that may only come with advanced, complex knowledge. Breuer had a love affair with a patient in which he betrayed his wife. The patient had delusional outbursts and blurted out their affair in front of his wife. Bertha Pappenheim, the lover played by Michal Yannai, is a curvy redhead who spills out her emotions visually, creating an image of lust and desire even a female voyeur can’t ignore.
Two tormented souls engage in a contract at this point to provide aspects of curing their demonic ailments. Breuer, who begins as the sane one, has a series of Freudian-type dreams that exaggerate his fears. He drops through tunnels, he erotically rapes his patient who resists then concedes, he saves patients who later falter—the dream cycle of Breuer compares to the movie “The Science of Sleep,” where illusion becomes the daily reality. In dream cycles, the most powerful dreams pervade our awake consciousness. The movie merges into an acquiesced paradigm of peace when Breuer (played by Ben Cross) and Nietzsche (Armand Assante) are paddle boating on a lake within a giant plastic Swan while the famous “Swan Lake” ballad is playing. Two great minds parallel into joint healing in laughter and awe while their feet move in symmetry.
This becomes the great task of two disjointed figures in humanity who are flanked by Sigmund Freud and Vienna elites. Two people who are self-loathing and unable to conquer their past find a solution for their lives only through experimentation and a growing mutual respect. Breuer discovers well into his treatment, as he observes the elderly failing around him, that time is the enemy and he must free himself from obligation. He sees himself as only an extension of his father’s and society’s expectations. He cuts his beard, leaves town, and becomes a waiter. Yet it is only part of the dream cycle. When Sigmund Freud spots him waiting tables, Breuer runs in the woods and jumps in a lake and almost drowns. Freud must exert all his strength to save him. Then he wakes up. The conscious state severs the delusion of escape.
For Nietzsche, the average person does not take dares to claim they are greater than God or that God does not exist while suffering in their own self-loathing. Even Jim Morrison understood the fate of his human condition. He accentuated his brutal conflict with poetry and music. He compared filmgoers to voyeurs or carnivorous vampires. “Film spectators are quiet vampires.” He said, “Love cannot save you from your own fate.” Jim Morrison, as opposed to Nietzsche, knew himself. He embraced his flaws.
Why did Nietzsche weep? It was not because Breuer could not find a cure. It was because in his mortality, he could not arise from himself. After bashing his head in a mirror after being massaged by a prostitute, he broke free from his pain. He was ready for help. Morrison said, “Dying is not painful, only living.” The main character, Nietzsche, who could utter great articles of philosophical premise, had to learn the simple lesson of how painful life can be. Nietzsche’s character redeemed himself through patience and goodwill toward Breuer. He rescued Breuer from the dream cycle back into a high level of love toward his wife and children. Nietzsche himself learned that he may never find female kinship, but in acceptance learned to love himself.
When one can savor the good moments and warm compliments of a loved one, it makes the pain of life disappear. Then we can all take the ride in the plastic swan towards oblivion and the belief that what torments us with stone will turn to gold. The highlights of “When Nietzsche Wept” include period-piece clothing and the Bulgarian backdrop of ancient buildings and cobblestone streets. It was written and directed by Pinchas Perry and based on the book by Irvin Yalom. Pinchas Perry is a friend of one of my closest friends in Los Angeles who took on the project earnestly. “When Nietzsche Wept” was a monumental task of taking the nuances of two great men and blending them into dialogue that made their realizations profound. At length, despair is what leads a man to scale new heights. The flesh and blood struggle of this film sheds light on the development of psychoanalysis, treatment, and two prodigies at work.