- Dismantling the Third Reichin Cate Shortland's Lore (2012)
Within the opening minutes of Lore, it becomes clear that Cate Shortland is going to take her audience into new territory. Whereas recent films such as Der Untergang (Downfall, Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2005) and NaPolA (Before the Fall, Dennis Gansel, 2004) conclude with shots of blond teenagers entering the mythical German forest to escape the ruins of the Third Reich, as if crossing the threshold into a prelapsarian Stunde Null, Lore begins as the titular character and her four siblings enter the forest in what one critic has aptly termed 'a mixture of an apocalyptic road movie and a coming-of-age story'.1 In Shortland's film, the spell of a fairy tale is cast and then, of moral necessity, broken.
Lore depicts the journey of five children from south to north Germany in the final weeks of the Second World War. Abandoned by their ardent National Socialist parents, the children are led by the eldest daughter, Lore, through Germany's forests to their grandmother's house in Hamburg. Along the way, they are confronted with the consequences of Germany's defeat, including the rape of women, the dead bodies of civilians, widespread hunger, and the mass displacement of the German population. Along the way, the children encounter Thomas, a mysterious figure who, although at first frightening, befriends them and protects them from probable arrest by American soldiers. Thomas produces documents attesting to his Jewish identity, and the soldiers—who take Thomas to be the older brother of the siblings—let the children pass. Initially, Lore repeats the anti-Semitic rhetoric that she appears to have acquired from her parents, warning Thomas shortly after he joins the group, 'When my father comes, he will deal with you'. Shortly thereafter, she justifies her dislike of Thomas to Liesel by asserting, 'Mutti wouldn't like him'. However, over the passing weeks, she comes first to tolerate and then to accept Thomas's presence. As the group approaches Hamburg, Thomas is separated from the others, and Lore's young brother, Jürgen, reveals the young man's secret: his Jewish identity papers are, in fact, stolen. Shortly thereafter, the children arrive at their grandmother's house, where they discover that she is an authoritarian woman whose insistence on her conception of hierarchical order reflects her ongoing attachment to the value system of the fallen National Socialist state. The film concludes with Lore resisting her grandmother, but the future that awaits her in post-war Germany remains unclear.
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The narrative of children and young adults who are ejected from the family home and forced to embark on a journey through the forest where they encounter a range of 'easily identifiable characters associated with particular social classes, professions and assignments' has clear parallels to the fairy tale,2 in which 'spheres of action' are highly fluid: the "aggressor" is both Lore's father and the largely absent, but oft-referenced, Allied occupiers; Thomas is both the "auxiliary" and the "false hero". And the atmosphere of the fairy tale is augmented [End Page 18] cinematographically by the haunting shots of the German forests, as well as literarily by a sustained shot of Gustav Nieritz's Das neue Aschenbrödel (The New Cinderella). But Shortland uses these familiar tropes to critique what fairy tales promulgate: 'ideas about natural instincts, social relations, normative behavior, character types, sexual roles, and power politics'—ideas that inform a nation's racial ideology, its essential community.3 As Derek Brewer stresses, fairy tales routinely 'embody the social wisdom of their communities,' and are often inscribed with 'an implicit morality or didacticism'.4 Yet the racist wisdom of the elders is perilously unstable in this film, and so the children of National Socialist Germany must remap their identities as their nation is remapped by the post-war Allied occupation. The children's understanding of who is and is not a member of their "community" is suspended by this sylvan journey. Lore, especially, is forced to reassess the essential forces that shape social relations in Germany: who or what are "we"?