Why do two countries go to war? What would it take for you to shoot and kill a stranger? 2012's The Wall (Die Wand) doesn't seem at first like it's asking those kinds of questions. It's the story of a woman who finds herself trapped in the wilderness by an invisible wall and how she survives several years in this unexpected circumstance. It's beautifully shot in breathtakingly gorgeous locations and makes a statement about human nature more fundamental perhaps than why people seek isolation.
The unnamed protagonist of the film played by Martina Gedeck says she used to be the sort of person who isolated herself in the city but after spending a year trapped by an invisible barrier in a valley in northern Austria, she writes in her diary that such feelings seem ridiculous now and she revels in a feeling of spiritual connexion with everything in nature. Of course, she seems to be in total isolation from humanity now so there's no reason for her to want it.
We don't learn very much about her life before she becomes trapped. We can infer she spent some time living on a farm from the fact that she knows how to care for livestock and how to raise crops, carving out for herself a purely subsistence life of the sort Ralph Waldo Emerson or William Butler Yeats dreamed of. She originally came to the lovely little holiday cabin in the woods with its owners, a married couple around twenty years older than her. The movie opens with them driving her to the cabin and they're listening to a cloying pop song on the radio with English lyrics about how life is a journey. Along for the ride is the couples' dog, Luchs, who is left behind after the wall manifests overnight.
When they don't return one morning after having gone for a walk to the village the previous day, the woman and Luchs set off after them--it's rather telling that animals in the movie get names but people don't.
There's never an explanation for the wall. The woman also notes that people never seem to be on the other side of the wall--no-one gathered on the other side, wondering about the invisible barrier. There are two neighbours that the woman can see on the other side of the wall and they seem to be frozen in place, one of them leaning over water trickling out of a well. The water moves but he doesn't, like a statue, and the woman concludes that everyone on the other side of the wall must be dead.
I think one could look at the wall as a psychological metaphor. It almost reminds me of the invisible barrier in Luis Bunuel's The Exterminating Angel which seemed to be created by a sort of mass hallucination. This one woman, who sought isolation and who got it, could almost be seen as an illustration of Sylvia Plath living in her Bell Jar.
And it might be fair to say that Transcendentalists like Emerson or Whitman were motivated by profound depression.
At the same time, one might look at the woman's experience as the growth of a nation. She talks about lacking the will to continue but for the endless enthusiasm of Luchs. She talks about Luchs essentially becoming another half of her mind. The cow she finds, whom she names Bella, and the two cats confer responsibility on her even as they sustain her--she talks about being both Bella's captor and Bella's prisoner, a prisoner to the constant care Bella requires. One might see Bella as representing part of the natural resources of a country, the country which both keeps the woman isolated and sets her mind free in allowing her self determination and the peace that comes with having clear territory, a clear barrier between oneself and the outside world.
Most of the movie is told in flashback as a much older version of the woman with very short hair sits writing her diary in a cold room with the grey cat recalling her first months. And from early on we learn that Luchs has died--we don't find out how until the very end. But it's always easy to distinguish between the flashback scenes where the woman gradually finds peace in her strange prison and the present day where she lives a more hollow, colder, vigilant existence.
She has to kill animals, deer especially, in order to survive but she never gets comfortable with killing. She talks about trying to imagine what someone who likes killing feels and finding she just can't imagine it. She talks about envying animals who are unburdened by moral considerations but acknowledges a human being can never be an animal, however connected to nature she feels.
The end of the movie uses all this to very effectively make its case, it makes it clear why two countries like Israel and Palestine will endlessly fight each other. It provides an insight into the motive.