1913 - a fine August evening. We see the
characteristic building of the proud imperial
capital. A huge, dishevelled figure staggers
drunkenly down the street. A tiny little
woman addresses him, he spits in her face
and with very clear gestures signals her
to get lost. The little servant girl doesn't
leave him. She follows the man almost
bewitched. Moosbrugger tries to throw
her off with a sudden change of direction,
but the woman waits for him humbly. He
emerges from his hiding-place, crooks
his arm like a handcuff round the woman's
neck, while with his right hand he stabs
his knife rhythmically into her struggling
Ulrich, the 35 year old hero of the film,
first meets Moosbrugger in the court room
where we see the big man for the second
time, now clean and tidy in a brand new
suit, his face radiating gentle strength
and good intentions. "If mankind
as a whole could dream Moosbrugger would
definitely be born," Ulrich writes
in his notebook with undisguised curiosity.
Among the onlookers Ulrich's aunt, Diotima,
appears. Her beauty shines with a special
light in the criminal atmosphere of the
court room - this can be read in Ulrich's
regard which reflects extreme intelligence,
strength and a rare sensitivity accompanying
all this. The woman reminds him of the
inaugural meeting of the Parallel Action,
then dashes out to make the necessary
During the inaugural meeting of the Parallel
Action, the aim of which is to prepare
a worthy celebration for the seventieth
anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz
Joseph, Ulrich, who has been elected secretary,
watches two doorways simultaneously in
the reflection of a silver fruit bowl.
In one Rachel, Diotima's chambermaid is
watching him, in the other Soliman is
watching Rachel. Observation is a key
element in the philosophical mood of the
evening: Diotima's husband keeps his eyes
on his wife who is flirting with Dr. Arnheim.
The garden full of shadows is enigmatic,
as is Ulrich's answer to Diotima when
she asks him for advice: give in to any
temptation that comes.
On another occasion Ulrich's friend,
Walter, watches Ulrich jealously from
behind the curtain as he walks in the
garden with Walter's wife Clarisse, who
is very beautiful, but full of unnatural
tension. From the point of view of the
Parallel Action she considers the comparison
that can be drawn between Nietzche and
Moosbrugger especially worthy of notice.
Ulrich and Clarisse's relationship is
above all intellectual - Walter is as
jealous of that as he is of the presumable
Ulrich is walking home at night lost
in thought when two hands grab his shoulders
and three gangsters attack him, beating
and robbing him. Lying on the ground bleeding
and unconscious he is almost run over
by a lemon yellow Bugatti, out of which
gets a gorgeous woman who takes Ulrich
home. When he comes round he gives the
woman a little lecture on the fatal casualty
of reflection and failure. Bonadea - or
as Ulrich later calls her: Bona Dea, "my
goddess" - is soon to return when
when she does in fact become Ulrich's.
His Grace Count Leinsdorf is scandalized
by Ulrich who gives a brief account of
the intellectual preparations and received
proposals for the Parallel Action in a
slightly summary and sceptical way, saying
that as individuals everyone is just about
satisfied with themselves, on the other
hand in general for some sort of universal
reason no one feels really good and it
seems that the Parallel Action is destined
to bring this feeling to light.
The love games of Ulrich and Bonadea
aren't disturbed by the demonstration
in front of the house, but by the arrival
of a phone call and a telegram at almost
the same time. On the telephone Clarisse
relates with an enthusiastic flood of
words the developments of Moosbrugger's
second degree trial, while the telegram
reads: "My dear son, This is to inform
you of my death. My funeral will be on
April 6 1914. Please come here to my house
as soon as possible. You will learn of
your further duties from my will. I count
on you to be a support to your sister
in these difficult days. Yours, father."
The collapse of Walter and Clarisse's
marriage comes to a head at the dinner
table following Moosbrugger's trial. Walter
is only able to talk about their relationship
and his professional and manly jealousy
towards Ulrich on a philosophical level
until Clarisse's vulgar interjections
heighten the tension to breaking point,
forcing them both to be frank and speak
out about the true feelings hidden behind
the philosophy. "Do you love him?"
