“Maria Braun marriage and its symbolic representation on Germany`

“MariaBraun marriage and its symbolic representation on Germany`

Briefoverview of the filmTheMarriage of Maria Braun”is a West German movie that was authored by Fassbinder in 1979. Thefilm stars Maria ‘Hana Schygulla’ marriage to a soldier namedHermann. In the film, Maria is depicted as adapting to post-warGerman life and becomes a mistress to a wealthy industrialist all thewhile remaining loyal in love with Hermann. The film starts in 1943in Germany during a fight raid in which Hermann marries Maria. Aftera whole night and half day with Maria, Hermann returns to the battlefront and later Maria is informed that Hermann was executed. Themarriage remained unfulfilled due to the prevailing circumstances ofWorld War II and the eventual post-war imprisonment of Hermann(Uecker,2001:3).Maria begins work as a bar hostess where American soldiers frequentand develops an affair with Bill who is an African-American soldierand eventually becomes pregnant for him. Ina twist of events, Hermann returns home to find Maria and Billundressing and a fight ensues between Bill and Hermann. Hermann killsBill in the process and after being tried by the military tribunal,Maria express her love for Bill and Hermann and this makes Hermannaccept the blame for killing Hermann and is imprisoned. Mariasecretly aborts her pregnancy and returns home. On her way home,Maria finds favor an industrialist named Karl Oswald who offers Mariaa job as his personal mistress. Maria thus becomes Karl’s mistresswhile she secretly maintains her love for Hermann and she promises tomarry him immediately he is released from prison. Maria becomeswealthy but Karl Oswald approaches Hermann with an offer of leavingMaria and making the two his heirs (Uecker,2001:3).Herman migrates to Canada upon his release from prison and continuesto keep connection with Maria through regular posts. Oswald dies andHermann returns to Germany to meet Maria. However, as the Oswald willis read, Maria learns about Hermann’s deal with Oswald and thismakes her distressed. The distressed Maria burns and dies after a gasexplosion while lighting her cigarette. The film does not indicatethe willful intention or none of, in this act. This essay, discussesthe symbolic inference created by Fassbinder’s film in relation topostwar Germany social, political and economic aspects.


Symbolismsand allegorism

Theorganization of the film structure is dramatic from the beginning tothe end the author has extensively used a well choreographedtransformational plot. The film has been well planned, from initialsituation, change reversals and resolutions that make the filmsignificant. The film is marked by important stages especially inMaria’s life and these changes parallels the political and economicchanges that characterized the war torn Germany during the World WarII(Wilhelm, 1985: 215).

Inparticular, the film depicts key events such as Maria’s weddingthat reflects some elements of confusion, chaos and the legal statusthat befell the post war Germany. Loss and quest is another majorevent illustrated in the film the film shows Hermann disappearanceand his self imposed exile in Canada. The impression of this event isthat of determination, faith and self re-definition. Other majoraspects touched on by the film include work which signifiesexchanges, money rewards and transformation (career changes by Mariaand Hermann). The aspect of relationships is also well covered in thefilm and this has allegorical inference to post war Germanyinternational relations, friendship, race, dependence, manipulationand exploitations (Uecker,2001:8).

Maria’sdeath is another event that has some inference to the post warGermany violence legacy. Fassbinder has used a realistic aestheticstrategy in the film by employing vivid historical details such asclothing and costumes worn by the actors, as well as the historicalsetting of the film. As critics have previously noted, Fassbinderfilm is allegorical in nature and draws symbolic parallelism andgeneralization representation of the fate of Germany during and afterWorld War II. The author’s allegoric impression on Maria’s lifedraws some symbolic parallelisms on the ‘negative’ vision ofGermany depicting the materialism of post war German society(Elsaesser,1996: 107).

Mariais symbolically presented in the film to represent the continuitiesand discontinuities of lives experienced during the prewar and theNazi German societies. In addition, Maria is symbolically used toinfer the failed attempts of gender equality in the post war modernsociety (Uecker,2001:10).However, this does not mean that the film is wholly a negativesymbolic on problems encountered by prewar and post war Germany, thefilm depicts Marias best times and changes all of which reflects theGerman social, economic and political changes. Indeed it isincredible viewing Maria as Germany.

