Anders als die Anderen
Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 18 December 2004
Source Kino Video DVD
Paragraph 175, a dual prohibition between male homosexual acts and bestiality, was added to the Reich Penal Code of Germany in 1871. Simple and to the point, this one sentence led to the persecution, imprisonment, blackmailing, shunning, and suicide of perhaps hundreds of men:
An unnatural sex act committed between persons of male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed.
Though the law was fortified in the Nazi era and then liberalized thereafter, it stayed on the books until just ten years ago. Men convicted under the statue were pardoned (largely posthumously) by the German parliament merely two years ago.
This legislation and codification of consensual, private behavior comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone now. Our Supreme Court managed to clear state codes of laws forbidding sodomy only just this year. The fact that Germany’s law forbidding homosexual acts between men remained law for more than 120 years should not signify that it was not protested until the late 20th century. In fact, the pioneering psychiatrist Baron Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing, a staunch believer in the basic normality of homosexuals, launched a major attack on the law in 1886 with the publication of his landmark work, Psychopathia Sexualis. His protégé, Magnus Hirschfeld, worked tirelessly to educate people on the unfair and harmful nature of Paragraph 175. He believed that the law encouraged blackmail in that anyone accused of homosexuality would either pay hush money to his accuser or be sent straight to the penitentiary upon discovery. One of Hirschfeld’s educational tools was an educational parable of a film called Anders als die Anderen, or, Different from the Others.
One part sociology lecture, one part tender melodrama, the film is a strange admixture, but is no less potent in its evocation of the damage, psychological and cultural, caused by Paragraph 175. Conrad Veidt stars as a professional violinist, Paul, who has suffered expulsion from school, blackmailing, and quack psychotherapy due to his homosexuality. His student, a young violinist named Kurt, falls in love with him, but runs away when he fears exposure of his sexuality. Refusing to comply with his blackmailer’s request for more money, Paul defies him to report him to the authorities. The blackmailer hesitates not a moment, even though he knows he will receive prison time for his own crimes. Through the appeal of Dr. Hirschfeld to the court (a nice bit of self-promotion), Paul is spared severe punishment (he must serve a week in prison to meet the terms of the law that requires his punishment). Paul’s prison time is the least of his worries because he soon discovers that no one will have anything to do with him. His beloved gone, his career over, he sees no other alternative than suicide.
As the film only survives as a fifty-minute reconstruction from film fragments, publicity stills, and textual documents, it would be unfair to apply the same standards of criticism one would apply to a complete film. At the same time, despite the fact that between Carl Dreyer’s Michael and this film one gets the impression that all homosexuals are capricious aesthetes and the dark implication that the only happy homosexual under Paragraph 175 is a dead homosexual, the film succeeds (even in its incomplete form) in expressing Hirschfeld’s sense of an urgent need for change. The film is as much a political entreaty as it is a dispassionate educational discourse.
It is unlikely that Different from the Others changed very many minds due to its being banned within a year of its production. With its new restoration by the Filmmuseum München, it now serves as a distressing reminder that sometimes things change a lot, but they also often change only a little.