The question that has been torturing Walter
is finally put plainly, and Clarisse's
quiet, almost tender answer strikes a
crushing blow: "I don't want a child
Ulrich is walking home at night down
a street in the outskirts, avoiding the
puddles reflecting moonlight. Deja vu:
the surroundings eerily remind one of
the place where Moosbruger was walking
at the beginning of the film, and Ulrich
is also addressed by a small woman enveloped
in a scarf. "Aren't you afraid I'll
kill you?" Ulrich asks, giving money
to the woman waiting puzzled for his explanation.
On arriving home he gets out his pistol
because the lights are on in several places
in the house. He stops dead in the doorway
of his study: the slim figure of a woman
is lying on his divan, Clarisse. Having
given Ulrich a brief account of what has
happened between her and her husband,
the woman attacks him both intellectually
and sexually. Recovering from his shock,
he brushes off her wild advances.
A horse and carriage turns in at the
garden gate. Ulrich gets out and touchingly
embraces the old servant standing wringing
his hands on the steps. The luggage is
taken in - we are in his father's house.
For the first time in 20 years Ulrich
meets his sister, Agathe. By the secret
ordering of fate they are wearing almost
identical clothes. They look at each other
in wonder and go in hand in hand to where
the body is laid out. They talk intimately,
and Ulrich only notices now that on the
picture hanging from the bleak tapestry
on the wall opposite is of Agathe as a
little girl in a white dress. This little
girl has appeared several times already
in the film, maybe in Ulrich's imagination.
Ulrich is doing exercises in the garden
in his silk underpants, as we have already
seen him. (His saviour Bonadea came upon
him like this on one occasion.) Agathe
is watching him from behind the lace curtains
in the drawing room. She sits down at
the piano and improvises tunes as a grotesque
accompaniment to Ulrich's movements, as
if we were watching a silent film through
the window. Later we see them again beside
the coffin, reading the will. It was their
father's wish to be buried with his medals
on his chest. But since the medals have
to be given back to the state, without
batting an eyelid they swap the originals
for the copies their father has had made.
At the funeral Agathe comes in on the
arm of her husband whom she is about to
leave. The siblings' eyes meet: Ulrich
barely perceptibly points to the pocket
where Agathe hid her suspender belt in
her father's overcoat as a playful final
message. They almost laugh out loud.
Agathe and Ulrich are sitting clothed
in black at the two ends of the big dining
room table having supper. Agathe's husband,
who has already left, reminds her of her
father. They recall childhood memories,
collapsing with laughter. Retracing one
of them they go out into the garden to
search for one-time cut and buried fingernails
and locks of hair with lanterns, on all
fours. They turn up the earth, their hands
touching. Ulrich glances up in embarrassment
and notices the kind of fresh-as-dew sparkle
in Agathe's eyes which the sun hasn't
The siblings go on an excursion into
the hills above the small town, sampling
each other's thoughts, getting to know
each other in this countryside which inspires
ultimate questions. Coming out of the
peasant house which gives them shelter
from the rain Ulrich whispers in Agethe's
ear: "They think we're a couple in
love." As she cuddles up to him the
girl remarks with a laugh: "Then
you should kiss me now!" They look
at each other from right up close, uncertainly,
Ulrich is tossing and turning sleeplessly
in the night when the phone rings. Clarisse
informs him categorically that she wants
to visit Moosbrugger. Ulrich, moving as
he does in influential circles, must help
Doctor Friedenthal, Clarisse and General
Stumm go right through the mental hospital.
Clarisse is introduced to Moosbrugger
as a foreign colleague studying the clinic's
establishments and methods. Moosbrugger
has undergone an amazing change since
we last saw him. He has become somebody,
a celebrated, famous personality who takes
part himself in the discussions of the
doctors researching the general conclusions
that can be drawn from his case, as they
play cards together in his cell. Guided
by her sense of vocation, Clarisse is
determined that she will enter the institution
either as a nurse or as a patient.
Agathe and Ulrich are having breakfast
together. Ulrich makes a suggestion: they
should move in together, naturally preserving
their personal freedom in love affairs.
