Film Review: Head-On (Gegen die Wand)

Posted in conjunction with the course Multicultural Germany in fall semester 2015.
Author: Andrew Christensen

Gegen die Wand is a dark and dramatic romance directed and written by Fatih Akın. The film makes a powerful statement about the nature of love and family by exploring the unorthodox relationship between two initially broken individuals – Sibel and Cahit. The male protagonist Cahit begins his arc as an alcoholic drug addict, who, in a particularly drunken bender, crashes his car at full speed into a wall. At a mental health clinic, Cahit meets Sibel, who introduces herself by immediately asking Cahit to marry her.

I found that the writer used a fascinating connection with Turkish culture in order to develop the story. In the beginning of the film, Cahit did not manifest his Turkish culture in any way. He seems to resent when the psychologist asks what his name means, saying “[Turks’] names have beautiful meanings.” Cahit does not want to be seen as an “exotic” person with an elegant, meaningful name. In fact, at one point he is shown saying “fucking Turks,” only to have Sibel remind him that “you’re one of them.” Cahit has little familial connection to Turkey, as both of his parents have passed away. Sibel, on the other hand, struggles throughout the movie with trying to appease her Turkish parents while also living the lifestyle she wants, not governed by the expectations of conduct of her family. These opposing motivations are what cause Sibel to ask Cahit to marry her – to appease her parents while not having a “real” relationship holding her back.

By the end of the movie, despite the fact that Sibel’s father burned all of the pictures of his daughter, Cahit and Sibel both seem to feel a greater connection to Turkey than ever before. Sibel returns simply because there were people in Turkey who would help her make a living, and Cahit eventually goes to Turkey in hopes of winning back Sibel’s love. The motif of connection to one’s country of origin seems to suggest that there is a bond between a person and their home country that goes beyond family and goes beyond the trivial fact that a person’s origin never changes. Despite Sibel’s severed connection to her parents and even despite the fact that in the end, Sibel does not follow Cahit to his hometown, both individuals end up pursuing happiness in the places from which they originate. This seems to highlight the necessity of feeling at home and feeling at peace with one’s identity as a prerequisite for happiness. This introduces two important prerequisites for maintaining a complete identity while living far from one’s place of origin – feeling at home where one lives and embracing one’s original nationality.

The story of Cahit and Sibel, though emotionally taxing to watch, made for a really excellent movie. It showed a fascinating, oddly supportive relationship, and highlighted the fact that love can navigate even the most complicated situations involving suicidal alcoholics with strict parents. This surprisingly uplifting message is situated within a tremendous amount of chaotic turmoil, as Sibel and Cahit both engage in self-destructive behavior, often as they unsuccessfully try to deny their feelings for one another. The various complications that arise as these two disparate individuals start feeling for one another in their own ways and within their own time frames make for a challenging yet fascinating drama, and the corresponding character arcs make for some incredible transformations throughout the film.

– Andrew Christensen


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