Asuperficial viewing of Volker Schlöndorff's The Ogre (1996) cannot fail to produce in the mind of the spectator familiar with Schlöndorff's earlier work a whole network of references and parallels to the director's other films. The opening scenes in a boys' boarding school rework elements of Young Törless. A naive hero who has a boy's psyche in a mature man's body can be seen as an inverse of The Tin Drum's Oskar, who had a mature psyche in a boy's body. The Ogre's spectacle of collective Nazi rituals recalls comparable assemblies in The Handmaid's Tale. And the director's fascination with the war-torn areas of the Baltic region and East Prussia, established in Coup de Grâce and The Tin Drum, returns here in yet another inverted variant on the Heimatfilm.
At the same time, The Ogre explores new ground for Schlöndorff. In it, the filmmaker treats the themes of innocence and guilt, suggesting that guilt about the Third Reich should include guilt not just about the Holocaust but also about the lives of thousands of young German men who were sacrificed. Schlöndorff's treatment of this era differs from that of others in his use of a central character who is a kind of mythic, ahistoric archetype, resulting in a collision between specific historical details and a poetic figure whose narrative function is to provide a point of view about these details. In addition, The Ogre employs an overarching metaphor that disturbingly compares the seductive qualities of fascism to pedophilia. The result is a narrative that encourages and then discourages—in repeated alternation—identification with the hero, that piles on ideological contradictions, and that ultimately confused and offended critics and audiences.
Schlöndorff's source material is the novel by Michel Tournier called Le roi des aulnes (1970) and retitled The Ogre in its English translation (1972). The original title is a direct reference to Goethe's poem “Der Erlkönig, ” a romantic ballad celebrating childhood, imagination, and the magic of nature. Erlkönig is also the title of Tournier's book in German, although Schlöndorff deliberately used the more generic title Der Unhold, to avoid an excessively charged reference to