Himmelhoch jauchzend und zu Tode betrübt: Dysfunctional Families: Silence & Music and Identity & Reconnection in Caroline Link’s: “Jenseits der Stille” (“Beyond Silence”)


-I will lose her.

-Only if you make the same mistake as your parents.

-What do you mean?

-You have to accept her for what she is. With her ability to hear. We are deaf.

-She is my daughter.

-But you don’t own her.


The opening shot consists of an upward moving out of the absence or rather muffled echoes of sound beneath a frozen lake. It is a summarised depiction of the heroine’s, Lara’s, development: the daughter of deaf-mute parents finding herself within the realm of music. The struggle for identity, independence and autonomy, apart, and yet not without love, from her parents. It is interesting to note, that apart from the increasing ice-skating and vocal sounds, the atmosphere within the frozen lake reminds of the motherly womb, of deep connection, miscommunication, protection, sense of belonging, entitlement and to a certain extent the hoarding of another human being. Additionally, Lara and her aunt, Clarissa, are the ones ice-skating on the surface, scratching it, making contact and within a metaphorical context, the frozen underground of the lake being Lara’s parents’ world pressuring up against the hard surface, both parties try to be a part of each other’s world and to belong to one another.

Lara knows both worlds and it takes a lot of life to happen inbetween for her and her parents to regain common ground. “Jenseits der Stille” is a story about a young woman claiming her own life, listening to her vocation and finding herself. Also, it tells a story of parents finding their way back to their daughter and vice versa, as a girl, as a young woman and as a musician.

Clarissa is the epitome of joie de vivre, self-realisation, womanhood and nostalgia for the young Lara. Whilst Lara is stumbling on the lake, Clarissa (whose name is a mixture between Lara and clarinet) embraces her entire body and moves majestically and in control across the ice until she falls gracefully. The viewer is subjected to Lara’s idealised gaze and how she perceives her aunt who in their family and in her marriage has her own crosses to bear.

Already in this first scene, Lara’s urge for selfhood and change is introduced and how she orientates herself within her aunt’s parameters, searching for identification, holding Clarissa up as a twisted role model, the artist without the drive for art but certainly with the mood swings, an antidote to her parents. Clarissa portrays a certain lightness in Lara’s eyes in contrast to her parents with whom she feels she has to be more mature and responsible than her age requests. Not only is there a contrast of sound and silence between Clarissa and Lara’s parents, but also of light-heartedness and severity of life, which are two behaviours that Lara adopts and projections she makes.

Lara exists within her parents’ world. She is sheltered, loved, and both Martin and Kai let her in as much as Lara lets them be a part of her world which is rather non-existent for her at this point except for her ability to hear. In Clarissa, she sees the part of herself that has no outlet and no room for enhancement. For Martin, his daughter already possesses something that alienated him from his sister, Clarissa, and caused turbulences in his family life. Traumatised by certain events in Martin’s and Clarissa’s childhood, (he being their mother’s favourite, she being their father’s) he has an innate fear of losing his daughter over her ability to hear and his inability to do so. He is afraid to lose her to a world where he cannot follow and to something that he cannot relate to, hear or understand, namely the music she will eventually produce.

Whereas Clarissa embodies a role model for Lara, she represents alienation, discomfort, mockery, exclusion, loss and torment to Martin. That is the reason why he feels threatened by Clarissa’s presence in Lara’s life. Clarissa symbolises his assumed failure, being the dysfunctional son and his lack. Martin, despite all the obstacles he was faced with in his life, managed to get a job, a house and his own loving family which he tries to keep rather separated from his parents and sister, maintaining his own world where he is accepted as deaf-mute.

Subjected to her own kind of bullying and shortcomings, Lara has issues at school, struggling to read fluently and find friends her age who have the same maturity as her and yet there is no time because her parents need her almost full-time support. It is no wonder, despite their loving relationship, that Lara desires something of her own, something where she is fluent in, something that speaks her language and empathises with her side of the story, namely music, what she will create for herself.

There is a moment in which Martin asks Lara about the sound of snow, to which she answers that snow makes the world go silent and that snow swallows all sounds. This is a moment of intense bonding between Lara and her father, who have a very warm relationship. On another occasion, he enquires about the sounds of the sunrise whilst there is tension between them and she snaps at him that the sun rises without making a sound. In addition to that, Lara reminisces about Clarissa, associating her to the scent of summer and lilies of the valley. Again, Clarissa and Martin are treated as obvious and symbolical counterpoles with Lara ascending between the two.

