Thoughts On: Borgman
A vagrant terrorises an upper-class family.
Ok, this is a film that poses as a surreal piece with a twisted, complex narrative. It’s not. This is merely an ambiguous film with all exposition sucked out of it. What it wants is for you to interpret it, to give it your own meaning – which we’ll do – but, I don’t think ambiguity and complexity are synonymous, merely attributable, meaning, this film is as profound or complex as you want it to be. This may sound like I don’t like the film, but I think it technically very good, but hasn’t got much about it that’s very special. This is because Borgman is just a more convoluted version of Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana. And of course, Buñuel is a ground-breaking auteur, a pioneer in the surrealist movement with pictures such as:
Borgman, in short wants to be among these pictures. In my opinion, it’s not quite there. We can see this in the comparison to Viridiana. This film is about being made the fool, of letting kindness mask judgement. It follows a woman who aspires to be a nun who is sent to her uncle’s home, who she hates, where he tries to seduce because she resembles his deceased wife. In the end, she opens the home to poor people, giving them an inch but only allowing them room enough to steal as many miles as they please. This is Borgman in a more succinct narrative. Make no mistake though, I think Borgman is a great picture, so let’s not pass it off before analysing.
The best way to get into the film is with its opening quote and then multiple posters. We’ll start with the opening quote:
“And they descended upon the Earth to strengthen their ranks”
This sounds like a bible verse, right? It’s not. It’s designed to seem this way, possibly to imply a religious lesson in the film. For it to do this insinuates a critique of religion and the Christian perspective of life and philosophy. We can see this explicitly in the line ‘Christ is a bloody bore… he’s only interested in himself’. We’ll come back to this line later, but for now let’s concentrate on the quote above. As said, this is not from the bible, just a mere imitation, probably meant to mock the audience and religious practice simultaneously. The biggest question concerning the quote is of the ‘they‘. Who is descending? The first interpretation could come with the opening to the film. It starts with a farmer, a priest, and another man hunting down Borgman and his accomplices – who all live in holes under the ground. They are all characterised as being vagrants, people who just wander the Earth. For me the best way to look at these characters are as postmodern archetypes. This means they appeal to an idea of lawlessness, of the complete absence of definites – meaning there is no right way to live life (but there kind of is at the same time). On the other hand, the characters that chase them down are archetypal fundamentalists, they believe in work and they believe in God, meaning, love, compassion, and so on. For them to descend is similar to Angels, messengers of God, coming down from heaven. This fits nicely into the image painted by the imposing bible quote and the critique of religion inherent within it. Angels are demonised to object to the concept of God, of true answers and guidance through life. This gives reason for later elements of sexuality and of the lead woman being lured out of family life and into destruction. ‘They‘ being the farmer, priest and man of another time is my favourite interpretation of the quote as it also feeds into the title: Borgman. Borgman is a name that was given to landlords in the middle ages who worked for the King’s royal aristocracy. To give this name to a vagrant is to be ironic. This name is a facade Camiel puts up to get into the house. He pretends to be respectful, but also of a time passed, introducing a theme of history and ages into the film. We’ll come to all that later though. Before that, the ‘they‘ in the quote above could also be the vagrants themselves. This aligns with the end of the film in that they are building a society or army of vagrants, of postmodern thinkers. This means they are also fallen angels, making the interpretation all the more sensical. The last interpretation of ‘they‘ is that the upper-class family are taking over the world, which again links into ideas of tradition and the change the modern world has endured. Quote analysed, let’s look at the posters of the film. There’s quite a few (8)…
1. This is about control, the control Borgman has over the family. The key image here is the paper cut-outs with the string tying the family members together. This calls to the end of the film with the strange ballet dance with the ribbons. As a side note, there’s a point early on in the film where the family walk past a ballerina in their garden without noticing her. What this means, I’ll leave up to you. Anyway, the cut-outs are all about family ties. The concept her is:
I AM – WE ARE
This is intrinsically linked to Descartes’: I think, therefore I am. This is a solipsistic look at life. If you believe you exist, you can’t trust the fact that others do also. This means your only justification for them being alive is that you created them, that because you are, so are they, that ‘we are‘. However, the film is about the dangers of this mind-set. If you think everyone should be alike, should believe exactly what you do, then you’re giving yourself ultimate power – which Borgman assumes. You could also link this to the family and modernity, in the lack of individuality we push on each other and children. This leaves the question of who is right, Borgman or the family? That’s up to you.
2. This is a simple one. It’s a reference to the thinker (the statue above). This again links to postmodernism and Borgman being a superior mind. He thinks whereas the family do not.
3. This is the catalysing image explaining why Borgman kills. We’ll come to this with the story he tells to the children about the pond and the white child. But, in short, this means that because you let Borgman into your home, you are essentially killing yourself. Borgman is metaphorically killing you with an idea of philosophy that’s symbolised by the monster that apparently looms at the bottom of deep waters.
4. One of the final images of Borgman dancing. This makes clear that he has no interest in women, merely luring Marina into a trap. This is a key image of neglect, of self destruction, putting the blame of the tragedy of the film onto Marina herself. This is her story, she essentially dictates everything that happens here.
