In general I don’t like inauthentic films (of course, neither inauthentic books). While, naturally authenticity does not even come into question at films that are obviously fictions. By obvious fiction I mean that the story setting is not something real or historic, therefore the film does not even pretend to be real.
On the other hand, it is possible that a fiction plays in a real, historic settings, in a real place, with real persons, and still it is a fiction. And by “fiction” here I of course do not mean when the writer fills in some minor details of a real history according his/her fantasy, but when the major story of the film is completely fictional, and the film “When Nietzsche wept” is a perfect example to this.
One of the most important thing to now about this film is namely, that while its historic frame is authentic, the story of the film is a complete fiction. All the characters in the film are real. But the story itself is fictional from the beginning of the film to the end. It could have happened, but it did not, and this is not even something arguable, since Nietzsche as to my knowledge did not even visit to Vienna at all. Which fact is by the way interesting, since Vienna was a German speaking cultural center, maybe even the most important German speaking city at that time.
So, Nietzsche did not visit Vienna and did not meet Josef Brauer, which should have been mentioned in my opinion, and precisely at the end of the film, where they describe what happened with the characters after the happenings of the film. Here the film emphasizes that the character are reals, and things happened after the story, here was the possibility and necessity to mention that the story did not happen at all. I would have done it like this for sure. It is an error that they did not state this, maybe not an enormous error, since none of the experts would imagine that the story in film did really happen. But what about the layman?
I think the goal of the writer of the book that the film was based on, a certain Irvin D. Yalom wanted to provocate a discussion about that how the philosophy of Nietzsche was affecting the psychoanalysis theory of Brauer and Sigmund Freud. I am not an expert on this topic, and do not want to go into it, so I leave this question open. It is true that Nietzsche dealt a lot with personal questions, his philosophy was not a philosophy of nature, but almost pure life-philosophy. It may be that Freud read Nietzsche and maybe he really liked him. But the philosophy of Nietzsche does not really deal with various illnesses, case studies (except maybe his own illnesses), but in general with ethical questions. In fact one of his errors was that he was generalizing too easily. Beside this, some kind of influence is possible, and I leave this question to those, who are an expert on it.
Beside of this, I think, there are two big topics important in the story: the first does not concerns so much atheism, but I need to speak about it, because the second, that is about atheism is closely connected, kind of a follow-up question of it.
The first topic is that the Brauer depicted in the film suffers under typical problems of modern life. Brauer is quite successful in his work, but he has problems with his lovelife, his wife, he has problems to love his children, and he is a boring and bored man, who is afraid of death. Brauer would like a separation on some point, when the free life of Nietzsche inspires him. He likes the freedom and independence.
On the other hand, the film depicts the other face of liberty. Nietzsche tells Brauer on the one hand that he is living the most “dangerous” life by living in safety. I don’t know, if this is a precise quotation from Nietzsche. But it sound like one that could be, because it is kind of a wordplay. I have put “dangerous” in quotation mark, because living in safety is of course not dangerous in the literal sense. What Nietzsche or Yalom was thinking here is that by living in safety Brauer endangers to miss out a lot of interesting experiences. Which is not a real danger, just a loss. But metaphorically speaking Yalom here shows the double edge of living freely: it is a trade-off of danger for experience.
Speaking of Nietzsche and his free life, the film depicts him as being an extremely individualist, who did never compromised with anybody and anything. This is actually not even so dangerous, what we would today call as dangerous, for example somebody doing extreme sports. The life of Nietzsche was not in danger in this sense. He was also not a soldier, that was at that time a possible, dangerous mode of life.
Nietzsche was rather a non-conformist. In this sense he was free, and different, and individualist to the extreme. This non-conformism was however so much maniac at Nietzsche that he always had to alienate everybody, and this was kind of a compulsive pattern. And consequently Nietzsche was living alone.
The story with Lou Andreas-Salome depicts this, she was also a real person, who really had some kind of relation with Nietzsche, however it is a little bit disputed, how far this relationship has gone. But Nietzsche was really in love with her and she really rejecting him. Probably she was really only interested in the intellect of Nietzsche, but the man was not interesting to her, first, because Nietzsche was not a good looking man – in the film he is depicted as especially self-neglecting person in a bad shape – second, because his manners that I already described, namely he was not somebody easy to love as a person. And then I am understating this. In fact, Nietzsche would probably only be capable to accept Lou, if she totally submits to him loving him by always looking up to him, that she was not capable to do. By the way I would really wonder, what had happened, if Lou accepts Nietzsche and submits herself to him. I bet, Nietzsche had get bored of her and rejected her in the end. But this is just speculation.
Lou is actually played by Katheryn Wynnick, who played Lagertha in Vikings. But this is not so important, Lou is only a supporting character, who is bringing together Bruaer and Nietzsche. Wynnick plays nicely the tempting women, who is cared about Nietzsche so much that she wants to save him from suicide, and this is how the story in the film rolls out. Vikings is by the way a good example for an unauthentic film, where the deception is stronger and I like that much less, as I described it in another post.
