From Musil's flow of a novel I have carved out a "story" that presents the perfect human, moral, philosophical, political and sociological failure of European culture and humanism. This was the failure that led straight to the First World War. The outbreak of war can be felt in the last few frames of the film - though it's only alluded to. It remains in the background, the accompaniment to the film's main motifs like a hidden bass part. The characters are concerned with the follies of their private lives that the film depicts as a modern Sodom. The war signifies the beginning of an apocalypse, the collapse and final stages of Jewish-Greek culture together with its set of values and the absolute end of European humanism. The apocalypse in this interpretation, the final battle of the Armageddon, continues to this day, a notion which gives the film its searing timeliness.

The story is made up of the following threads:

1) The incestuous love between Ulrich and his sister Agathe - in which beauty and innocence appear united with and preconditioned by debauchery and sickness.
Agathe - Ulrich's sister. They are like twins. She's virtually the image of Ulrich. At least as far as their sensitivity and intellectual and physical attraction are concerned. She's just as restless a spirit as her brother, disregarding customs, regulations and conventions, yet at the same time embodying beauty and innocence. This unusual ambivalence makes her captivatingly natural being so extremely mysterious. She, like Ulrich, seeks totality, but Agathe is aware that finding it will mean her end.

2) The Walter-Clarisse-Ulrich love triangle - in which we witness the failure of Walter and Ulrich's profound male friendship and that of friendship in general, which falls victim to Clarisse's philosophy-based desire and attraction for Ulrich: to acquire him, envelop him and possess him at all costs. Walter's self-conflict as an artist and Clarisse's insanity are the consequences of the triangle. This is concurrently the end of the ancient-renaissance-romantic perception of philosophy and art, which presupposes that a work of art or thought is able to influence the course of the world.
Walter - Ulrich's friend and contemporary, who must have once been a sparkling spirit and intellect blessed with artistic talent is a "brilliant petty bourgeois". He is unable to meet his wife Clarisse's insatiable cult of the genius, which is probably also a cause of the grey staidness he tries to make even himself believe is his own philosophy of life. Beside the tempestuous Clarisse his desires have become ordinary: a warm family nest, children, a glass of good wine after dinner, a bit of music etc. However an almost tangible tension vibrates continuously in his thin figure and weary look. Walter's suppressed intellectual and male jealousy leads at a given moment to unexpected explosion.
Clarisse - Walter's wife is a small woman of girlish physique in her thirties. She would be decidedly attractive were her slim body not always as taut as a bow and her face not constantly showing a kind of unnatural tension. She is passionately attracted to Ulrich both intellectually and sexually, but is also keenly fond of the object of her Nietzschean attraction, the sex murderer Moosbrugger. Obsessed with the search for geniality, her unbridled intellect becomes almost unnoticeably dominated by insanity.

3) The story of Moosbrugger sex murderer - the climax of which is the love between Rachel (Diotima's maid) and Moosbrugger.
Moosbrugger - a kind of leaven in the story. The huge, shaggy, drunken murderer changes before our eyes into a refined, well-spoken and well-dressed criminal media star. There is no external sign of his insanity. Perhaps it is just the society who is turning him into a star that is mad. Linked to this we see Clariss's experiment carried out on Moosbrugger: how a lunatic murderer can be changed through an operation (or as we'd say today, genetically). As the object of Clarisse's experiment he discusses the amputation of one of his legs with the objectivity of a smart businessman. The experiment is brilliantly successful: Moosbrugger cries with the innocence of a child as he cradles Rachel's newborn baby. There is a kind of touching gentleness and frailty in his relationship with Rachel.

4) Bonadea and Ulrich's flirt - leading to the lesbian love between Bonadea and Diotima, Ulrich's aunt. This is the failure of the humanistic interpretation - i.e. one that derives from emotions and is the continuity of emotions - of sexuality.
Diotima - is Ulrich's aunt, but the essence of their bond lies more in the attraction of a mature woman to a young man and vice versa. Diotima is a full and voluptuous beauty who is lasciviousness itself. Although already unfaithful to her husband, Ulrich's "badness" has a liberating effect on her, freeing her from all conventions and inhibitions - right to her lesbian relationship with Bonadea and the giving of wild orgies.
Bonadea - a beautiful young woman, a kind of saviour. She is the person who finds Ulrich after he's attacked in the streets by robbers and takes the wounded man home. She makes witty and effortless conversation and is an inspiring companion to Ulrich, who even in this half-dead state tries to show off his intellect with pedantic reasoning. For Ulrich Bonadea is ironic both in repartees and in bed. Her existence in the story springs from her relationship to Ulrich born by chance which is also what links and attracts her to Diotima. The foundation of the lesbian relationship between the two women is their common attraction to the "sin" called Ulrich.

5) Ulrich's personal and scientific breakdown. Ulrich - around 35 is a remarkably attractive personality, radiating exceptional intelligence and sensitivity. He is the only person who can see through the events that are whirling around him. He is constantly searching for something real, genuine and pure, a kind of emotional, mental and spiritual satisfaction for the sake of which life is worth living and rooting for - something that can define his life and existence without qualities, that is, encompassing both nothing and everything. In a perverse and self-destructive way Ulrich experiences this in the physical satisfaction of the love he feels for his sister Agathe. Fulfilment however cannot bring peace to a spirit constantly in search of something. In the last scene he buries himself together with the world.

6) General Stumm's "parallel action" - with which the monarchy intends to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the reign of Franz Josef I. From among the various ideas for the worldwide celebration - as becomes clear at the end of the film - the general chooses "cataclysm", i.e. war.

The visual world of the film is basically provided by pre First World War Austrian fine arts. Interior art nouveau spaces, with the stifling sensuality of Klimt's pictures. The erotic scenes evoke the cold and gaunt erotic pictures of Schiele. Mysticism characterising the period also appears, portrayed in the fulfilment of Ulrich and Agathe's love. All sets, objects and costumes radiate European culture, refinedness and elegance - the disappearance of which is the subject of the film.