Now Playing: Stoker and Barbara

dir. Park Chan-wook, 2013, USA

Rating: 8.1

dir. Christian Petzold, 2012, Germany

Rating: 8.7



The bottom line: a hell of a woman x 2.

Recently finishing first-runs at Chicago’s Landmark Theatre, and now playing around the country elsewhere in limited release, are Stoker, the American debut of South Korean director Park Chan-wook, and Barbara, the latest from German auteur Christian Petzold. On the surface, these films might not seem to have much in common: one is a Nicole Kidman-starring gothic horror movie that floats across the screen as episodically as a nightmare, while the other is an “art film” that precisely recreates the socio-political climate of East Germany in 1980. But one might also characterize both as dark, morally inflected psychological thrillers that center, crucially, on female protagonists. And it is worth pointing out that Park and Petzold are of the same generation and have even led somewhat parallel careers: both were born in the early 1960s, were university educated (Park studied philosophy, Petzold majored in film production), served apprenticeships as assistants to other directors before making their debuts in the 1990s, and toiled in relative obscurity in their native film industries for years before making their international breakthroughs in the 2000s (Park with 2003’s Oldboy, Petzold with 2007’s Yella). Barbara and Stoker are also both damn fine movies that are well worth your time.

I have to confess that it took me a while to warm up to Stoker even though I’ve long been an admirer of director Park. Perhaps I was prepared for the worst because of the depressing track record of talented foreign (especially Asian) filmmakers who have come to Hollywood and been incapable of replicating, whether through their fault or not, what made their work exciting to begin with. Or perhaps it was the fact that Stoker seemed to languish in post-production for a suspiciously long time — Park has admitted in interviews that Fox Searchlight, the distributor, forced him to cut the movie by 20 minutes, which will hopefully be restored on the forthcoming Blu-ray/DVD release. Whatever the case, as I sat through the first 20-or-so minutes of Stoker, my heart sank due to what I perceived to be its lack of cultural specificity: the events seem to be taking place in the American south (it was shot in Nashville), yet no one sounds remotely southern. All four of the film’s principles (Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode and Jacki Weaver) are either Aussies or Brits who speak with flat, neutral American accents. Then there is the matter of the schizoid production design. Stoker is set in the present day although the sets, props, and costumes skew heavily, David Lynch-style, towards the style of the 1950s and early 1960s: this is a world where high-school girls still wear saddle shoes, and the boys who court them wear black leather jackets and ride motorcycles. All of which made me draw the hasty conclusion that this was a movie made by someone who knew too little about contemporary American life.

Silly me. I should have known to trust Park and his production team better than that and not to have expected anything as mundane as “realism” from the director of the boldly stylized Lady Vengeance. As the film progresses, the indeterminate yet vividly dream-like setting (America as filtered through the imagination of a Korean obsessed with classic American cinema) starts to become its strongest virtue. Stoker is a coming-of-age story about India (Wasikowska), a troubled, violent and perhaps mentally unstable 17-year-old girl, whose sexual awakening and passage into adulthood are precipitated by the death of her father, Richard (Dermot Mulroney), as well as the mysterious arrival of the heretofore unknown-to-her “Uncle Charlie” (Goode). If that latter name sounds familiar, it’s because Stoker is a virtual remake of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, in which Joseph Cotton played a similarly sinister character with the same name. (Park has claimed that he actually pruned Wentworth Miller’s original script of more Hitchcock references, although this is hard to believe: he still manages to visually quote both Strangers on a Train and Psycho.) As both India and her mother Evelyn (Kidman) become irresistibly attracted to Charlie, Park spikes the perverse psycho-sexual stew with a startling array of sights and sounds: the sharpening of a pencil sounds like the grinding of human flesh, a digital spider crawls between India’s legs (a creepy-funny moment proving that the most obvious metaphors are also sometimes the best ones), an impressively unsettling use of the Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra duet “Summer Wine” and, best of all, an extreme close-up of Kidman’s strawberry-blonde hair, the individual strands of which digitally morph into blades of tall grass waving in the wind (one of the most astonishing images I’ve seen on a cinema screen in years).