"I live alone anyway, and you're
preparing to divorce..." he says,
summing up the situation. This reminds
Agathe of the will and without thinking
twice about it she falsifies it to exclude
In a relaxed and intimate manner they
browse through books in the library. Leafing
through a statute book from the 17th century,
Agathe fires Ulrich with moral questions,
always translating the problems from the
philosophical level to everyday life.
Ulrich, who is getting acquainted with
"The Paths of the Holy Life"
reads a passage out to Agathe. All of
a sudden she jumps up, dashes out of the
room and hides away in the attic. Ulrich
tries to calm her through the door. He
talks about the feeling of boundary loss
and boundlessness of the inner and outer
world and the common traits of love and
mysticism. "I was reminded of my
first husband, Ulrich, when I held your
hand," Agathe's voice sounds through
the door. Ulrich stands dumbfounded on
the top of the ladder.
Garden party in Vienna - the masked ball
is drawing to an end. Ulrich is looking
at the flickering flames of torches speared
into the lawn when his aunt Diotima comes
up behind him in the uniform of a Napoleonic
colonel and a mask. The woman has tears
in her eyes. This big crying officer is
a crazy sight, but beautiful at the same
time. An onset of sobbing makes her incapable
of answering Ulrich's question as to what
the matter is. "We can't talk here,
let me take you somewhere else. To my
place, for instance, if I may", he
A carriage turns in in front of Ulrich's
house. He helps Diotima down and they
go into the house arm in arm. Diotima
is jealous of Arnheim, Ulrich feels that
right away. The woman is slightly drunk,
she alternately grabs the hilt of the
sword or runs her fingers through her
hair. "You're the only person in
front of whom I'm not ashamed of myself,
because you're so bad. Because you're
much worse than I am," says Diotima,
pointing the unsheathed sword at his throat.
"You don't know how bad I am,"
replies Ulrich, grabbing the woman's uniform
by the neck and sweeping her off her feet.
They struggle. All at once Diotima gives
a sigh and surrenders, leaving Ulrich
to do as he pleases with her. "Don't
you mind that I desire another woman in
you?" asks Ulrich, to which Diotima
replies, "I'm also thinking of another
man." No more is said...
Bonadea's Bugatti stops in front the
house and the woman calls our cheerfully
to Ulrich in a loud voice. He appears
in the doorway looking weary, pale and
dishevelled. Bonadea jumps out of the
car, tries to be friendly, but Ulrich
is distant. "Do you want to break
off with me?" she asks with a veiled
look when Diotima joins him in the doorway,
looking if possible even more tousled
than Ulrich. "Could you give a lift
part of the way?" she asks of Bonadea,
and gets into the car. A tear rolls down
Bonadea's cheek. Ulrich turns away and
strolls into the garden. Bonadea gets
in beside Diotima who offers her a cigarette.
They sit silently in the car smoking.
Ulrich is writing a letter to Agathe.
The little girl in the white dress from
the picture that we've seen already appears
as if summoned. Ulrich is trying to meditate
on the categories of "do" and
"don't", "right" and
"wrong", but the little girl
keeps butting in: "So can I have
a sip of your wine?" Wine and water
symbolize the mingling, the spritzer of
right and wrong in the mind of the little
girl who, bored of his philosophizing,
starts throwing her dolls at Ulrich. Losing
his patience he jumps up, but by the time
he gets to centre of the room the little
girl has vanished together with her dolls.
Agathe is sitting in the drawing room
of her father's house reading Ulrich's
letter. "The world therefore can
chose between two possibilities: it either
falls into ruin due to its own paralysed
morale or through its restless immoralists."
Agathe is surrounded by trunks, suitcases,
books packed into boxes and childhood
dolls. On the wall opposite hangs her
childhood painting in a white dress and
a bit further off a mirror. Agathe glances
up and looks at herself in the mirror.
She takes the medallion depicting her
first husband off the chain round her
neck and throws it into one of the trunks.
