Till Kleinert’s Der Samurai is not a typical horror film – no more a slasher than a thriller or a Japanese revenge film (Kill Bill references abound). It’s a beautifully and brutally orchestrated metaphor about small town mentality and an attempt to escape from it through anger and violence.
Michel Diercks plays Jakob, a newbie police officer in a remote German village where everyone knows each other and abides by the same narrow-minded rules. The suffocating atmosphere propels Jakob straight towards the woods and wolves which start terrorizing the village – the same way its inhabitants terrorize Jakob. They constantly sneer at him, undermining his decisions. His awkwardness and shy demeanor only accentuate the village’s reaction to someone they perceive as an outsider, insecure and not manly enough.
Fascinated with the wolves, and attempting to lure them away from the village with raw meat, Jakob stumbles across a different kind of manliness in the form of a man in a white, blood splattered dress.
Jakob receives a long, thin package with his name crossed out and addressed to a “Lonely Wolf”. Shortly afterwards, he receives a phone call from the said “Wolf”, reminiscent of the Mystery Man from Lost Highway, inviting him into his “den” – an isolated cottage in the woods where Jakob finds him putting on lipstick, ready to go out “dancing”. The man in the white dress opens the package and takes out a samurai sword.
From the beginning, Jakob’s actions have been clumsy: he blindly lets himself be lured to the stranger’s home forgetting his gun. The lack of a weapon does not stop him from running after the Samurai when things escalate. The Samurai, however, seems to be his opposite: once he starts destroying the village and killing the villagers he performs that which such grace and coordination, leaving Jakob completely unsuited to deal with the situation.
As much as the Samurai is Jakob’s opposite, he is also his doppelganger: Mr Hyde to his Dr Jekyll. The package is addressed to both him and the “Lone Wolf” – in crossing out his name Till Kleinert hints at a transformation Jakob is about to experience. The same name is also attributed to him by a woman whose car breaks down and who he tries, very unsuccessfully, to seduce.
The seduction of violence, on the other hand, becomes too strong to pass up. In one of the film’s many symbolic scenes, the Samurai coerces Jakob to desecrate an ornamental pink flamingo, referencing without a doubt John Waters. The anger and pure energy with which he destroys this symbol of small-town mentality marks his descent into darkness.
Darkness is, of course, embodied in the Samurai: a bit too obvious conjuring of the Freudian animalistic id. As the night progresses, the demarcation between Jakob and the Samurai gets increasingly blurry. From fascination he finally moves towards action, as he recognizes in the Samurai a complete slap in the face, or a sword across the neck of normative society. The Samurai is an effeminate warrior whose appearance, sexuality and strength undermine social fabrics of the isolated German village.
(Spoilers ahead.) A particularly striking scene is the one in which the two characters dance together in front of a bonfire, “watched” by the beheaded villagers arranged around them: an audience of empty cages – or headless dogs to their wolves as the Samurai describes it at one point. This staged aspect of the film plays well with the performative sexuality of the main characters. The queer element, however, has lead to many simplified interpretations of the film that connect femininity with homosexuality, criticizing Kleinert’s view of the latter as a deviance that needs to be destroyed before it produces more damage.
Jakob does kill the Samurai in the end, but not in some sort of a victory against “deviance”. On the contrary, Till Kleinert has from the start made this utterly clear. Jakob is not killing a “transvestite”, as the villagers call the Samurai, but an irrational (and childish) answer to the cage in which the village has imprisoned him. A reaction to normativity that is simply – too much. And similarly limited as the village.
The moment Jakob sees the head of the woman he wanted to seduce in the bonfire, he starts coming to his senses. Severed head of the woman he fancied brings him back to humanity and away from darkness. And as the day finally breaks, he kills the Samurai in a scene that vividly emphasizes the stranger’s bestial nature. Like a satyr, he meets his death with a full erection, ejaculating from his neck as Jakob decapitates him.