stoker 2

While there is more cinematic vitality and intelligence in any one minute stretch of Stoker than there is in the entirety of Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo, such virtuosity has already brought out objections from the pilgrim-hatted “style-over-substance” brigade. But Park presents nothing if not a coherent and compelling worldview in Stoker as well, albeit one that is likely to make viewers distinctly uncomfortable. Chicago film critic Kevin B. Lee recently praised Silver Linings Playbook for its vision of America as a giant psych ward, persuasively noting that while much was made of Bradley Cooper’s “bi-polarity” (an angle the distributor unfortunately exploited by acting as if the film were some kind of breakthrough in allowing Americans to talk openly about mental illness), all of the characters were suffering from some form of addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder. I think Park Chan-wook offers a similar vision in Stoker, although none of his characters are afflicted by anything so benign as Robert DeNiro’s cuddly version of OCD; instead, they’re all psychotics and sociopaths. While I wanted to mentally rewrite another ending for Stoker immediately after I first saw it, reflecting on it over time has caused me to realize that the ending Park presents is probably the most logical conclusion to his story: shortly after she’s turned 18 and “come of age,” the dark seed within India’s soul fully flowers, which leads me to think that Park may be saying something specific about America after all.

I would be hard-pressed to name a recent movie more worthy of the phrase “culturally specific” than Barbara, which begins with the title character, a young doctor played by the magnificent Nina Hoss, arriving in a provincial East German town in 1980. We soon learn that she has been banished there as a result of merely applying for an exit visa from the German Democratic Republic. Understandably, this leads to her immediately adopting an attitude of aloofness to her new co-workers, including the kindly hospital director, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), who seems to have taken more than a professional interest in her. Barbara’s coldness towards her professional colleagues in these early scenes is contrasted with the extreme compassion she shows toward the hospital’s patients, especially Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), an adolescent girl suffering from spinal meningitis. We also learn that Barbara is secretly plotting with her lover, the West German businessman Jorg (Mark Waschke), to defect to the west, which she must do while simultaneously staying one step ahead of prying Stasi agents. This plot description, however, probably makes the movie sound like more of a contrived genre piece than it is; written in collaboration with noted avant-garde filmmaker Harun Farocki (the director for whom Petzold started out as an A.D.), Barbara is built on quietness and patience, and is grounded in an impressively real-world sense of what daily life in East Germany must have been like (i.e., an atmosphere of almost-banal mistrust) shortly before the worldwide collapse of Communism.

The most popular German movies to previously address the same subject as Barbara are the lighthearted comedy Goodbye Lenin! (2003) and the Hollywood-style melodrama/thriller The Lives of Others (2006). While I personally enjoyed those earlier films, there’s no question that Barbara blows them both out of the water. The great advantage of Petzold’s movie is the degree to which it more doggedly sticks to the subjective experiences of its fascinating protagonist, giving viewers a glimpse of a specific time and place in recent history as witnessed by a single person. Dr. Barbara may come across as one of the more uniquely bitter lead characters in contemporary cinema but we come to realize that’s only because she has been made that way by living in a cultural climate of widespread fear; she seems suspicious that virtually anyone might be a Stasi agent or an informer, only letting her guard down when meeting Jorg for a tryst. Nina Hoss does an incredible job of internalizing this suspicion through closed-down body language that suggests the actress has tensed nearly all of her muscles for most of her screen time. (Here’s hoping that she got a nice long massage as soon as production wrapped.) In an age when too many actors choose to express themselves merely with their voices and faces, Hoss’ full-bodied performance is an object lesson in what cinema acting should be. The character, unsurprisingly, does undergo a transformation as the plot develops, but one that leads to a pleasantly surprising conclusion that I won’t be giving away here. Let me just say that Barbara’s character arc is utterly believable in its quiet and natural way. Like everything else in this gem of a movie.



About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

33 responses to “Now Playing: Stoker and Barbara

  • jilliemae

    I had no idea that it took you a while to warm up to “Stoker” but I’m glad that you finally did!

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  • Ivona Jesic

    “Stoker” fantastic movie by Park Chan-wook. This movie really keeps audience’s attention simply because we want to know what’s coming next and how will main character India react on many uncle Charlie’s ideas and actions which are not very acceptable. This movie is very complicated and that’s also what keeps attention because we want to understand well what happened and what is happening now. Maine character India in this movie is more thinker than the speaker so the big accent is given to her thoughts. In this movie, main actors India and uncle Charlie are very similar. Both of them have that rebellious side where are ready to do something totally illegal and simply said sick which is to kill the person. One of the scenes where Mr. Park Chan-wood pointed to their similarity is the scene where Charlie as a child makes snow angel is the sand and that exact same thing India was doing in the bed. In addition, this movie really look realistic while you are watching but when you stop for a second and think it is so unrealistic. For unrealistic I think that uncle and niece relationship is really not acceptable but also the relationship between any lady and her husband’s brother. Last, how is realistic seeing rich high school girl being dressed in clothing from Victorian era, especially wearing one same type of shoes through a whole life entire year?
    “Barbara” also a fantastic movie but from a different director, this time, it’s German director Christian Petzold. Something that makes this movie unique is that not many cars are involved and the bicycle is something that caught my attention because that is the main transportation of our main character Barbara. This movie is also in one hand complicated. When I say complicated I mean it seeks a lot of attention while watching as well as little thinking to make sure that we understood everything and all puzzles are in the place. As puzzles, I, see Barbara’s relationship with Andre and Jorg. Even if Jorg and Barbara look like a beautiful lovely couple, especially because of all attention that Jorg gives to Barbara they don’t have the most important which is a connection where Jorg understand Barbara’s passion to her job. In other hand Andre even if he is just Barbara’s coworker and she doesn’t have a lot of trust in him but they have some connection and he really see her passion to job she works and we can see that when he asked her to come to work on her actual free day where she of course agreed. In addition, through watching many movies I came to the conclusion that piano is a trademark for educated and rich people and we saw piano in all three previous movies we watched which are Barbara, Stoker and Midnight in Paris and main characters in all three movies are very educated, rich or even both people.