The description above could be a very short psychoanalytical description of Nietzsche. The works of Nietzsche are quite often based on critic, which is not a problem in itself, what is a problem that he is obsessed by critic, quite often he just hates somebody, especially if something or somebody could be a competitor, who may overcome him. This was the case with Wagner. After a certain period of adoration Nietzsche changed his attitude about Wagner, and could not compromise with him reasonably, he had to fight him with arguments that are not really very strong. Liking or disliking Wagner or any compositor is in the end a matter of taste and not disputable. Lao may saw have seen this, and she did not want to be the wife of such a person. Nietzsche was hurt by this and other, similar cases and this anger motivated him, and was driving his philosophy that was exactly because of this partially insightful critic, and partially exaggeration: he did also punch when there is no reason why.
Related to this topic is also that Nietzsche in the film cannot cure himself from his misery he cannot even diagnose himself objectively, rightly. He does not see and admit his problem. The compulsory character of all the acting of Nietzsche could be classified in transaction analysis as a game playing. And Brauer sees this at least to the psychoanalytical extent. And similarly, Brauer cannot see himself, his own problems clearly and objectively that I wrote about his life: his relation with his wife is in ruins, he is bored of life, but does not dare to change it. By the way the film also depicts, what would be if Brauer separates from his wife and lives freely. And Brauer does not like the connected risks. The solution for him is still to resolve his family life.
Altogether the film that both of this clever man is insightful about others, but short sited about themselves and therefore they cannot solve their own problems. To achieve this, they need each other, which happens indeed in the film. In reality we know that Nietzsche gets crazy. Bruaer of course does not go mad, he has his job and family as kind of a support that helps against craziness, even if things are not alright.
When I was young I read all the works of Nietzsche and I liked it very much. I liked that he dared to criticize everything and had no idols. I liked him to the point, when I realized all that I wrote about him in this post: that his critic is compulsory, and half of it is obsolete and stupid. And quite often he is generalizing, like when he criticizes the German and women. One still can make use of his works, if you sort out the right and the wrong critics.
The other thing I realized that Nietzsche ruined his own life with this, and then he was compensating this with philosophy. After becoming lonely, he rationalized it with philosophy. Such a life can obviously not be a positive example. I do not say with this that everybody has to be a philistine, like Brauer, and no one can live freely, like Nietzsche. I am just saying that however one decides, the decision shall be a conscious, well thought decision, good for him and not something decided unconsciously, and then rationalized afterwards by some kind of philosophy.
The atheist topic is closely related to the problems of Brauer, just seen from another viewpoint. Namely in the film Nietzsche is depicted as an atheist. In reality I am not entirely sure he was not believing in god. Since for example his famous statement: “God is dead”, though can be interpreted as an elliptic formulation of “there is no god”, but this is not necessary: it also can be interpreted literally, that humankind “killed” god in himself/herself, that is humankind does not care about god. For the consequences this is however all the same.
The consequences namely that often rises are two questions:
i) If there is no god, is everything permitted? This is the question of ethics.
ii) If there is no god, does life have no sense?
By the way, Nietzsche does not address these two questions explicitly. As I remember, he never formulated statements or questions directly like this. But for example his idea of transvaluation of all values points to these two questions. It is about the task that after god is dead, we need to reorganize our ethics and rethink our meanings of life. This is also how we arrive to the Übermensch.
Now, I often explained why the implicit statements in i) and ii) are stupid. Since ethical questions and the meanings of our life are both subjective matters. We define both our self individually or by consensus. So i) and ii) are not good practical arguments for religion. Theoretical arguments for the existence of god they cannot be anyway, because from the hypothetical practical importance of religion, its truth does not follow. This is the well known “is-ought” distinction of Hume.
The film however depicts quite well what are the practical problems, and how complicated and serious they are. I have to emphasize that the problems are practical, since from the theoretical viewpoint the question is answered by the explanation that we can define our ethics and goals according to our emotions freely. Only the laws of physics and the consensus of the community may be a limit. In a liberal society we are free to do anything in the limits of the laws, and are able to do anything that is physically possible. And there is a waste degree of freedom in this limits.
The film also depicts it nicely that these problems – no matter how much to use them against atheism – are not specific to atheists. We can imagine the problems of Brauer in case of an adherent too. Faithful believers may also not love their wives anymore, that they find their work boring or even awful. For all such problems we cannot give a uniform answer for atheists and believers, they have to solve them themself, according to their own case.
The film does not only show the gravity of these problems, but also ends with a human, – not all too human – positive ending: Brauer solves his family issues, and Nietzsche finds a friend in Brauer, whit whom he breaks his compulsory circles. It is true that he also leaves Brauer, that is needed to return to the historical story of line. And it is also needed to get the history in harmony with the love of freedom of Nietzsche. Yalom I think wants only to say with the film that Nietzsche could have preserved his freedom, while compromising reasonably, being occasionally all too human and having some friends. He could improve his life a great deal with this. And I agree on this with Yalom.