Film Review: The Night Porter

The Night Porter

A rare and malicious 1974 film based on a bizarre relationship of love and hate, tenderness and cruelty, between an ex-German doctor and his prisoner patient, that is equally artistic and sadomasochistic. Twelve years elapse with an almost normally lived period of mutual separation after the war. He is now a hotel night porter in Vienna, hiding from his past along with his comrades, who remain in hiding. Then she reappears magically, horribly, and just as beautifully, as he remembers her. They immediately recognize the other. So strong are their memories that they each still suffer psychologically from their sadistic sexuality that they had.

Her attraction stems more from an early child’s love toward her protector; disciplined early into submissiveness in return for kindness. For her, he was the only bit of pleasure she had known during the war. At first, it was gifts of kindness and then it was sexual. But her sexual pleasures were gained more from what she could do for him. In this, she was rewarded with a fathers attention, and a lovers embrace. He, on the other hand, was a manipulator, who possessed a hideous means of dispersing black humor (once having showed her a head in a box, of a man who had bullied her), and an urgent but tender sensuality. He was cruel, demanded attention, and apparently still did, as even after twelve years he still had that drawing power. Now an adult and apparent normalization of having married a well-known American conductor, somehow incredulously crumbles, and once more she becomes the willful submitting “little girl” in chains of obedience.

But fate coincides when his comrades learn of this renewed meeting with her, and she remains as the last witness that could expose all of their anonymity. She is a danger to them all. He was able to kill a reliable informer to the group before, but now he still harbors a witness that can testify against them. In the confines of his apartment, the couple try to relive their past and outlive the present, but the outside world cannot be ignored when reality comes knocking. Even the life of a church-mouse can become problematic, as two manic depressives devoid of a way out, march toward a secret past and into a waiting death.

Rolling in broken glass and liking it would be equal to the destructiveness that these two characters build and to which only serve to further their distortion of love. A sad and twisted tale that never-the-less, stimulates the nerve-endings and catapults the sensibilities into an unusual state of confusion about how and why the human mind works as it sometimes does. Was it love? Was it a compulsion to relive the past? Or was it madness?