  • brad fagan

    “Barbara” is an excellent cinematic depiction of what life was like in the German Democratic Republic. The main character, Barbara, represents what it must have felt like to be a political dissident in East Germany during the early eighties. She was forced to leave her family and friends in Berlin and work in a rural hospital because of her political views. Barbara is aware that she is being watched by the secret police; nevertheless, she represents the fundamental ideal of what it means to be a moral and ethical professional within a socialist country. Andre also feels a moral and ethical responsibility toward his patients; however, he realizes that he may never be able to see the original works of Rembrandt considering that East Germans are not allowed to travel in Western Europe. Andre is a member of the establishment, and yet he is a sensitive human being. “Barbara” stresses what it must have felt like to live in Eastern Europe at this point in time. The film portrays how a dedicated person singlehandedly takes on a totalitarian regime. Barbara portrays the enemy of totalitarianism. She is continuously under surveillance at work Barbara is quite aware that Klaus is a Stasi agent is clandestinely monitoring every move she makes when she leaves the hospital. Andre seems to understand what makes Barbara tick. Nothing gets past him. He even notices that she has acquired a taste for western cigarettes. The audience becomes completely aware of Barbara’s dilemma—as she compassionately reads The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to comfort a boy stricken with a serious illness. She tells the young patient about Huck and Jim drifting down a river on a raft, and plunging deeper and deeper into slave country. Our heroine feels her patient’s pain—as her world is going out of control. Andre realizes his world is being turned upside down—as he finishes examining a young man who attempted to take his own life, and suddenly realizes the clinic is running out of supplies. Finally, we see Barbara riding her bicycle along a deserted road. We can feel the wind, hear the sea gulls, and only hope that she is heading in the right direction.

    India Stoker is a teenager was traumatized shortly after her father died in a horrific automobile accident. A few days later, she was introduced for the very first time to her uncle Charlie. Charlie appears as a charismatic version of her father; however, we will soon find out that he is a cold blooded killer who claims to have spent most of his life traveling the world. Within a relatively short period of time, India realizes that she is becoming more and more like her uncle— and feels physically attracted to him. India is then set up by her uncle to seduce Luke, a bully that is giving her a hard time at school. Luke responds to her advances, and then Charlie suddenly appears and strangles the kid to death. India and Charlie instinctively return to the family estate and dispose of the body in the garden. Finally, Charlie admits that he murdered his kid brother many years ago, and spent his adolescence in a psychiatric hospital. In the following scene, India is stunned when the door bell rings, and the sheriff enters the foyer. At that moment, the viewer realizes India is facing a moral dilemma. There is no way out. If the police find out the truth, the Stoker’s will no longer be treated as privileged members of the upper class. Furthermore, Park Chan- Wook is portraying a totally dysfunctional family in order to make this statement. Park believes all people must be treated as equals— or we will all end up very much like the Stokers.

  • Ivana Jesic

    The movie “Stoker” produced by Park Chan-wook is the wonderful movie about young lady India and her hidden sick desire which she inherited from her uncle. One of the ability that India has is that she can see or hear things that other people can not. In the beginning of the movie India has overpowered girl who suffers because of the murder of her father. At the funeral of her father in the distance she is seeing her uncle Charlie and later met him in her house also, here begins the interesting part of the film. How we already know uncle Charlie is the serious killer who spent twenty years in the prison for killing his younger brother Jonathan. He is also committed murder of his elder brother or India’s father, aunt Gwendolyn and Whip Taylor. Although at first look India is quiet girl totally opposite from her uncle but the closer to the end of the film we can see that India is actually copying of her uncle. Also, when Charlie asks India can they be friends her answer is “ No we can’t be friends we are family” that sentence give clear picture how actually same they are and the same blood flows in their veins. At the end of the film, our belief that India is actually a copy of her uncle comes true when she kills her uncle Charlie and sheriff. The piano has special meaning in this movie lot of feelings has been expressed through music. This film definitely kept my attention because I wanted to see what will happen with India and do she same has a sick mind like actually all her family, especially uncle Charlie. Also, is she that one family member who does stuff right.

