Director: Rupert Jörg
Writer: Rupert Jörg
Running time: 12mins
Famously, Oscar Wilde said that there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about; and that is not being talked about. That received wisdom forms the core tenet of many a content creator’s life – from stand-up comedians to experimental filmmakers, and everything in between – because being provocative pays. This has seen much of the creative world engage in a desperate scramble to the bottom of the barrel, in a bid to press buttons, no matter the cost. After all, outrage gets you on the news, it fills out exhibition spaces, and leads inevitably to Netflix specials.
Rupert Jörg’s The eclipse of the black sun is a product of its environment in that sense. It consists largely of an ominous portmanteau, playing the greatest hits of the alt-right, which is framed with short sequences from White Tonight – a fictional internet series for neo-Nazi youths, hosted by a young girl.
Much of this seems to play with the fact that the fascist movements of the 21st century have been very good at weaponising the internet’s algorithms to go mainstream. First as a joke to deride, then as a threat to bemoan, then as a legitimate viewpoint to listen to. For example, the opening item of White Tonight is a segment where viewers have apparently been called upon to target LGBT+ symbolism, before sending in their clips to construct a viral montage – walking over, tearing up or burning rainbow flags wherever they were to be found.
The segment takes on the crude, intentionally sloppy editing style popular in memes – codifying what is an act of homophobic animosity as just a bit of silly fun. In an increasingly alienated, atomised society, that interactive element inviting the viewer to participate in some collective silly fun has proven to be a siren’s call. So much so that it has persuaded people around the world to ingest bleach, and choke themselves until they give themselves brain-damage – but when used in a context of a political movement that promises a new collective identity, it can also prove to be a supremely effective recruitment tool. At least in terms of the initial hook.
When it comes to landing a catch, there needs to be some more extensive ideological input. That comes when the host of White Tonight follows up the jaunty ‘rainbow fighters’ sequence with a wide-ranging monologue about the state of society. Suddenly wearing Joker makeup – a nod to the recontextualising of Heath Ledger’s anarchic villain as a figurehead for angry young white men – she launches into a polemic about the degradation of society, and the monetary system which has corrupted everything that it touches. It is a rehashing of traditional Nazi thought – playing with genuine problems identified by socialist thought, but subverting energies away from addressing them by challenging the economic system, and instead channelling them into an ethno-nationalist project, vilifying certain parts of the population.
It’s all very disturbing – especially when paired with the footage of the fruits this grand ideological project is already bearing around the world. Footage from Germany, the US, Poland, and many other countries shows fascist groups which are large and worryingly well organised.
The biggest problem is that the film finds it difficult to strike a defined tone on any of this, though. A large part of the film also seems dedicated to showing how absurd and pathetic the far right is. One sequence, for example, sees another young girl try to explain why different ethnicities should not interbreed – illustrating what that could lead to by splicing a toy duck and a teddy bear together. Meanwhile, another segment centres on ‘folk-sports’ – and the efforts of a teenage boy who has left modern society to pursue a life of training in the forest. The training of the boy’s scrawny frame largely involves throwing sticks laughably short distances, eating berries, and squeaking “Valhalla” at a deserted waterfall. It is a funny sequence, admittedly, and does give us a much-needed insight into the production (it had been played so straight until now that I was worried Rupert Jörg had sent me a legitimate neo-Nazi recruitment video).
But since other parts of the film emphasise how fascists continue to openly exploit silly fun – even derision supposedly at their own expense – it seems strange that we should have regressed to “look how silly the Nazis are, they’ll never win like this” territory. Whether or not you believe Donald Trump is a fascist, he supplies a clear blueprint for this. Being openly mocked by the ‘liberal elite’ did him the power of good throughout his successful 2016 election campaign. So much of the ‘critique’ of Trump focused on rebuffing him as a ridiculous person, rather than addressing the situation he sought to exploit. America was and is broken, just not in a way his politics would remotely help with. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling, its people are suffocated by debt, and exploited by an economy that would sooner see them die than supply them public healthcare. Ignoring all that, while joking about how ridiculous a fat, orange man in the White House would be, did little to detract from people’s vague awareness that something was wrong – while giving him enough oxygen to win as the guy who pledged to ‘fix it’, even if his diagnosis and remedy were utterly inane.
Possibly the biggest problem with The eclipse of the black sun is that it seems to fall into this trap. It wants to offer up a reason for why fascism is the wrong way to go – but it seems too committed to the provocative potential of playing it straight. Caught in a no-man’s land, where it is unwilling or unable to properly challenge the ideology put out by its archetypal Aryan girl, the best it can muster is that “these people are idiots.” In a film which very clearly demonstrates that idiots are still capable of winning battles, and using those victories to do some very nasty things, that is not going to cut the mustard.
In many ways, The eclipse of the black sun works as an examination of how neo-Nazi propaganda is succeeding in the internet age – picking up modern rituals and weaponising them for recruitment, as set out in Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. But it seems unsure of what it wants. Does it want to show this ideology up for what it is, to critique it, and to offer its own conclusions? If so, it has not done enough. Or, does it want simply to be provocative, and commodify a violent historical force which, in that case, it is underestimating? If so, it’s so preoccupied with whether or not it could, it didn’t stop to think if it should.