It is striking to see that the only family member who masters sign language completely is Lara, Martin’s daughter, in contrast to his own mother, father and sister. Martin thinks that all of his issues with his parents and sister stem from his inability to hear and yet Clarissa has her own set of issues with them even though she can hear and speak. Martin’s family have created an additional layer of silence and seclusion for Martin as a boy as they followed a doctor’s advice to not learn sign language because that would deviate their son from trying to talk and since then they communicated with him with their hands at rest, not making an effort.

A cataclysmic scene, in which Lara’s passion for music is triggered, is when Clarissa plays the clarinet accompanied by her father at the piano during a Christmas party, and Martin desperately tries to maintain her attention away from the assumed provocation orchestrated by Clarissa against her brother. Martin sees it as an offence to him, the element that he cannot hear, that his daughter succumbs to, admires and dedicates her ears to, the charade that alienates him, sets him apart from his family and now he sees his daughter gravitating toward a world that he escaped. He tries to recapture Lara’s attention, but her eyes are on Clarissa and her budding aspirations. She cannot grasp Martin’s hostility and insecurity toward the spectacle and a flashback into his childhood clarifies his incomprehensive bystander stance.

What Martin could never relate to, Lara can and is indeed relating to and even identifying herself with. This is pure torment for the father. This scene reveals the antagonism between Martin and his sister, Clarissa, who to some extent enjoys Lara’s deifying attention and her brother’s jealousy.

In her niece, Clarissa sees an opportunity to defy boredom and find meaning in her own life. She encourages Lara’s interest in music, gives her the first clarinet on which she learned how to play and acknowledges the girl’s admiration for her. Clarissa initiates Lara into her own life, restarting from scratch, handing her lipstick to her niece, holding up photographs of herself at Lara’s age and smacking their lips in unison at their mirror images. When Clarissa mentions to Lara that her hair was much shorter when she was her age, she puts pressure on her to let her cut it, which Lara secretly does not want yet agrees to. Whatever it takes to make Lara more similar to her aunt. The haircut is the proof that Clarissa exerts a certain influence over Lara. It is the first step toward independence from her parents, but dependence on Clarissa.

As Lara finds a proper support system from her music teacher and becomes better at playing the clarinet, Martin finds himself catapulted back into his boyhood anxieties. The more she spends time playing, the more disintegrated, shunned and powerless he feels. For him, it is a step outside of his grasp, of losing her, of her fleeing from his world. For Lara, it is the one thing she loves to do, she is good at and something that belongs entirely to her and which her father, because of his complex emotions, tries to deny her. It means freedom to Lara, predominantly freedom of expression without judgement, blame or guilt. Martin considers his deaf-muteness to define him whereas Lara defines herself with the music she brings forth.

Martin does not want his daughter to lose her willingness to let him take part in her world because she is the only one who, as a hearing relation to him, to make the effort to realise communication with him that goes two ways.

When Martin’s and Kai’s second daughter, Marie is born, Lara has more space to develop her clarinet capacities. One can see that mostly Martin does not participate in his daughter’s ambitions and gradually dissolves from their context. Kai, Lara’s mother, tries to give her daughter something back, for example learning how to ride a bike and showing her support for her music years later when she buys concert tickets for Lara and herself. She acknowledges her daughter’s dreams and lets her roam within them freely. Martin is a bit more possessive and yet for a long time not reciprocating his daughter’s sacrifices or realising what he would have wished for himself as a boy for his daughter.

At Lara’s first concert, and the many following after that, it is clear to her that this is indeed her own sphere and to a certain extent her parents excluded themselves as they never showed up for her concerts. The presence of her peers’ parents and the absence of hers make her even more determined to pursue her own vocation. It is a space for her own unhindered development. Their absence tells her that they are not taking part in her world even if given the chance. This is the moment where Lara immerses herself into the ideal of her aunt, the fantasy of her as a clarinet artist and adult woman who is free to do whatever she fancies. At some point, the empty seats of Lara’s parents will be filled by Clarissa.