    The movie “ Barbara” produced by Christian Petzold is a beautiful movie about same named lady Barbara. Barbara is a medical doctor and she is sent from Berlin to a small town in Germany to work as a doctor there. As we can see in this movie Barbara is an awesome doctor she loves her job and knows how to brave patients and make them comfortable. In the hospital where Barbara began working, she meets doctor Andre. Andre is not just a doctor in that hospital he is also in charge to write a report about Barbara’s work and make sure that Barbara can not get away from that town where she lives. The music and piano are really important in this movie same as in movie “ Stoker”. Through piano, actors express their emotions and give value to that scene. In view of the fact that Barbara is living in communism during her stay in that town where she works she did not have the right to have visited or received presents so all her meetings with boyfriend and presents that she get she had to hide. As I mentioned before Barbara is an awesome doctor we can see that by how she treats her patient Stella during her stay in the hospital. Later in the movie, we can see that strong relationship between Barbara and Stella when Stella escaped from prison and run to Barbara’s home. Also, when Barbara leaves her dream to escape from town and all her money intended for her escape gives to the driver to transport Stella to other coast and help Stella escape. Fortunately, like every love story, Barbara is not left alone her support Andre and she starts a new phase of life but stronger and together.

  • Jowayne Calma

    Stoker is a film about a girl named India and how her world changed when her father died. What made her more emotionally confused was due to the arrival of an uncle whom didn’t knew existed. As her Uncle Charlie moves in with India and her mom, she started being suspicious of his motives. At the end he become infatuated with him. The sound effects, the colors and how the movie went already made the movie creepy. And because of incest, murder (especially when Jonathan was buried to death), and how India was aroused upon imagining someone being choked to death made this movie disturbing to me. I was confused how she didn’t call the cops when she saw a dead body on the fridge. But then maybe she was afraid that her safety might be at risk if she did that. India was starting to become like her uncle when she got aroused at the murder and I think that scene where Charlie put the shoe on her was kind of like a “rite of passage” to be like her uncle, and then she officially became a total weirdo because she got infatuated with his uncle next. I also realized that Charlie was lying when he said he travelled around the world that’s why India didn’t know her. He probably used that alibi to cover up that he was actually in a detention where her father brought him. And moments later when Richard took Charlie out, Charlie killed Richard. I really like the shots at the beginning when everything was shot too close and it pauses for a while, that was very awesome.

    The movie Barbara is about trust and uncertainty. Because when Barbara went to town where she is going to work she started being suspicious that someone might be spying on her which made her attitude cold towards her colleagues. But she was very kind to her patients especially Stella. I believe she sees Stella as someone relatable to her, trapped in place they both don’t like. Which made her kind to Stella. She starts falling for another colleague named Dr. Reiser but she still tries to show her coldness towards him because she don’t know if she can trust him. She has a lover named Jorg from the west whom she tries to meet once in a while and give her money she needed for escape. I think she doubted him when he said that she doesn’t have to work since Jorg earned a lot of money. Is she really going to achieve the real freedom that she wanted if she moved to the west? She was about to escape one night but she let Stella go instead of her. She chose her passion and she probably trusts Dr. Reiser already which made her stay, I think that was something she’s really looking forward to the west but she already have it where she is currently at. I love that this film gave us a glimpse of how their country (and their problem) was back in the day. The atmosphere, the design of the hospital, materials and the furnitures made me feel like in the 1980’s.

  • Omar Mohammed

    In the films Stoker and Barbara, there is not much that can be compared of the two. They both come from completely different genres and they also come with two completely different plot lines. The films each portray different type of endings one where the character becomes more open and accepting of her environment, and the other with the character expressing her true feelings. Although these films have completely different plots, they do share a similar sequence of events that develops their character at the end. Both films begin with an event that occurs off scene, and this event has severely impacted the main characters which has made them distant and almost cutoff from the world around them. Then each film introduces a second character that tries to get the “protagonist” to open up to no avail. It is only after a significant event that each character begins to accept their environment and open up more as a result. The films both end with unexpected plot twists and they both leave a lot up to the imagination. Another interesting thing I noticed was how both directors cut unimportant scenes such as the walking scenes and other daily tasks that the characters would normally take part in. Each film had a focused plot and each scene provided value to the films.