5. This is simple. This is how Borgman manipulates the family, it’s his strange ritual that follows all the major changes in how characters perceive each other. Note here that Borman is made to look God-like. This reference to religion explains why the ritual works. He appeals to every anti-conservative idea in Marina. Again, he’s luring her into a trap through sexuality. He looms over her dreams, literally naked, changing her internal thought processes through psychological conditioning.
6. This is a little abstract, but quite simple. We can see Borgman’s face falling of his head. This is a visual metaphor for his transformation, of his capacity to cheat others. On top of his head in the forest. Here there’s the link into what is natural and makes clear the commentary on religion in the film. Borgan lives in the forest in the beginning because he believes in naturalism within humans, in postmodern reprieve. We are supposed to be wanderers, vagrants in other words. This is why he goes out into the world collecting others to join him. He doesn’t trust religious teaching. Moreover, not so many people are religious any more, but (in his opinion) still need guidance. Also there’s another reference to the thinker with Borgman crouched down. Moreover, this is an animalistic image, linking into ideas of fundamental naturalism in postmodernity again.
7. Another simple image. Again, sexuality, but the image is upside down to show the convolution, the trap Borgman sets. Also, we have natural imagery again.
8. The final image of Borgman’s victims. This explains the ritual we see throughout the film. Putting the bucket on the victims heads to ensure they plunge to great depths as never to be found implies the victims sink because of their brains – their minds, their mind-sets. For the weight to be put upon their head could be the weight of Borgman’s philosophy that they ultimately couldn’t comprehend.
Now you should have a pretty good idea of the film, let’s explore the story Borgman sneaks into the children’s bedroom to tell. I’m paraphrasing here to shorten the story, but it’s accurate nonetheless.
A white child stood on the edge of a lake in the forest. She was very wary as she knew that whilst the lake was not very large, it was very deep, as deep as a block of flats is tall. Something was alive in these waters, a beast with scales, a beak, 500 sharp teeth. It guarded a golden key to happiness. The white child cried. It could not dive deep enough to fetch this key.
When the white child went missing a search party was organised. People prayed in the church to Jesus, but we all know that Jesus is a bloody bore and is only interested in himself. Heavily armed divers went to the bottom of the lake. 15 minutes later they came up trembling with fear, unable to speak. The villagers asked what they saw, and after a while, they replied that ‘it’s no use, the beast is too big. The child has been swallowed anyway’. The mother falls to the ground and weeps, crying, ‘I want my baby back’. The villagers reply ‘you can’t mean that. The child would be half digested by now.’ In response the mother asked if there was ‘no one brave enough to get my baby?’ Antonius, a cripple stepped forward, saying he would fetch her. The mother kissed his hands.
This explains the film in its entirety. Firstly, there is the white child. This is double-entendre. White means both pure and Caucasian. The child is both naive and western. This is important as it links into the guilt the mother expresses for being western. This is seen best through the teddy bear incident. The girl fills her toy with mud, with the Earth, ruining the it. The mother is outraged, saying that nothing should be intentionally broken in her house because a child in a third world country probably slaved over it. This guilt is essentially her hamartia, it’s what kills her. Doubting yourself allows Borgman to infiltrate your home and apply his own nihilistic ideas, killing you and taking your family. In this sense Borgman really is a boogey man for the modern age and for adults alike. Marina is the only person at fault here. She is the exact same character Viridiana is. She accepts this idea that she is a nurse (which Borgman convinces her she is – and so how to act). In doing so, she gives him an inch and he takes a mile. But, going back to the little girl. She is both naive and white so Borgman can change her, raise her as his own little nihilist. This film is then largely about parenting, about confidence in your own outlook on life, in your own philosophies so that you can teach your children, guide them through life before someone else snatches their hand away from you. This is what the huge creature represents – truth, one’s own view of the world – the guard of the golden key to happiness. Marina allows her children to slip into a mindless cycle as she doesn’t teach them any thing about life. This is why the school runs, but more importantly the Nanny is so important. She is a young woman incapable of caring for the children. It should be the mother’s job, but she pays it off. Irresponsibility is a huge theme here. Also, this is why Borgman is a gardener. He tends their garden. He controls how the children blossom. In this we can see the monster as ambiguity in itself, the question of life, of purpose. The children dive into these deep waters as they grow, go to school, ask questions – they are devoured by the monster. The mum refuses to jump in after them, instead asks someone else to (the school, Nanny, father). Who comes forward? A crippled man: Borgman. This is the film in a nutshell, he seduces the mother and takes her kids from her. He does this by conditioning the her and sedating the family (with his weird drinks). Over the course of the film Borgman works his way into the family by turning the mother against sense and against family. This also occurs with the father, but not so centrally. The father is primarily used to critique the way in which we conduct ourselves in a capitalist society. But this is all clear in the film.
That’s everything. I missed a few details such as the animalistic imagery on the T.V, with the domesticated dogs and the wolves alike – but they should be pretty self-explanatory when you re-watch the film now. There’s also the image of the eggs that bookend the film. Borgman has his cracked in the beginning, but in the end his accomplices are frying some. In the beginning he has no followers, no young people, fresh eggs. In the end he’s got some and is ready to start the conditioning. So, to summarise, this is a film about responsibility in parents. It’s about not being made the fool of, of not doubting yourself because of your place in history and in the world. What this film implores is that we think, develop our own philosophies, not rely on religion, and pass our life lessons onto our children.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs – Purity, Innocence, Insanity
Pinocchio – An Imperfect Wish
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