Week 9 Blog Assignment – Mephisto

My favourite scene begins at 1:12:35.

It is the second time that Hendrik plays Mephisto. On this occassion, the chancellor commands one of his subjects to retrieve Hendrik in his dressing room after his show so that the chancellor and Hendrik may speak in the chancellor’s booth. Their dialogue comprises the scene.

The initial silence from Hendrik shows his respect and fear for the man who has called him into his booth. The close-ups in which neither actor is speaking but looking into the other’s eyes shows mutual respect. The chancellor admires Hendrik’s performance and acting ability, and you can see so in his face.

At 1:13:59 you can see how Hendrik and the chancellor are framed within the archway. The curtains behind them are drawn as if they are putting on a show. And the audience below is watching them. The chancellor rises from his seat to join Hendrik “on stage.” This is no coincidence–this was absolutely intentional. The director wanted to make the point that Hendrik’s conversation with the chancellor was acting. Hendrik even meets the chancellor while still in costume, another clue that he is still acting. He mentions before he goes to meet the chancellor that everything is going “like clockwork” as if he has the chancellor eating out of his hands. And it certainly seems as though that is the case for the first hour and a half of the film.

Perhaps we can draw from this framing that the chancellor is also acting. Perhaps the chancellor is using Hendrik as a mere pawn in his plot, but for now he is not letting Hendrik in on that. For now he will shake his hand and put on a big smile and pretend to be friendly.

The audience below the booth watch as Hendrik and the chancellor talk. They stop everything they are doing to watch them speak. I think this symbolizes how the citizens of Germany at this time are innocent bystanders in their own lives; they do not play active roles in the conversation (their lives), but instead they let the powerful men above them dictate their lives.

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2 thoughts on “Week 9 Blog Assignment – Mephisto

  1. This is probably the most obvious indicator of symbolism in the film. If one did not catch the connection between Hoefgen and the legend of Dr. Faustus previously in the film, here it is basically spelled out for us. Hoefgen is literally making a deal with the devil.
    What is fascinating about this scene is the irony. Hoefgen is meeting with the Chancellor fully dressed in his Mephisto costume, but even though the actor is portraying the demon, he is actually a parallel to Dr. Faustus. Hoefgen’s self-delusion creates a dramatic irony that continues until the final scene, when he finally realizes how he has sold his soul to the Nazi regime. Another source of irony derives from the fact that the scene can be interpreted as completely different. Not only is Hoefgen selling his soul to the the Nazi Chancellor, but the Chancellor (who represents all Nazis) is selling his soul to Mephisto. This poses an interesting paradox. The audience watching from below sees their leader shaking hands with a demon. So really, both men are selling their souls, one literally and the other figuratively, which I find quite ironic.

  2. Well, you know it has been said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Which is never moreso prevalent in the film than in the scene which you analysed. There is, as you said, a depth of subverting expectations of the viewer, with the power of Hendrick and the chancellor, the Nazis and the theatre, and, perhaps most thematically, Faust and Mephisto. Going off of what you said, I believe that the director wanted us to make the connection that both characters are always acting; even, and especially, offstage. Hendrick is lousy with never revealing his true self, as we all have pointed out, and reading into the history of the rise of fascism in Germany, much of the Nazi party’s rise was acting. Between the arson of the Reichstag (staged) and the use of private paramilitary forces to… convince the public to vote Nazi, neither of them reveal their hand to the other. They are always showing the face they want the other to see.

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