World cinema is an invaluable way to develop empathy. It transports us to places we may never get to visit. Likewise, it shows distinct stories from creators who grew up in distinct sociocultural settings. One of those stories is System Crashers, which is Germany’s official entry to the 92nd Academy Awards.
It’s difficult to explain the film in one word. But that’s exactly the point: The film explores themes that shouldn’t be reduced to a single term. And if you’ve seen Todd Phillips’ Joker, you may want to check this out — or perhaps avoid it.
More Unnerving Than ‘Joker’
Joker is worthy of praise for many reasons. It has great visuals that elevate the Joker’s state of mind. The shots are filled with color and we can see how lived-in Gotham is. Furthermore, a haunting score helps audiences empathize with someone as terrifying as the Joker.
So what makes System Crasher and Joker similar? These two movies address the problems surrounding mental and emotional health. In Joker, Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck. He crumbles under the weight of his childhood trauma and an uncaring society — one that won’t even fund therapy services.
In System Crasher, Helena Zengel’s character is Benni. Like Fleck, she’s suffering from childhood trauma. We don’t know what exactly happened to her, but we see its severe effects. Everyone in the movie wants Benni to recover. But there are no available options to help her in the long run.
If you’ve seen Joker, you know how intense it is to witness someone breaking down. Some may close their eyes while others can’t help but face the screen. With System Crasher, it feels all too real. Benni doesn’t hail from a comic book series. The movie portrays her as someone that does exist in our world.
Dealing with a Complex Issue
System Crasher makes you feel queasy because it confronts its themes straightforwardly. It doesn’t rely on an obscure representation. There’s no need for vague symbolism. Instead, it shows a child dealing with something even adults shouldn’t experience. It’s a tough look at reality.
But make no mistake: The film attempts to save people like Benni. It doesn’t give up on individuals who hurt others and themselves. System Crasher is aware of how people who are in pain need the most care and attention. Yet it also acknowledges the social and scientific limitations of the available options.
Excellent Lead Performances
The movie wouldn’t be so effective without Helene Zengel and Albrecht Schuch. The former is so good at being Benni. You’d wonder if she’s tapping from a similar real-life experience. Likewise, the latter also acts in a way that makes you understand his share of emotional problems.
Both characters need help — and they try to help each other. Yet the circumstances are far too much for either of them to handle. You want them to get better, but it doesn’t always work out for everyone.
You may not like the inconclusive finale. But even the choice of director Nora Fingscheidt to end the film this way reflects real-world shortcomings. System Crasher works because it highlights how some solutions don’t work for everyone.