  • Irfan Makani

    Stroker and Barbara are both engaging films. Stroker is a suspenseful horror thriller that depicts the situation of an awkward student, India. Her father has just passes away and her Uncle Charlie is the new man of the house. Uncle Charlie constantly shows sins of terror, such as when he kills India’s Grandma. I feel that this scenario could have been the intermission because we are now fully aware of Uncle Charlie’s evil temptations. I loved the part when India attacked the bully using her pencil – this shows that India is capable of defending herself just like Stroker who saves her from the bad guy in the woods. In the end, India kills Uncle Charlie because he was trying to kill her mother. Even after some complications between India and her mother, India still decides to save her and lose her charming Uncle. I think this places the mother out of the “Bad character box” because she is saved by her daughter. Barbara is also a movie that shows the life of a woman who seems strange. Barbara reminds me a some of the Bollywood movies that I’ve seen with a love triangle. Alfred is a fellow doctor working with Barbara while Barbara is debating him or her lover Jorg. Jorg could be given the title of the bad guy who is with Barbara for reasons that exclude genuine love. Both Alfred and Barbara seem to like their profession- they seem to enjoy helping people such as Stella and Mario. I think that Alfred did understand Barbara more and they were meant to be as the movie shows Barbara coming back to Alfred. Both these films embrace the power of women and are designed to show the independence and determination of women.

  • Quin Siegel

    Stoker directed by Park Chan-wook is a beautiful film that functions off of cinematography and mise-en-scene. Everything about the movie is visually stunning. I especially loved the scene where it went from India brushing her mother’s hair to the grass in the field.
    At first it was hard to tell what the film was trying to say, as it was a Korean filmmaker making an American based movie. However, I believe he is making a commentary about Americans in an almost Freudian way. All the violent actions and sexual innuendos lead me to this conclusion. The story is centered around India who is turning 18 and begins to have a romantic relationship with her uncle. I also agree with you that the ending of the film was most likely the most logical ending. It also gave the most satisfying and realistic ending to such a strange story.
    Barbara is set in East Germany during the 80’s. The main character, Barbara, is incredibly cold to her coworkers and the people around her because she is scared they are all watching her. She is always tense and gives very short answers. Her performance gives the audience a true view at what it was like to live in East Germany at that time.
    What was most surprising to me was the ending of the film. I did not really expect Barbara to be so willing to give up her ticket out of East Germany for the girl, Stella. It seemed like a Marxist thing for her to do, giving up something dear of your own for your fellow man. As it seems, Barbara does come around to the community she was sent to and finally feels a sense of belonging. The last scene was somewhat ambiguous, but I think we are meant to believe she ends up with Andre instead of her other lover Jorg.

  • Davis Negrillo (@DNEGRILLO)

    Then there is Barbara. This film, made in Germany, was almost a representation of not only the times that the film was depicting, but also of an older era of film making. Watching this, you truly feel like, one, you are in this beautiful countryside of Germany run through a horrible time. And two, like this it was filmed in the 70’s/80’s, which is when the film is taking place. It had kind of a nostalgic feel to camera work, for me, like I was a little kid again watching some grown up movie with my mom on VHS. I found that it was somewhat of a predictable outcome, but I feel that is related to the amount of slow heartfelt movies I’ve watched growing up. Growing up in a country such as the US, you don’t really ponder too hard about how citizens of other countries thought process go about. For instance, what really irked me was when Barbara took the young girl to the ocean to leave this side of Germany, her own neighbor called the detective on her. I was literally going “Are you kidding me, why do you need to butt in her life?!” Because then the detective came, and tore her place apart. And, since that was pretty much the end, I’m sure she is not going to have a very pleasant couple of days once he finds that she did in fact return. This movie is not my cup of tea, but I for sure would have my mother sit and watch in with her tissue in hand.

  • Davis Negrillo (@DNEGRILLO)

    Alright, so let me start with Stoker. What a film. This film was awesome. It consisted of suspense, thrill, sexuality, darkness, and the list can go on. The way Chan-Wook had some scenes cut added to some of these film characteristics. One second, the actress is alone, the next, her uncle is sitting next to her, and then, he’s gone again without any indication of where he came from or went to. And also within that same scene, the amount of erotica that is portrayed is ridiculous considering its one to two people playing a piano. Never, would I have thought that playing a piano could be so sexual. Then, my favorite, there was the whole suspenseful/thriller thing going on. At first you think, her father just got into an accident, things like that happen every day. But, as the director starts showing pasts way into the film, your thoughts change to what the hell, this is f*?!ed up. And that right there is one of my favorite reactions when watching a film. That tells me, the production put into this film was taken very seriously to make an enjoyable, messed up film.

