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Film / The Baader Meinhof Complex

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The Baader Meinhof Complex (German: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) is a 2008 German film by Uli Edel. The film is based on the 1985 German best selling non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust.

The film depicts the story of the West German far-left extremist group known as the Red Army Faction (German: Rote Armee Fraktion, or RAF), led by Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) as they went from radicalized idealists to terrorists committing increasingly senseless and brutal acts of violence with the Cold War as distant backdrop. It also depicts the methodical manhunt by the West German police to stop them, led by Horst Herold (Bruno Ganz).

The film was an Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign Language Picture, but lost to the Japanese film Departures and the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir respectively.

The Baader Meinhof Complex provides examples of:

  • Action Duo: Andreas Baader and his girlfriend, Gudrun Ensslin. Later Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Peter Boock.
  • Assassination Attempt: Rudi Dutschke is shot on the streets by an angry right wing young man.
  • Avenging the Villain
    • After Petra Schelm's death, the RAF move from committing bank robberies and start bombing corporate targets and U.S. military installments.
    • The RAF's second generation believe their acts are avenging the alleged extrajudicial executions of their imprisoned leaders. They're quite upset to learn that their leaders actually killed themselves.
  • Author Avatar: The film is based on the non-fiction book written by journalist Stefan Aust. Aust appears in the film, played by Volker Bruch.
  • Baby Carriage: Used to hide an assault rifle for the Schleyer kidnapping.
  • Bathtub Bonding: Gudrun gets to know a young Peter Boock this way.
  • Beauty Inversion: Martina Gedeck and Moritz Bleibtreu are noticeably made to appear grubby and unkempt in order to more closely resemble the real Baader and Meinhof.
  • Berserk Button: Questioning any of Baader's reasoning or methods sends Baader into a disproportionate rage.
  • The Book Cipher: Moby Dick is used.
  • Book Safe: The guns used for the Suicide Pact are smuggled in by a sympathetic lawyer in his briefing papers.
  • Butt-Monkey: Ulrike Meinhof. Her husband cheats on her. She loses her children after attempting to ship them to an orphan camp in Jordan. She gets arrested. She's ostracized by other members of the RAF, especially Gudrun. She eventually hangs herself in prison.
  • Culture Clash: Muslim terrorists sharing the training camp with the RAF are not pleased about them sunbathing in the nude and both sexes having the same quarters.
  • Curbstomp Battle: The RAF against Hanns-Martin Schleyer's bodyguards. In the previous scene, the RAF even discuss how the bodyguards are highly trained and battle-hardened. The RAF kill all four of Schleyer's bodyguards before they can even fire back and successfully kidnap Schleyer.
  • Cycle of Revenge: The movie ends on the murder of Schleyer, showing the terrorist violence will continue.
  • Dark Action Girl: All the women in the RAF can count as this.
  • Dirty Cop: One of them fatally shoots a left-wing student activist at the beginning of the move. This leads to the radicalization of the political left in West Germany, and is one of the triggers for the RAF's decision to turn to terrorism.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: While training in Jordan, the RAF's ladies have a sunbath topless on a roof, which catches the eyes of the local warriors and infuriates their warlords even more against the RAF in addition to Baader's Not What I Signed Up For rants.
  • Dragon Ascendant: The second generation of the RAF, led by Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Peter Boock.
  • Driven to Suicide
    • After being ostracized by her fellow RAF members, Meinhof becomes depressed and hangs herself in her cell.
    • After authorities thwarted the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181, which the PFLP took over in hopes of releasing the imprisoned RAF members, Baader, Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe killed themselves with smuggled guns. Irmgard Möller tried to, but survived.
  • Driver Faces Passenger: Baader, Ensslin, Peter Boock and company speed down the Autobahn, swapping cigarettes between cars and shooting at highway signs.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Baader and the imprisoned leaders of the first generation of the RAF are appalled by the second generation putting innocent lives in harm's way.
  • Force Feeding: When the first generation of the RAF is initially imprisoned, they decide to go on hunger strike. Holger Meins is force-fed through a tube. He dies anyway..
  • Foreshadowing: At the beginning of the film, an activist on TV claims the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinian people was no different from how the Nazis treated the Jews, hinting how the RAF will become just as bad as the people they're fighting against.
  • Former Regime Personnel: One of the catalysts for the RAF's actions, and also a major reason they had popular support, was the widespread belief that the denazification process in Germany after WW2 was ineffective. Many actual and suspected Nazi party members were indeed still in high positions of government, administration and industry.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Andreas Baader. Also Peter, originally an escapee from a juvenile detention center, rises through the ranks to become a leader of the RAF's second generation.
  • Going Commando: Several Arab terrorists are startled by the sight of a female terrorist in a miniskirt showing she's not wearing panties as she clambers out of a land rover.