Allegoryin the film ‘The marriage of Maria Braun’

Allegoryrefers to the use of interconnected figures, symbols and charactersin such a way that all elements in the narrative convey hiddenmeaning that are beyond the literal level. In films, authors useallegory to present specific ideas, inference or draw parallelism onreal life occurrences that have shared meaning as those reflected inthe movie. Fassbinder, in the film ‘The marriage of Maria’ isallegoric in nature from its setting, material culture used,characters, songs and most importantly its time of production. Forinstance, the film was released after Germany regained its globalprestige as the ‘world’s master’ by winning the 1954 world cupsoccer (Uecker,2001:5).

Thefilm begins and ends with explosions, and the image of Marias deadbody is a symbolic inference of war and love. In his article, “AFatal German Marriage: The National Subtext of Fassbinder” MathiasUecker draws major symbolic inference with post war Germany.According to Uecker, there are three important distinguishablefeatures in the film that justifies its symbolic interpretation(Uecker,2001:4).One is that, the film depicts the West German historical accounts onpolitics in the way the foes are presented in Maria Braunstory(Rheuban,1986: 16).

Maria’sstory serves as a background framework that parallels the WestGermany social, economic and political relations with East Germanyand the general European powers during the pre-war and post war eras.Secondly, Fassbinder has presented various scenes in the film in atheatrical rather than filmic style by loading events with deepermeanings that pervades the literal meaning derived from thecharacters mare interactions. The third aspect is that, the filmcontains wide array of mysterious and unsuspected actions that cannotbe explained through the characters psychology but incline towardssymbolism. Ueckers perspective holds some grain of truth, inparticular, Marias success may infer to Germany’s successfulsocial, political and economic restoration after the war period(Uecker, 2001:7).

Thefilm is set in a realistic style where the film reflects thehistorical reconstruction of Germany after war. In particular, thefilms plot is highly engaging especially in regard to Maria the mainprotagonist and this makes the audience empathize with the young ladyas she wades through difficult times. A closer analysis reveals thatthe author’s intention was to construct a realistic impressionbased on materials culture collected from local broadcasts aspertains the post war period in Germany. In particular, Maria’ssuccess parallels that of German economic miracle after periods ofturmoil during the war. In a way, in the same way Maria is conquered,frustrated and hurt by many lovers, Germany experienced unprecedentedfates of conquest and reconstruction. Although, many would see thefilm’s allegorical inference to Germany, few critics would disputethe parallelism drawn by the main protagonist (Maria) and the realissues that befell Germany (Rheuban,1986: 14).

Thefilm depicts the troubled career, character and life of Maria Braunand this presents a unanimous interpretation that, the film directorwanted to paint a damning impression of West Germany historicalaccounts. One can only quote the French critic, Jean de Baroncellywho mused, ‘Whatbecame of Maria indeed reflected Germany’s status after and duringthe war’(Uecker,2001:9)To a large extent, Maria is presented on a negative aspect and thishas been inferred to most negative events that befell West GermanyMaria is presented as an embodiment of Germany post warreconstruction (Rheuban,1986: 18).Maria’s death can infer the termination of pre-war femaleoppression and lack of freedom for female self-assertiveness thatcharacterized Germany in 1945.

Strangely,the film interpretation can be extended further to infer theauthoritarianism, materialism, fascism and patriarchalpredispositions exhibited by the post war German society. In thiscontext, further symbolism interpretation of the film can be made onsuch matters as gender equality and ‘sexual politics’(Haralovich, 1990: 12).However, such interpretation undermines the central allegorical rolewhich the film plays in mirroring the postwar German economic, socialand political inference.