    *This is actually supposed to be BEFORE ‘Barbara’ paragraph*

  • Dakota D

    Though on the surface these movies may seem like they have nothing in common, they do share one striking similarity: sound. So often we forget how important sound is in our cinematic viewing experience. It can be the difference between feeling your heart swell or feeling your heart pulsate beyond belief at what could be coming. Both Stoker and Barbara have very distinct uses of sound to amplify the emotions portrayed in the film. Of the two films, I believe Stoker did a better job. Its sound design was succinct, deliberate, and I felt gave the correct mood. I found the sound design of Barbara in some parts to be overbearing and more often than not removing me from the immersion of the film. In Stoker, I could feel the isolation that India was feeling after her father’s death. The skull crunching sound from the egg being so deliberately cracked on the kitchen table sent a shiver down my spine. It stood out and was louder than anything else in the scene. In another scene where she is at the piano, she begins playing and the only sound that fills the air is the sound of the piano. In this moment you are taken out of the world that India is living in and are instead invited into the world she is inhabiting right now. You can feel her emotions change as the imagines Charles sitting down to create a duet. The sound of her playing becomes happier, she visibly becomes happier, and because we are only supplied with the visuals and her piano music we also become a tad happier. We are now able to emphasize with her. On the other hand, watching Barbara I felt as though the sounds were less made with sound design in mind and more someone has nudged one of the volume sliders. In the scenes where Barbara is riding by the beach to the cross where she has her stash, I understand that it’s a beach and that it is windy. However, the first time I encountered that scene I felt as though my ears were being blown off. In a way it seemed like the sound was so overkill it removed any suspension of disbelief that I had watching the movie. Throughout the movie in the hospital as well there are sharp clattering of plates and other items. Possibly it was to add to the feeling that Barbara was always on edge of being found or watched, but this is downplayed by the calm and calculated demeanor of the German police officer when he executes his searches of her home. She is living in constant tension, but the sound design does not do her visual tension justice. Overall, I have to give sound design to Stoker on this one.

  • Brian Stern

    I found both “Stoker” and “Barbara” to be extremely similar in a number of aspects. The core theme that I took away from both films is freedom. Though the type of freedom differs from film to film. In “Barbara” the title character is persecuted for applying to leave East Germany and defect. The freedom she is she is seeking is that of the strict constraints of the Governing state at the time at the height of the Cold War. In this sense the freedom Barbara is seeking is physical. In “Stoker” I found that her freedom was more to do with mentality. Like she was freeing her mind letting go of whatever mental barriers shielded her from becoming the sociopathic person like how you are led to believe is a trait that runs in her family. The symbolism of change which can be interpreted in the movement from childhood to adulthood where India is given the same style of saddle shoes for every birthday up until her 18th where see is given high heels instead which states she is no longer a child but now a woman. Besides freedom I found there were themes of discovery in the sense that the protagonists of both films felt alone yet through time discover that people exist who share similarities to them. In “Stoker” you have Uncle Charles. He shared the same mental acuity where violence and murder is thrilling. In “Barbara” the same sense of discovering not to be alone comes across when Barbara begins spend more time with Andre and He opens up to her stating the story of negligence that led him to be similarly transferred to the rural hospital. It is also stated how Andre has aspirations to at some point leave the country though it isn’t spelled out as clear as defecting. One last similarity that I found was that in both films the Protagonists played the piano as either an outlet or a distraction. You can say that that in both films the female leads feeling towards the male leads change in feelings start due to a piano. In “Stoker” is was when India was doing the playing duet with Charlie and “Barbara” It was when the piano tuner was hired and sent by Andre to tune it.

