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Chasseguet-Smirgel, J. Lang, F. (2000). ‘M’ (1931). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 81(2):363-366.

(2000). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 81(2):363-366

M’ (1931)

Review by:
Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel

Director Fritz Lang

The premonitory character of the film M [Mörder unter uns] and its connection with the rise of Nazism has been indicated more than once. I would like to demonstrate the essential ambiguity in this linkage.

It is said that a masterpiece allows interpretations at multiple levels. According to Lang himself (though should we ever believe auteurs?), he just wanted to make a ‘documentary’ about a criminal and the process of police investigation. He tells us that he was inspired by The Threepenny Opera and by a news report about Berlin's organised crime mob searching for an unknown killer to get rid of the insistent presence of the police. To Lang then, the film is the hunt for a criminal and his subsequent judgement by the mob.

The Nazis themselves, already powerful enough in 1931 to dictate the law, forced Lang to change the original title of the film Mörder unter uns (Murderer[s] among us) to M, probably because they felt he was alluding to them! Rarely is a translated title better than the original, but the alliteration in M le Maudit (M the cursed) makes this more stirring than the original German title.

Although there had been the case of Peter Kürten, ‘The Vampire of Düsseldorf’, Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, co-authors of the screenplay, were inspired by the Grossman case in Berlin, as well as by other killers of children such as ‘The Ogre of Hanover’.

The recurrence of this type of serial murder might be understood as a social symptom.

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