  • Heroic BSoD: The second generation when they learn that the original leaders were not executed as they had been led to believe.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The real Petra Schelm, while not unattractive by any means, wasn't quite as photogenic as Alexandra Maria Lara.
  • Hollywood Healing: Averted with Rudi Dutschke, who suffers brain damage from his attempted assassination. The injury eventually led to his death after the events of the film.
  • Hostage Situation: the RAF's preferred tactic, from abducting individual targets like Jürgen Ponto and Hanns-Martin Schleyer, to hijacking planes and occupying the West German embassy in Sweden.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Baader taunts Mahler into stealing from an old lady's handbag, then flips out when moments later his car is stolen. Despite the fact that the car had been stolen by them in the first place.
  • Large Ham: Many characters have their ham moments, but Andreas by far takes the cake with his tantrums.
  • Looks Like Jesus: During the riot at the Springer newspaper, a shirtless bearded man loudly denounces the lousy state of the world.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Public protests force the government to move the prisoners out of solitary confinement, giving them larger cells with books and television, in their own cell block. However this trope zig-zags according to the political climate — when the Lufthansa hijacking occurs, all televisions are confiscated, the prisoners are locked in their cells and wooden panels placed over the doors to prevent them communicating (they use radios smuggled into the cells to do so anyway).
  • My God, What Have I Done?: One of the terrorists was a family friend of Jürgen Ponto's family and wanted only to kidnap him. Ponto fights back and is killed.
  • Nazi Grandpa: One of the central elements of the RAF's beliefs is that the older generation (that of their parents, mostly) let Nazism happen and even took part to it (which was true, especially about state servants that were needed to rebuild the country's administration after 1945) and got no comeuppance for it, hence their use of fascism-related words to describe both that generation and the West German form of government and justice.
  • Never Suicide: In-Universe where the RAF regard any death of their members as a Government Conspiracy, whether in a gunfight with police or a death-in-custody through suicide or hunger strike. Holger Meins is implied to have died through deliberate negligence (by failing to arrange a doctor), though the movie leaves it ambiguous whether the others on 'Death Night' died of Suicide Pact or conspiracy.
  • Not What I Signed Up For: Played straight at the training camp in Jordan, when Baader is frustrated by the lack of training for urban terrorism.
  • Police Brutality: The Berlin police attack students protesting the visit by the Shah of Iran at the beginning of the film, and one is shot to death, sparking the left-wing terrorist groups' actions. Later on Holger Meins is beaten by police after he's arrested.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Petra Schelm takes one right below the eye.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Baader calls out Horst Mahler, a lawyer sympathetic to the RAF, on this.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Especially with the first generation. Shown in a montage where news of attacks by the RAF are played alongside news of RAF members being captured.
  • Real Footage Re-creation: The film utilises this trope repeatedly, recreating well-known footage of the 2nd of June Berlin riots of 1967 (including, photos taken of student Benno Ohnesorg moments before and after he was fatally shot by policeman Karl-Heinz Curras), as well as photos taken during the 1972 arrest of Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe and Holger Meins. It also recreates events like the attempted murder of Rudi Dutschke and the abduction of Hanns-Martin Schleyer based on crime scene photography.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Horst Herold. He's tireless in pursuing the RAF, but also presses his superiors to gain a better understanding of the terrorists and their public appeal.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: the young man who shoots Rudi Dutschke.
  • The Strategist: Horst Herold has a clever and methodical strategy to bring the RAF down, and its application pays off.
  • Taking the Kids:
    • Meinhof does this to her husband, after she catches him cheating on her.
    • In turn it happens to Meinhof herself, when her estranged husband, with the help of Peter Homann and Stefan Aust (the author of The Baader Meinhof Complex), took his daughters back from Sicily to prevent Ulrike from sending them to an orphan camp in Jordan.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: For the most part averted. The film is widely praised amongst historians for by and large sticking to the historical accounts and sources surrounding the RAF and their deeds. However some have noted that it's Politically Correct History, especially the details surrounding Stammhein prison.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The RAF goes through this as the film progresses, as their attacks become more and more violent, and less focused on fighting for the causes the organization was founded upon.
  • Villain Protagonist: The RAF against what they view as an imperialistic, corporate, ex-Nazi dominated police state.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: As portrayed in the film, the founders of RAF (especially Meinhof) genuinely believed that they lived in a fascist state and that their actions would help liberate the oppressed peoples of the world. The film also portrays a good portion of the German people as sympathetic to the RAF's cause and open to sheltering members, until the effects of too much bloodsheds start turning opinions against them.
  • Western Terrorists: The RAF, who are Marxist-Leninist.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: the RAF isn't without it sympathizers and supporters in West Germany.