  • Esam Mohammed

    On its surface the films Stoker and Barbara couldn’t be anymore different. In Park Chan Wook’s film Stoker, the story line revolves around the life of eighteen year old India. After her father dies, she receives an unexpected visit from her uncle Charlie whom she has never met. From the beginning of the film Charlie is seen as mysterious and a bit creepy. As the movie progresses, we begin to find out about Charlie’s past and also begin to realize that he and India are not so different in that they both have a lust for killing. Although India ends up killing him at the end of the film, they did develop feelings for each other. In Christian Petzold’s film Barbara, the story line revolves are the life of a German doctor by the name of Barbara. After requesting to leave Eastern Germany, Barbara is arrested and eventually sent to a small town to work at a hospital. Barbara who throughout the film is subtle and tense, has trust issues with those who work around her. It isn’t until the end of the film where we begin to see her become more comfortable with those around her.On one hand we have a film that is disturbing and creepy, while on the other we have one that is relaxed and calm ,yet these films do share some similarities. For example in each of these films the directors focus on the emotional/mental state of the main characters. In Stoker, India shows little to no emotion throughout the film, she always has that mono toned facial expression and voice. It isn’t until Charlie brings out the killer in her that her father tried to contain, we begin to see her change and become more comfortable with herself. In the film Barbara, Barbara also shows very little emotion and hides her true self. It isn’t until after many attempts from Andres to open her up, that we begin to see the trusting and more relaxed side of her.

  • Prat Moshy

    Two great movies that have such strong woman roles. I would say I enjoyed watching Stoker a lot more than I did with Barbara, but then again they were both great movies. Barbara is an interesting take on the German lifestyle. I liked that Barbara wanted to be with her husband, but still managed to lust for Andre. It gave the movie a little more excitement. Barbara’s husband did anything and everything in his power to try and have her live with him in another country, but her love for nursing and taking care of people shows where her heart really is. Her intelligence with hiding the money and making it waterproof along with fixing her tire showed how handy she was and how much she is going through to be the independent woman she is. She was placed in an area where she wasn’t wanted and was judged, despite those negative interactions she managed to find her true calling as a nurse that cares for all her patients. Stoker was a bit more interesting to me because it was mysterious. India loses her dear father who taught her how to control something she didn’t know she withheld inside. Her calling as a murder who enjoys the feeling of watching and feeling someone die is slowly revealed. As soon as India’s uncle moves in with her and her mother, things begin to appear uneasy. Her uncle is a murder who carries the same genes that were passed down to her and his secret love and lust for India becomes stronger everyday he lives in that house. India soon realizes what is going on and decides to take manners in her own hands. She kills her uncle just before he murders India’s mother, she wears her Louboutin heels that her uncles gives her, steals his car, and goes on a ride to fulfill her true calling as a murderer. Two strong woman roles ending with their true calling.

  • Esho Youkhana

    Stoker is a great thriller that had many physiological aspects. It is clear that India Stoker has some sort of sexual thrill from pain and murder somehow. In the scene where is she masturbating to the memory of the boy from her school getting killed from her school, it is one of the most bizarre and cool moments I have seen in Film. Chan-wook Park puts in a lot of disturbing imagery to constantly keep the viewer on their toes. The main plot of incest is just enough interesting when it comes to the director’s genius way of playing out the film. Park’s sounds production is well done also and matches it perfectly with whats playing on the screen. Like Mr. Smith. I also noticed that the props and theme of the film is more taken in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The young men from school had leather jackets, we’re hanging out in a dinner and also India’s shoes are something that no modern girl wears. Stoker did a good job keeping me thrilled and constantly thinking about what next sick and twisted scene Park would show on the screen.
    Barbara is a good film representing the 1980’s communist East Germany. Just with the props and cinematography is enough to know that Barbara is in the not so good part of town. Christian Petzold does a good job with giving us a theme that pretty much creeps out any viewer because of the way the buildings are so old and how a lot of things are not in the best condition. I love how Christian Petzold gave us a Doctors perspective because it draws a line between human ethics and politics. He uses money to represent how Barbara and her lover’s relationship is close to a friends with benefits relationships. On the other side, Andre is represented in a humble and good person that Barbara can come closer to anyone else in the film. I agree with Mr. Smiths comment about her tight squeezed body gesture is amazing acting where you can just see her fear and anxiety through her body language. The movie does a good job showing how fucked up the Communist era was in Germany and how many people suffered.

  • whalen207

    Where Stoker (2013) is overt and obvious, Barbara (2012) is more subtle. I do believe each of them share a common legacy of psychological thrillers, but either differs in its approach. Stoker’s piano scene is powerful and obvious character development that plays out a microcosm of the entire film in just a few minutes. Barbara plays out her feelings on the piano, but doesn’t change any major part of the story. The scene is subtler, softer.

    I also noticed the obvious Hitchcock moments throughout Stoker. Pieces of the plot from Shadow of a Doubt (1943), the open fields from North by Northwest (1959), oodles of overt references to Psycho (1960), though I was a bit disappointed I didn’t see more of Rear Window (1954). I didn’t see any such homages to other directors in Barbara.