In the scene where Clarissa sees Lara play the clarinet as an eighteen-year-old woman, one can detect a nostalgia in her gaze, a sense of longing, of recuperating lost time, of reclaiming possibilities and zest for life and musicality. What is mostly written across Clarissa’s features when she looks at her niece is the promise of a soulmate, a companion who has her back in the family they both share, someone who understands her and feels what she feels, someone she can have for herself.

Lara’s sister, Marie, is the complete opposite of her. She is light-hearted, easy-going and does not take life too seriously and her behaviour translates into the relationship she has with their parents. For Lara, it was completely different, her childhood was complex and demanding, challenging even, and she took everything including the condition of her parents seriously (Marie as well, but in her own way) with a once in a while trickery in her favour. Although there is no rivalry between Lara and Marie in contrast to Martin and Clarissa, Lara has issues understanding how Marie’s youth can be so utterly different from her own.

When Lara travels to Berlin to live with her aunt to prepare herself for her audition to a renowned conservatorium, she observes the reality of Clarissa’s routines and everyday life and discovers that her edges for herself, differentiating herself in what she sees, what resonates with her and what doesn’t. When Lara plays a piece on her clarinet to Clarissa, her aunt’s face is bored, misunderstanding, disinterested, unengaged and depressed. Lara’s music has a melancholia to it that her aunt tries to evade or run away from even though she herself possesses it and rather engages in destructive behaviour instead of releasing it through music; she prefers to overplay what she feels in contrast to Lara who uses music to express herself.

Lara’s music stems from her childhood and life in a silent house with her parents, their condition, their world, her desires, her sense of belonging and aspirations beyond and within. What nobody knows at this point is that Lara’s music and her parents are interdependent, both fuelling each other inside of Lara’s heart, creativity, mind and memory. It sets herself free on her own terms whilst keeping them with her. Her music expresses who she is and that makes it genuine. It is exactly this blunt realism and sentimentality that Clarissa rejects and disapproves of, something that she cut ties with a long time ago, something that takes her back, something that might sadden her in associative thought. It is a type of mood that she is all too familiar with but refuses to acknowledge and identify herself with. For Lara, nothing has ever been more liberating and representative. As soon as Clarissa tries to cast Lara in her preformed mould, in conflict with her identity, and Lara stands her ground, Clarissa discourages her niece.

When Lara meets Tom, a teacher for deaf-mute children, she rediscovers her love for her roots, but in a more light-hearted adult way which Tom’s free-spirited nature, equal to that of Marie, brings forth. Tom emanates a love of life overall and in the context of deaf-muteness (his father is deaf-mute) that Lara can identify with, and not feel burdened, guilty or desperate. Lara realises that a lust for life is person-dependent and has nothing to do with deaf-muteness. Lara’s mother deals completely differently with her inability to hear and speak, she might have had a more ideal upbringing, but Lara was mostly raised in the very strong bond with her father who never stopped feeling sorry for himself and that is how Lara feels in his world and in her own too.

In the scene where Tom translates Gloria Gaynor’s song “I will survive” with sign language to Lara who participates, his powerful and life-affirmative energy radiates toward Lara’s face and captures her. He gives her another perspective, another attitude and he stirs emotions inside of her as she realises that there are other ways to feel, think and live and that not everything needs to be serious and dramatic. Tom tells it to her, trying to let it come out of Lara’s mouth: “I will survive”, as a musician, as a daughter and as a young woman and the same counts for Martin who is very capable to be self-sufficient even though they both don’t know that yet until life tests them.

When Lara’s mother dies, Martin falls into a deep despair and anger toward his firstborn daughter. The blame and accusatory feelings that he had directed toward her as she left for Berlin come back at her and are blown out of proportion. He goes as far as hinting at her guilt in her mother’s fatal accident with a bike, because he thinks that if Lara hadn’t asked, Kai would never have tried to get on a bike and please her daughter. That’s where Kai and Martin are different, he always remains in his static safe zone and Kai is her own person taking part in life and putting herself out there even if it’s risky; she is never blocked by her past, her inabilities or fears.

Whereas Kai went into the world to experience it herself in her own way, Martin found stagnant comfort within the parameters of his own created family, not in the world as he felt shunned by it and never made his way back; there was too much disappointment and abandonment for him, always feeling like an outsider that people are ashamed of. Martin never rid himself of what he thinks his family thinks of him and projects that into the world. The only connection he seeks with the outside world is through Lara and remains passive and secludes himself. To bring life toward him seems to be Lara’s responsibility. With Kai’s death, he feels betrayed by the world once more.