She threads a phial of poison that she
has found in her father's desk onto the
Lorries are standing in the courtyard
of Ulrich's house. Workmen are unloading
furniture, crates and suitcases. "Ask
the young lady," says the old servant
in reaction to the puzzled Ulrich, who,
running up the stairs finds Agathe, dripping
wet, wrapped in a bath robe among open
suitcases and scattered clothes. They
can hardly contain their happiness. "I've
sold Daddy's house, and I thought we could
live together for a bit. After all we're
brother and sister," she says in
explanation for her unexpected arrival.
Seized by a strange rapture, they just
stand and look at each other. Finally
Agathe proves the stronger. "I'm
off," she exclaims with a laugh,
feigning levity, and disappears into her
room. Ulrich hurries into his study, puts
on a record, pours himself a drink and
stands in front of the mirror. Dipping
his finger into his drink he tries to
draw Agathe's profile onto his own reflection.
Bonadea appears in the doorway. On the
pretext of his sister sleeping in the
next room, he sends her away. Bonadea
doesn't believe him, she starts to weep,
making a scene. "I've decided to
love women from now on as if there were
my sister," he remarks, trying to
make himself understood. Bonadea draws
away from him, looking at Ulrich as if
seeing him for the first time. "How
perverse you are!". She turns on
her heel and leaves.
A montage shows Agathe and Ulrich's new
life, in a playful fashion, to the music
of one of Strauss's waltzes. They rearrange
the house, take turns at hitting Ulrich's
punch-ball, get ready for balls, Ulrich
helps Agathe button up her dress, and
she ties his tie. At Diotima's ball Ulrich
watches Agathe dancing out of the corner
of his eye. They sit together in the garden,
bicycle in the park. Ulrich can hardly
catch Agathe who has let go of the handlebars.
Shrieking they tear down a winding mountain
path at the end of which there's a clearing
with a small lake. They don't even have
time to scream before toppling into the
They dry themselves naked on either side
of a bush, their clothes hanging from
the branches. They talk about their childhood
when it was natural for them to see each
other naked. Ulrich jumps into the water,
Agathe after him. The splash each other,
duck down and open their eyes under the
water at almost the same time. Their kicking
limbs seem to take on their childhood
form for a moment. Instinctively they
swim towards each other and hold hands.
They rise to the surface. This is the
moment when they should kiss - as they
are both perfectly aware. Agathe pushes
Ulrich away from her and swims off.
Once again they are sitting on the shore,
on either side of the bush watching the
lake in silence.
The siblings are preparing for Diotima's
soirée. Ulrich tiptoes up behind his sister
and, locking his arms around her, tenderly
draws her towards him. They look with
curiosity into each other's eyes. Ulrich
turns round, goes into his study and phones
to cancel the evening.
They sit in the room unable to move. The
decision has been taken and from now on
they don't care about any sort of prohibition,
but some even stronger desire forces them
Ulrich is asleep on the divan in his
study when the bell rings. Rachel, Diotima's
chambermaid, is standing in the gate,
a bundle beside her, pleading for help.
Sobbing, she tells him of Diotima and
Bonadea's odd lifestyle, strange books
in which everyone is naked, some sort
of libertinism, a foreign marquis, complicated
positions and that they asked her to get
undressed. On seeing her bulging stomach,
Diotima got into an extraordinary state,
becoming even wilder, which by this time
she found impossible to bear...
A hansom cab stops in a narrow street
in the outskirts. Ulrich helps Rachel
down and takes her arm. Then they walk
like this through the crowd of beggars
and cripples. An old woman takes them
into a poky bed-sit. "Thank you for
your help, it'll be fine here for me,
says Rachel gratefully. Ulrich gives her
money and promises to work something out.
Outside his house Ulrich jumps out of
the hansom cab and rushes upstairs. He
tears open the door of the bedroom - seeing
with relief that Agathe is still there.
"Sorry, I was frightened that you'd
gone!" he says by way of excuse.
Ulrich is wandering around the dark garden
while Agathe plays the piano in the drawing
room. Bottles and books are scattered
everywhere, ashtrays full of cigarette
ends, and the general chaos from the unfinished
rearrangement. "You won't catch me!"
teases the little girl in the white dress
from among the trees. Shots are heard.