Ona more substantive perspective, the opening of the film by exhibitingthe portrait of Germany’s most feared leader Adolf Hitler is inpart, a symbolic inference to the troubled career and marriage ofMaria Braun. Furthermore, by technically manipulating and includinghistorical events in the film, the author wanted to achieve theallegorical inference of West Germany post war aspects in relation toMaria’s life (Kaes,1989: 97).In particular, by manipulating the film to include Germany’shistorical and post war events, Fassbinder did not hid his intentionof using the film to depict the post war Germany social political andeconomic aspects. For instance, the inclusion of radio broadcasts insome of the films scenes only serves to send the political undertonesand timing that characterized the war torn Germany(Rheuban, 1986: 14).

Thefilm further shows the social and economic disparities thatcharacterized the war torn Germany as illustrated by ordinary Germansignoring the politicians’ broadcasts (Uecker,2001:7).The ordinary Germans are shown ignoring the politicians’ broadcastsuntil it is too late and this has a symbolic inference to Maria’smissed career opportunities. In Maria’s life, this is quite evidentas shown by Oswald’s character, Maria’s troubled career andmarriage(Haralovich, 1990: 14).It is quite ironical how the film ends with a loud explosion, Maria’sdeath and loud broadcasts on Germany’s success in winning the worldcup soccer. In part, this irony presents Maria as an allegorydepicting two juxtaposing interpretations. One is that, Maria’sdeath and the winning of world cup signifies the normalization ofGermany social economic prestige(Elsaesser, 1996: 121).The second interpretation is that, Maria’s death and subsequentexplosion symbolically presents the negative aspects thatcharacterized postwar Germany.

Nonetheless,the dramatic style used by Fassbinder was meant to leave the audiencein suspense and with wide interpretations. One such interpretation isthe collapse (discontinuity) of Nazis iron rule and the continuity ofindustrialist (Hermann in this case) who benefited from the warremnants. However, the omission of Nazis scenic events in the filmcould be negatively construed to reflect the German post war societyattempts to delink themselves from the crimes committed by Nazi orcould be attempts by postwar Germans to discontinuity(Kaes,1989: 97).

Nothingexemplifies the symbolism of discontinuity drawn by the mainprotagonist Maria’s life. In the film, Maria is seen as severingties with relatives in pursuit of economic opportunities that finallyends in ruins, The symbolic impression is that of West Germany duringits war struggle and the eventual shocker that the post war Germansfound themselves in after realizing that the ‘economic miracle’that they had so much fought for were nothing (Uecker,2001:9).Additionally, in the same way, Maria establishes her ownindependence, historical West Germany had exhibited the samealienation at the time of Adolf Hitler from other global stateactors. Maria struggles to establish control over her life and thisis symbolic to Germany long struggle in establishing its sovereignty(Elsaesser,1996: 111).


Thefilm ‘The marriage of Maria Braun’ has far more allegoricinference than can be discussed especially considering the film’splot setting, material culture and the historical scenes juxtaposedin the film. The film is allegorical in nature and draws symbolicparallelism, generalization, truths and symbolic representation ofthe fate of Germany during and after World War II. Maria’s lifeevents both for success and failure reflect the prewar and post warGermany on various fronts. In particular, Maria’s success parallelsthat of German economic miracle after periods of turmoil during thewar. In the same way Maria is conquered, frustrated and hurt byseveral men, Germany experienced unprecedented fates of conquest andreconstruction.


ELSAESSERTHOMAS (1996). Fassbinder’sGermany. History, Identity, Subject.Amsterdam pp. 97–128.

KAES(1989). FromHitler to Heimat. The Return of History as Film. Cambridge,Mass. p. 97.

WILHELMROTH (1985). ‘KommentierteFilmographie’ in RainerWerner Fassbinder.5th Ed. Munich/Vienna p. 215

RHEUBANJOYCE (1986). TheMarriage of Maria Braun. History, Melodrama,

Ideology.’New Brunswick, NJ 1986, pp. 14–20.

HARALOVICHMARY BETH (1990). TheSexual Politics of theMarriage of Maria Braun.WideAngle,12 pg 6–16.

UECKERMATTHIAS (2001).AFatal German Marriage: The National Subtext Of

Fassbinder’sDieEhe Der Maria Braun.Oxford:Blackwell Publishers Ltd. Pg. 1-15.

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