Criterion // 1971 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // June 18th, 2007
"It is sexual energy which governs the structure of human feeling and
Congratulations on your purchase of The Criterion Collection's presentation of Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism! We know you'll be happy in your decision. Many first-time viewers of WR: Mysteries of the Organism have trouble understanding the myriad complexities that exist within this Yugoslavian epic. That's why we've decided to act as your guide as we enter the world of WR: Mysteries of the Organism. Take our hands and prepare for a magical journey...
One of the first hurdles first-time viewers of WR: Mysteries of the Organism must overcome to achieve gnosis is the film's interesting structure.
There are two facets that we must view on our journey. The first is the documentary portion, where the filmmakers interview those people who have been touched by the teachings of Wilhelm Reich; people such as his family and practioners of his philosophies. This documentary encompasses the majority of the overall film.
Meanwhile, a second facet intrudes from time to time. This part deals with a fictional plot that takes place in the communist nation of Yugoslavia. Two young women espouse their political ideals in the harsh reality of their world. One woman falls in love with a Russian ice-skater. He is the embodiment of all she holds dear, the example of the perfect Soviet: handsome, intelligent, proud of the Soviet Union and its accomplishments. The other woman has sex with anything that moves.
Together these two facets combine to form a whole that defies easy understanding. It is up to you, the viewer, to put together the pieces that make up the puzzle that is WR: Mysteries of the Organism.
It is necessary to introduce you, the purchaser of The Criterion Collection's WR: Mysteries of the Organism, to the man behind the WR in the title before we can begin to tackle the intricacies of the movie itself. That man is none other than Wilhelm Reich, the scientist who unleashed the concept of Orgone upon an unsuspecting world. Orgone energy is an energy force that Reich discovered while researching the physiological/psychological aspects of orgasm. This energy is not limited to sex, but it is an energy force that surrounds all living things and permeates the natural world. Reich even created a device that can be used to view such energy called "the Orgone Accumulator," a large wooden and metal box with a viewing window. Reich conducted his research and wrote his papers on a small plot of land in upstate New York. However, the natives became restless, accusing Reich of communism and orgon-ism. The United States government drew up some up some trumped up charges against him, threw him in prison and then burned his published works. He died in prison and thus ended the unhappy life of Wilhelm Reich.
Why are we telling you all of this? That is a good question and we're glad you asked. Reich and his theories play an important role in the film WR: Mysteries of the Organism. The documentary aspects are a vague reconstruction of his life and his teachings, briskly moving from point to point. You will witness some therapies based upon his teachings which are introduced with little rhyme or reason. These therapies include men and women screaming and crying, or acting as though they are experiencing seizures. But do not be startled or alarmed. We recommend that if you become disoriented or unduly stressed, that you should pause the DVD using the pause button on your remote control or DVD player and take a five minute break from the film.
We hope that by giving you some background information before beginning the viewing, you will be better able to orient yourself and hope to prevent some of the stress that comes from watching such a complex film.
The documentary-ish half of the movie offers tantalizing glimpses into Reich's theories, but leave much unsaid: Why does the therapy involve shaking violently? What does this therapy claim to cure? What is that woman doing to that man? Why is the film now focusing on this transsexual man? These are more question you may find yourself watching during the course of WR: Mysteries of the Organism.
But now it's time to leave the documentary behind as we enter the second stage of Makavejev's film. The fictional half is also disjointed, with more clips from interviews breaking up the fluidity of the storyline. But, rest assured, there is a point, a message that ties together all of Reich's theories and fundamental criticisms of Communist governments.
But overall, WR: Mysteries of the Organism may appear to be confused about what it wants to be. On the one hand, it could be a surreal story meant to be a platform for Reich's beliefs. On the other hand, it could be a documentary on the man himself. This indecisive quality could be enough to drive you mad. It drove us mad. That's why we refer to ourselves in the plural first-person now.
You may even feel yourself thinking that the film doesn't really feel like a cohesive piece of cinema, but, rather, feels like several disparate short films stuck together. Don't worry, this isn't your mind gradually unraveling, descending toward the abyss that is insanity. The commentary, excerpts of Raymond Durgant's book on WR: Mysteries of the Organism, will tell you that the film was originally supposed to be four separate storylines, but Makavejev lacked enough material to pull this off. Instead he cobbled together the two largest plots and snuck in bits and pieces of the remaining film. In fact, the commentary will do much to aid you on your journey. We recommend listening to it as soon as your brain is fully rested as it will shed much light on the film.
The Criterion Collection has also been kind enough to provide, for you, a selection of interviews and films to help facilitate understanding of the man behind WR: Mysteries of the Organism: Dusan Makavejev. Makavejev's autobiographical short film, Hole in the Soul, shows him to be an intelligent funny man who has his quirks. His dealings with Los Angeles and its inhabitants are the funniest segments, including the vicious breakdown of Makavejev and his work that a film critic delivers to him personally. The two interviews were conducted in 1972 and then more than thirty years later in 2006. The first deals with WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Makavejev's reasons behind making it. He even offers up his own interpretation of some of the scenes. The second interview was conducted specifically for The Criterion Collection and offers even more insight into the film. The Criterion Collection has gone to a great deal of trouble to make sure that you are able to find your way through WR: Mysteries of the Organism and we recommend that if you are still confused about this film you should not delay in seeking out these features.
We hope that you appreciate our attempts to untangle the mystery that is WR: Mysteries of the Organism. We would also like to thank The Wilhelm Reich Museum, which is where we shanghaied most of the biographical information on Wilhelm Reich and we invite you to visit their website at the link provided in the accomplices section.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism provides only a small glimpse into the world and mind of Wilhelm Reich and can sometimes be frustrating in how it buries both story and information beneath a confusing and chaotic mish-mash of ideas and concepts. But it is a film about provoking emotion as well as provoking thought, so individual responses will vary.
WR: Mysteries of the Organism is guilty of free love and resembling a psychedelic hallucination.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dylan Charles; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Various, English and Serbo-Croation)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1971
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary assembled from Raymond Durgnat's 1999 book on the film
* Hole in the Soul, Makavejev's 1994 tragicomic autobiographical short film
* New and archival interviews with Makavejev
* An essay by critic Jonathon Rosenbaum
* The Wilhelm Reich Museum Website