    Both movies really do focus in on the perception of the protagonist. You’ll notice that in both films (though of course more pronounced in Stoker) is the protagonist’s perception of a situation being highlighted above all else. Stoker in particular paints the main character early on as very sensitive to loud and/or irritating noises — this sets up her antisocial and unstable tendencies for later on when she finally cracks (or “blossoms”, depending on how you view it) into some sort of a psychopath. Barbara is, again, more subtle in its approach. Things like a particularly loudly jingling set of keys combine to make sure we know the main character in uncomfortable in a certain situation.

    In the end I loved both of them, but Stoker’s amazing cinematography just floored me.

  • Mouaz zabadneh

    -stoker-and-barbara/ it’s an amazing film that show how people around you can affect the personality in the beginning of the movie we can see Barbara as a quiet girl who doesn’t like to move out or talk a lot also she is very quiet but she seems to be she doesn’t like to be around other people and always she we’re looking for her dad and she weight from year to another year until she received a gift from him.
    But toward the end of the movie found out that the guy who was dating her mom he is the killer of your father and especially after she heard your aunt’s phone ringing under the ground.
    Barbara was surprised after she found out that the guy I was dating her mom he is the one who was sending her all the shoes in toward the end of the movie Barbara end up killing the guy and then she left the house and killed the police on the way and here the author was trying to show that her personality change to a different person

  • Natalie

    I thought the character dynamics between India with Charlie and Barbara with Andre and Jorg were really interesting to see. As pointed out in class It seemed like Andre truly viewed Barbara for who she is as a person and her character versus what is perceived of her by others and Jorg. We see this with India and Charles as well.

    If we look back to the beginning of Barbara, Barbara kind of gives a cold shoulder to the rest of the doctors Andre didn’t seem to take any offense to her rejecting the invite to seat with them while the rest of the doctors in a way called her out saying city folks. Immediately she is perceived as a cold woman. Later when she see her with Jorg yes the sexual chemistry is there, but he asks her to leave her job and become this stay at home wife pretty much and that’s not who she is. Andre has viewed Barbara as a helper like him. One who is built to help save the lives of others and passionate about her work. So when he says to Barbara that he helps even the assholes it was then that the connection between the two really formed.

    India and Charlie have a different kind of dynamic but yet similar to Barbara and Andre. Charlie in a way almost feels India and who is she is. When he wrote in the letters that they are of the same blood I think it was all in a matter of sensation. They never physically touched which I thought spoke more to the physical connection humans make with one another.

  • Nick Weimer


    Stoker is full of fantastic transitions using visual and sound elements to stitch shots together in very clever, stylish ways. The scene where Charlie finds and murders Mrs. McGarrick is a great example. At the start of the scene India is shown flipping back and forth between the shell and the wave, juxtaposing and merging the two similar images, much like Park does with the film. There are matches on movement of parallel scenes with parallel doors. The sound of a buzzer becomes the sound of a flickering light fixture. The light is followed by the flipping on of another light. And so on. It’s all very carefully constructed, and that’s pretty awesome.

    That hair-to-grass transition is my favorite noticeable bit of CGI in the film (though the beginning credits were nice too). You mentioned in class that Park’s use of digital effects reminded you of Fincher, but the camerawork itself often reminded me of Fincher’s omniscient, ‘floating-eye’ style, but with more handheld sorts of movements, and of course the editing and pacing are very different.

    The mirror shot when the cop comes over is great; initially mirroring the shot of India watching her mother and Charlie from a corner, then pulling back to reveal the true angle of the camera. It’s brilliantly disorienting. The mirroring of the mirror shot is just another visual melding of Charlie and India. They are ‘the same’, but not; strangers in the mirror.

    After India and Charlie deal with the stealth-creeper, during the shower scene, there’s an image of Uncle Charlie as Sisyphus, rolling a perfect boulder up the hill (which India is shown not to be able to do during the opening credits.

    I think this might relate to some ideas concerning generations of people. Things being passed down. Things being doomed to repeat themselves. Murderousness running in the family. It makes me think of what India’s mother says during her little speech on parenthood late in the film.
    “he conclusion I’ve come to is, at some point in our lives we realize that things are screwed up beyond repair. So we decide to start again; wipe the slate clean; start fresh; and we have children.”

    The ball goes up; the ball goes down.

    Also, do you think there is any particular significance to India being named India?



    I agree that Barbara benefited greatly from being so closely focused on Barbara’s personal experience. It paints a very detailed picture of the general feeling of that particular place and time, through Barbara’s eyes. It’s a great exploration of the psycho-social tone of communist East Germany in 1980.

    I love the shot of Barbara biking past some super-loud trees on a super-windy day to collect her stash from the rocks with the cross. What do you think is the significance of the cross as a stash spot?

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