Whilst Martin tells Lara that he doesn’t want music in his house, Giora Feidman, a renowned clarinettist, to whose concert Kai invited Lara, tells her that everything she needs is inside of her, that she doesn’t need to learn and that she should listen to the song inside of her. During the concert, Lara, with her mother’s empty seat beside her, transcends into memories of her life, her time with her mother, the love they share and her passion for music, the sound of her very own clarinet. It is a moment of inspiration for Lara, of reorientation, and self-identification, contemplating her girlhood, her mother and the sound of her song.

When Lara gains access to the sound of her song and plays it out loud for the very first time in almost full shape, Tom listens to it and feels who she really is, what she feels deep inside of her and what drives her forward. Whilst she is playing her song to Tom, she is both vulnerable and determined, leading to a love-making scene.

In the following confrontation scene with her father, Lara tells him everything he already knows deep inside of him and repressed, she faces him with truth, her own and his which he doesn’t want to hear, because he knows that she is right and that he needs to step out of his solitude and seclusion and not fall deeper into his vicious circle of despair and self-pity.

Lara understands, as she goes back to Berlin, that her aunt found refuge in shallow extramarital relationships, superficial music and a pretentious life whilst her father escaped into the opposite extreme. Clarissa can’t confront Lara’s music because she can’t confront her own. Lara’s music is deeply sincere, unfiltered and emotive whilst Clarissa wasted her talent to cover up what is inside of her, making it superficial and suppressive. Lara explains to her aunt that she never had any real interest in furthering her music, getting to know it in its true form the same as she never made the effort to get to know her brother Martin. Lara tells her that has no right to judge Martin, because she has no idea what is feels like to be him and the same counts for Lara as Clarissa refuses to listen to her music as it takes her back to her own family, feelings of sadness and imperfection, and to her own shortcomings and memories. If she listens to Lara’s music, Clarissa would have to face herself which she denies. She portrays herself to be light-hearted, but is anything but, it is a façade she put on to convince everyone that she is all right.

When Lara moves in with her uncle Gregor (who moved out of his and Clarissa’s flat) he says to her that he wishes Clarissa had ever loved him as much as she loves Lara, her father and Martin and that there is no room for him in her head. Gregor reveals a truth about Clarissa that she is unwilling to see and acknowledge.

As Martin says to Clarissa, it is a family issue to feel sorry for themselves, he and his sister have a moment of recognising that they might not be too different from one another and that their parents were not ideal for either of them. The fact that Martin lives with his youngest daughter Marie gives him new hope as she has Kai’s energetic spirit and counteracts his despair, somewhat teaching him an alternative life that he can gain new courage and perspectives from. Marie equilibrates him and gives him new hope and energy.

Martin’s and Lara’s conflicts arise because they are so alike and what they dislike about one another is what they dislike about themselves and vice versa. When Lara describes her kind of music to the jury, she describes the exact counterpoles that run through the whole movie and her own family, on the one hand it is jolly and light and on the other hand it is sad and not quite free.

In the moment Lara is about to start her audition, Martin, who travelled 500km, appears in the auditorium to listen to her music. After all these years, the pain and anxiety, Martin finds the strength to come out of his shell and includes himself in his daughter’s world, the realm of music that he felt so ejected by and tries his very best to understand it, feel it and support it. He finally realises that Lara’s music is not an aggression against him, not an act to exclude him, shame him, put him on the spot with his deaf-muteness, like in his past with his family, no, it is a song about him, his daughter, their love and sorrows, their own family and their unusual happiness. His daughter’s song is a song that embraces him, that speaks of love and unison as well as tragedies and loneliness. And Martin perceives that he has a complete right of existence in his daughter’s music, that it would never sound the same without him in her life, as her father. She includes him fully. This is the first time he can appreciate music because it is not used against him and because it does not operate on superficialities but emotions that connect him with his daughter. This is the moment in which daughter and father reconnect and find each other again after their fight. Lara’s music does not attack him, it is a safe zone, and as much as Lara tried in her entire childhood to understand his silence he will return the favour by doing his best to understand her music.

arc art bass bowed string instrument
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com















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