Agathe jerks her head; Ulrich is standing
opposite her, dishevelled, his eyes wild,
shooting at the piano. They gaze at each
other. Ulrich steps over to Agathe and
carefully runs his fingers through her
hair. "I had to do it. I'd be just
as ready to shoot the mirror to bits if
you were looking at yourself in it..."
Before they have time to realize it they
are kissing, stroking and undressing each
other. They tumble onto the carpet, the
table tips up and books, a tray, a bottle
of wine and glasses come crashing down
on them. This sobers them in an instant
and drags them back to everyday reality.
Walter is sitting in his bare studio
staring at the empty canvas. Clarisse
storms in with the idea of bringing Moosbrugger
out of the mental institution to nurse
him..."It's a terrible thing to identify
with madness, but it's a brilliant decision!"
Clarisse herself seems to have identified
with madness. "Can you imagine Jesus
as the director of a mine? Or as an official
of the monument inspectorate?" Beside
himself, Walter pounces on Clarissse and,
fighting and yelling obscenities, drags
her to the ground and rapes her. Clarisse
staggers into the hall and phones Ulrich
Ulrich arrives and goes into the studio.
The bleeding and tousled Walter looks
at him, tears shining in his eyes, unable
to speak. Ulrich finds Clarisse in the
garden almost completely naked, bleeding
and trembling. He kneels down beside her.
Clarisse is planning Moosbrugger's rescue,
drawing a parallel between the murderer
and Walter or Ulrich. She makes Ulrich
promise to help. Taking a small bit of
bread out the pocket of her torn dress
she shares it with Ulrich.
At home Ulrich discovers that Agathe
has left. Only a sheet of paper lies on
the ground covered with two words: it's
forbidden, it's forbidden, it's forbidden..."
Ulrich sits shattered on the threshold.
Agathe sits down on a grave in the cemetery
playing with the phial of poison hanging
round her neck. A man, Lindner, goes up
to her and, introducing himself politely,
offers his help.
General Stumm virtually breaks in on
Ulrich who is lying half drunk in the
bedroom. With a smile he tosses aside
Agathe's underwear and triumphantly informs
Ulrich that he has discovered the crowning
concept of the Parallel Action. In other
words he has found the guiding principle
and leading concept that will bring social
tensions to an end, encourage mothers
once again to give birth, reinforce the
backbone of the subjects, give an aim
to youth, determine the boundaries between
good and evil and restore the world order
brought into motion by God: the solution,
therefore, is war - but this is said by
Ulrich, referring to Moltkera, to Stumm's
Rachel sits terrified in the bed-sit.
Outside you can hear ghastly shouting,
a burning man dashes out of one of the
flats, his wife with a can of petrol behind
him. Clarisse comes into the room, reassures
her that Ulrich has sent her and puts
a wad of banknotes down on the table.
Clarisse rushes into Ulrich's house and
grabs hold of the half drunk Ulrich, saying:
"Let's go and rescue Moosbrugger."
Clarisse and Ulrich - the latter needs
a bit of support - pay a visit on Dr.
Friedenthalt in the mental hospital. At
an opportune moment Clarisse picks up
his keyring, then leaves to go to the
cloakroom. Dr. Friedenthal is about to
set out after her but Ulrich starts talking
to him. In a dark nook of the corridor
Clarisse gets out a white overall and
puts it on. With the aid of various ruses
she manages to get into Moosbrugger's
cell. "Let's leave the details for
now," she says, putting an end to
the murderer's polite conversation. "I've
come to release you. But freedom has its
price." Moosbrugger enquires about
the conditions with elegance befitting
a star murderer. Clarisse quickly lists
all the things to be done in order to
change his outward appearance. "We'll
dye your hair, cut off your beard and
your leg." The slightly shocked Moosbrugger
agrees to have his right leg cut off after
a bit of bargaining.
Two nurses are stretching out a blanket
in Rachel's impoverished lodgings, behind
it they set up a temporary operating table
- the surgeon and assistant are getting
prepared. The door opens and Clarisse
comes in with Moosbrugger, who arrives
with gestures befitting a great artist.
