Wild, Germany, 2016, produced by Heimatfilm, directed and written by Nicolette Krebitz, starring Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich, Silke Bodenbender, Saskia Rosendahl, and Nelson and Cossa (wolves), DVD release by Euro Video Medien, 2017
Wild tells the story of an intelligent and sensitive young woman who lives quite a boring life caught in routines in a German city. The accidental encounter with a wild wolf changes her life forever. What is interesting about the film is the way in which it tends to blur the line that typically separates animal and human life by highlighting the process of mutual affection. According to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, affection induces bodily transformations, which take place on a precognitive level of perception. By way of various cinematographic techniques, Wild is aesthetically able to both reflect on and perform such transformations, presenting them as a motif and a form of spectatorship at one and the same time.
Th at the young woman, Ania (Lilith Stangenberg), did not fit in her life before, in relation neither to her work nor to her private life, is expressed by the visual montage of the close-lipped lead character. The interaction with her fellow humans (her boss, her sister, her neighbors, or her coworkers) is like her visual perception: cool, distant, cramped. The film has its own language to make its spectators feel like Ania: the camerawork locks her up in apparent spontaneous frames, which make her appear isolated and elevated at once. The camera angle ties us to her, isolates us from a potential other plot.
After her grandfather dies at the hospital, where she visits him apathetically, her last human contact drifts away. Her newly married sister’s moving out from their shared apartment cannot happen fast enough for Ania, as this allows her to finally cut loose from her old life.
Although she is in motion, this movement cannot be considered a phase between two states, or a journey that passes from one state to another. It is more like a becoming-different that becomes transparent for the spectator, and maybe for Ania herself, when she literally falls in love with the wolf. The encounter with the wild animal, which happens incidentally while she walks across a meadow outside her house, is staged like love at first sight. When the wolf looks at her, she looks at it—and time stands still. She becomes obsessed with the wild animal and desires to possess it. So she plans to capture the wolf during an elaborate traditional wolf-hunting method (German: Lappjagd), which entails encircling the wolf with a fladry. Yet, the transformation does not stop after possessing the wolf. Rather, the affection has initiated an irreversible process, marking the point where the film differs from the classical journey of a hero and turns into a becoming as pure movement. For Deleuze, becoming, in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s early works and the notion of movement by Henri Bergson—understood not in the philosophical sense of the term but rather in a more practical way—means becoming-different as the real time in which changes occur.1 It is, however, not a conception of time as measurement.
The encounter with the wolf sets this becoming-different free, even before the idea of possessing the wolf occurs. This affection produces a transformation in her body that cannot be stopped, nor does it end with Ania leaving civilization behind. Trapping and jailing the wolf is one of the many products of this affection; losing sensory and physical track of a human life, according to the rules of civilization, is another, just as much as the desire for a sexual encounter with the wolf, for being in a relationship with it. But the transition from possessing to being the wolf is the main consequence of becoming affected by the wolf. This transition is successively visualized, starting with Ania searching for the wolf in the wild.
Ania prepares her sister’s former room for the wolf, making a hole in the wall to be able to watch him whenever she wants. This construction resembles the protocinematic apparatus: a camera obscura. This allows Ania to reclaim the total power of the observing subject over an observed object. It is the pure power of vision. But the wolf, the wildest of all animals in direct proximity to human society, strikes back. Historically a symbol for autonomy, freedom, strength, and sovereignty, the wolf embodies the cultural history and projection surface upon which questions of governability are raised. It is the perpetual figure that demonstrates how art is not to be governed so much as negotiated, portrayed, and questioned. And its answer to this question of how not to be governed is given as follows: he breaks through to the other side of the wall (Figure 1).
This wall metaphorically represents the theatrical forth wall, which separates the theatrical stage from its audience: an invisible boundary keeping the audience away from direct contact with or reaction to the scene, and vice versa, keeping the actors away from close involvement with their audience. A wall that theater begins to demolish, facing the challenge that evolving cinema poses, in the early 1920s. Cinema itself is bound to this fourth wall by its very mediality. It inevitably separates its audience from the stage through the means of temporality, and it also tries to transcend this forth wall via affection: an affection that frightens Ania when she first enters the room. Shewears self-made protective gear, making her look like a freaky goddess meeting her creature for the first time—attentive of wildness and curious because of it (Figure 2).
Wild very sensitively installs a work of affection on two levels: the unconventional love story of a woman and a wolf, and the story of cinema as a story of affection. When the wolf breaks through the wall, the film breaks through it as well. The wall separates us from cinema’s power of affection by defining spectatorship as clearly defined and distant from what is happening “onscreen,”as if spectatorship is not involved in it. By breaking through the fourth wall, the wolf is becoming-cinema. He thereby shows his ability to affect by affection.
Two of the most disturbing scenes of the film show Ania in a pre- and post-sexual mood. In her dream, she passes through her apartment, bleeding and completely naked, while the wolf follows the line of blood between her legs. He accidentally gives Ania an orgasm by licking the blood. The dream sets her in motion. She masturbates on the bannister of the apartment building (Nicolette Krebitz’s visual metaphor for this masturbation of transgression is surely one of the most amazing orgasm scenes in cinema). Coming back to the apartment—apparently in a good mood—she prepares breakfast for herself and the wolf and has a one-way small talk about breakfast habits with him. Overnight, the wolf has turned into a significant other.
From the perspective of society, there is no point from which Ania could not turn back to her old life, but from a perspective following the logic of affection, becoming-different is an irreversible and ongoing process. As Cliff Stagoll states, “If each moment represents a unique confluence of forces and if the nature of the cosmos is to move continually through states without heading towards any particular outcome, then becoming might be conceived at the eternal, productive return of difference.”2 Ania does not become a wolf, and she also does not become antisocial or leave civilization entirely behind. Rather, she makes the choice to embrace ongoing change, something that should be considered not as following the call of the wild but as following a call of becoming-wolf, which means facing a question beyond answering: how not to be governed in a neoliberal world.
On the concept of becoming (especially becoming-animal), see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Th ousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).
Cliff Stagoll, “Becoming,” in Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts, ed. Charles J. Stivale (Quebec: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 25–31, here 26.