It’s hard for a mother to remain unemotional when she watches her baby leave the proverbial coop, but Der Bunker is what happens when those feelings manifest into a hostage scenario of sorts. It’s your atypical twisted fairytale about a boy, locked away from the world without any sense of maturation, but that’s only where we begin. Der Bunker then delves into absolute insanity by introducing the likes of a festering wound that oversees the homemade prison like a God, primitive punishments, and questionable breastfeeding practices – a line of brilliance that German filmmaker Nikias Chryssos dances upon with unimaginable ferocity.
Pit Bukowski plays a young academic (referred to as “Student”), who seeks quiet refuge so he can advance the realms of science with his new Higgs particle theory (science-y stuff). Upon entering his newly rented room, the student meets a family who is as frugal as they are strange. The father (David Scheller) counts every last dumpling that his guest eats, the mother (Oona von Maydell) flashes overbearing paternal instincts, and their son, Klaus (Daniel Fripan), has been home-schooled his whole life. Then the student meets Heinrich, a talking wound on Mother’s calf that advises her in times of need. The student thinks about fleeing, but instead strives to help Klaus find the life he never had – as long as Mother doesn’t find out.
Der Bunker is an ever-shifting film that takes the innocence of Tropic Thunder‘s Simple Jack and twists it into something far, FAR more devious. I won’t say sinister, and I won’t say evil, because there’s a very familial aspect that never lets down – we just learn that the family is a lot more f#cked than you’d expect.
The plot starts simply enough as we register Klaus’ closeted lifestyle, but as more quirky tidbits start to preoccupy the student’s time, Chryssos’ “horrors” (if you can call them that) begins to unfold. Der Bunker brings to mind nonsensically tactical filmmaking akin to Borgman or LFO, where the story is easy to follow, but you’re still racking your brain as Chryssos makes the absurd seem ordinary. There’s a method to the madness, and we appreciate the madness for what it’s worth.
Despite the utter ridiculousness of rationalized child violence, sexualized lifeforces, and the pulsating inhabitant that is “Henrique,” Chryssos proves to be an incredibly artful bastard. The bunker-like house is fitted to keep light from getting in, or “getting out” as Klaus’ father creepily states, but a beautifully playful treatment of colors brings a vibrancy to Der Bunker that opens the claustrophobic environment into a far larger setting than expected. Funny little patterns don the ten-sizes-too-tight onesies that Klaus wears, and the color red works its way into many pivotal scenes – leading to a final shot tinted with a red filter. Every school book and lame fatherly vest is utilized to inject wild texturization into an otherwise contained scenario, which ends up making Der Bunker a pleasantly lively film despite darker circumstances.
Even though the entire movie deals with a small family of three and their extra visitor, we never grow tired of the extravagant performances of all those involved. Father represents an obedient character who obviously has no control, yet the way he plays along with such commitment is perplexing, but wholly lovable. He takes “old man” jokes to a realm never imagined, while painting his face like a mime in the most childish of ways, and punishes Klaus by spanking the overly-large boy in his lap (a hilarious visual). He is but a pawn, at the mercy of his wife’s insane obsession with never letting Klaus leave her side.
This is the true horror of the scenario – a mother who would stunt her own child’s life in favor of her own, selfish happiness. But is she really making her own decisions, or is she at the mercy of Heinrich? (Seriously, I’m asking those of you that have seen Der Bunker. I have no friggin clue).
The bond between Student and Klaus should make absolutely no sense, yet their connection is sweet and sincere. Klaus fondly sees his teacher as the best friend any boy could ask for, even though Student inflicts physical pain upon him for not knowing answers to simple questions. Klaus, a boy whose age we constantly question, looks to the student for comfort, and their playful gestures become a ray of hope that’s buried deep in the depths of this securely-walled Hell.
Der Bunker is about imprisoned innocence, conveyed wonderfully through Daniel Fripan‘s wide-eyed, imaginative gaze every time even the smallest treat is thrown his way – usually in the form of fresh breast milk. The student understands how royally deranged the whole ordeal is, yet finds himself restraining proper outbursts as to not scare Klaus. It’s a mentor/mentee bond most obviously, but also a very buddy mentality, given that both characters could be roughly close in age (Klaus is not 8, as he claims).
Der Bunker does come to a finite end, but it’s a movie that begs each viewer to come up with their own interpretation of the events that unfold. It’s a film that plays by its own rules, enjoys doing so, and never once apologizes for going places that might challenge viewers. I mean, an adult actor is playing an ageless boy who basically lives in a dungeon – and that’s without mentioning an entity named Heinrich that could be a real demon, demigod, or completely made up. It’s a hell of an experience to stomach, but dammit, even if you can’t come up with an answer to Der Bunker on your own, the ride is still worth it.
Der Bunker lets you interpret the film's meaning yourself, but even if you come up blank, the ride is a bizarre enough oddity to keep you wanting more.