Behind the blanket they begin the operation,
at the end of which Clarisse leaves with
Moosbrugger's leg wrapped in newspaper
under her arm. The nurses hastily pack
up their things and lay the murderer on
the bed. The doctor hands a package to
Rachel: "It's a leather case which
you have to strap to the stump. You'll
find the instructions inside." Rachel
dampens her handkerchief and wipes the
sleeping Moosbrugger's brow.
Clarise barges in on Walter with a crazed
look on her face, and dumps Moosbrugger's
cut off leg down on the red velvet lectern.
"You should paint this!" Wallter
looks shocked, he begins to understand
what this is about.
Agathe is walking through the huge halls
of the Kunshistorishes Museum with Lindner.
They are discussing the beauty of the
naked body. Lindner misunderstands one
of Agathe's gestures and offers her his
brotherly love which the girl turns down,
alluding to her feelings for Ulrich. Lindner
Moosbrugger is recovering in Rachel's
bed-sit. He makes advances to the young
servant girl which she doesn't reject.
Agathe finds Ulrich in the bedroom where
he is asleep fully clothed on the bed.
She kneels down beside him and takes him
in her arms. Her lips close over her brother's
mouth with boundless femininity. Ulrich
wakes up and passionately returns her
kisses. Agathe gets undressed then undresses
Ulrich. Their limbs intertwine, they themselves
change, moving into each other. Lights
flash, their bodies glow white hot.
The siblings are running along the seashore
naked, shouting like crazy birds. They
appear on the top of a rock and throw
themselves into the deep water. Softly,
soundlessly they sink in the foamy waves
which flame up with magnesium-light. Agathe
sits blinking in the empty hotel room.
The little girl in the white dress unfolds
from the dazzling light. Agathe stretches
out on the bed. Through the soft dips
of the sheet and pillows one can see a
mountain path along which Ulrich is coming
in a white suit with a straw hat. Then
we can see Agathe on the mountain path
in a white dress with a straw hat and
Ulrich is rolling on the bed naked. They
dash against each other on the hilltop
like meteors, and their naked bodies are
entangled on the bed as in their mother's
Rachel gives birth to Soliman's baby.
Moosbrugger assists at the birth. He is
awkward and extremely nervous, he'd like
to help as a perfect midwife. With the
tiny, bluish purple, wrinkled, yelling
baby in his lap he bursts into tears.
Then puts the child tenderly at Rachel's
breast. Now all three are crying.
Walter is feverishly painting the leg
which has already started to decompose.
Flies and horseflies buzz in the studio,
constantly settling on Walter who is feeling
so inspired he doesn't even notice them.
Clarisse's suitcases are on the seat,
while she is crouching in the net of the
luggage rack on the train. When the conductor
comes in she tickles his ear with her
ticket. "Frog prince!" she whispers.
Clarisse arrives at the seaside hotel.
Without a word of greeting she opens the
guest register and immediately finds what
she was looking for. "Room 29: Ulrich
Klenner, Agathe Klenner. Start of stay:
June 23 1914."Agathe's name is crossed
out. Clasrisse categorically demands the
key to room 29. In the corridor upstairs
she opens the door of room 29. Ulrich
is lying beside the wall in a terrible
state. A tiny object glistens beside him.
Clarisse sits him up, peels off his clothing
and starts licking the dirt off him.
Walter tries to take his leave of Ulrich
and Clarisse on a tiny island where he
has taken them. Sitting in the kitchen
Ulrich stares in front of himself with
an expressionless face. Clarisse is building
signs from stones and bird feathers in
When Walter leaves in a motorboat a small
armoured patrol boat arrives at the island.
Two soldiers unload a machine gun and
several crates. They start to dig.
Ulrich is walking alone on the island.
Clarisse is looking at her little messages
built from stones. The constantly appearing
and then disappearing little girl in a
white dress deciphers them.
In the meantime the soldiers have built
up a regular little firing position. From
the neighbouring rock Ulrich has noticed
a sign which has been seen many times
before: a feather across two stones. But
now beside it is a tiny glistening object:
Agathe's phial of poison.
According to the interpretation heard
in the voice of the little girl with a
white dress, "that means I desire
to see you, come to me, quickly, like
a bird, but you won't find me."