It is probably true that Wim Wenders will always be remembered for his incandescent and touching German-language film Wings of Desire, and we were reminded of this fact recently upon hearing of the death of its luminous star, Bruno Ganz.
However, Wenders made movies in the United States that are part of our popular film heritage, including his big winner Paris, Texas, a grand road movie filmed all over Texas, and the triumphant documentary Buena Vista Social Club (filmed in Havana, New York City, and Amsterdam for PBS). And he made The End of Violence in Los Angeles, tackling a mosaic of characters and plots and using his unmistakable story-telling style to craft a surreal speculation on the future in the land of smog and make-believe.
The director offers this synopsis of his film:
The film is a metaphor for an industry for which the depiction of violence has become a major product. Now the city is scared of the spirits it summoned. LA is now trying to protect itself in every perceivable way from that which simultaneously drives it so powerfully.
The End of Violence centers on two male protagonists. They are opposite sides of the same intellectual coin. One is a powerful, driven, and, according to his fans, exciting film director, played by Bill Pullman, who spends his days wheeling and dealing with the latest technology by his pool–and ignoring his wife. The other is Gabriel Byrne’s character, a NASA scientist ensconced in an astronomy tower with eerie blue-lit interiors, far above the LA hills. He is working on a secret project and he is just now discovering exactly what this project means.
And so our dichotomy is set. Art and science. The unreal and the real. Stories and facts.
The dichotomy deepens. Mike, the director, is a calculating man, but he is also full of ideas and energy. He ignores his wife and, when he is not ignoring her, enjoys causing her psychological pain. He manipulates, demands, and cajoles to get his way–and when all of these strategies fail, he threatens. Ray, the NASA nerd, is quiet, thoughtful, smart. When confronted with human tragedy in the form of the woman who cleans his workspace, he reacts with empathy and concern. He is obviously worried about his ailing father and brings him pizza, talking to him in humorous asides as though everything is normal, even when we realize his dad’s mind is not always there. These two opposites, Mike and Ray, will connect, if only virtually, because one recognizes the other as an ally.
Around this dichotomy swirls a storm of action, an array of LA characters, and the constantly beating drum of the central mystery, with the whirring sound of surveillance cameras just off in the distance.
Gabriel Byrne talks about working with Wim Wenders in a brief promotional interview. He observes:
European cinema, as personified by somebody like Wim Wenders, is about the telling of the story certainly. It’s also about the exploration of ideas. And it’s also about the connection between imagery and narrative. That’s why it’s very exciting to watch him frame a shot, for example. To watch how a slight shift of the camera can turn a very mundane scene into something slightly surreal…
The End of Violence did not receive very positive reviews when it was first released. Stephen Holden, writing for The New York Times, seems to have been the critic most impressed with it, calling it “Wim Wenders’s brilliant puzzle of a film” and noting that it possessed “…the dark, paranoid mood of a film that artfully crunches together more intriguing speculation about technology, communications and the effects of mass media than a hundred science fiction fantasies.” It seems likely that Wenders was exploring these themes in a way for which viewers were unprepared. A film before its time, perhaps. As Gabriel notes, the connection between imagery and narrative is so important in this film–and that connection is also fractured, complex, and challenging. Surreal, one might say. Recent reviews on social media note that some were just not ready for this story and its story-teller, and the time to appreciate both may have finally arrived.
No matter. The End of Violence stands on its own, of its time and outside it, a musing on the nature of privacy and autonomy, a meditation on the power of creativity and the danger those creations can pose, an ode to Los Angeles and its iconic places. It also issued a warning note about violence and the prisons of the future, both real and imaginary, that went unheeded. The question that dances at its center–Can art change things or does it simply reflect them?–is an ancient one. As Holden observes, Wim Wenders seems “confident of art’s transformative power.” And that is a very good reason to watch this film and to think about its stories.
The Mega Movie Page for The End of Violence offers insights and details about the film, including the official trailer, posters and promotional images, lots of screencaps, videos, interviews with the director, songs from the soundtrack, reviews, and much more.
This film is a good example of Gabriel Byrne’s willingness to commit to challenging projects with directors who like to cut the edge. In turn, he challenges us to become part of the story and to engage with its ideas–and that is a good example of “the transformative power of art.” Enjoy! heart