It is said, “Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.” White supremacists who forget how their ancestors colonized third world countries for their resources. Or how they invaded African countries and proudly brought back slaves. Today, when people from these “third world countries” migrate to “white lands” for a better living (because they were looted), we call them “migrants.” Only if we can ever understand a migrant’s reason to leave his family, his roots to move to an alien land. But we don’t. Hence, there comes an artistic medium that pictures the cause and effect of our intolerant behavior. Netflix’s German film, Je suis Karl, follows an identitarian group that creates a power grab situation to assault Islamic migrants in the European Nations.
Directed by Christian Schwochow, Je suis Karl (or I am Karl in English) envelopes intellectual ideologies. However, many might fail to fathom its intention due to its extremely slow pace. Coming from the land of German Expressionism, Je suis Karl is sometimes too verbose. It’s a form of elite art that tries to convey a message to the masses. But ironically, those who will understand the film are already conscious of the notion. At the same time, those who need to grasp the message will be compelled to neglect the film.
‘Je suis Karl’ Plot Summary
An opening sequence follows a middle-aged German couple, Inès (Mélanie Fouché) and Alex Baier (Milan Peschel), who illegally transport a young Libyan refugee, Yusuf, from Budapest to Berlin in their car.
Two years later, Alex’s daughter, Maxi, returns home to meet her two little brothers, Hans and Franz. Near the entrance, Maxi’s father, Alex, receives a parcel for his neighbor, Mrs. Papke. He brings the parcel to his apartment and quickly moves out to bring items from his car. Suddenly, a bomb blast in Alex’s apartment kills his wife, Inès, and his two children. The only surviving family members are Alex and Maxi, burdened with the loss of their loved ones.
After the funeral, some reporters follow Maxi on the street, and a young, charming guy, Karl (Jannis Niewöhner), helps her run away. Karl recognizes Maxi from the reports of the Berlin terror attack and invites her for a cup of coffee. Later, Karl convinces a confused Maxi to leave the city for some time and informs her about a Summer Academy Re/Generation conference in Prague that he is going to attend.
Maxi comes home and requests her grieving father to leave town for their wellness. However, Alex is living in denial and refuses to leave his dead loved ones. Maxi argues with Alex and decides to run away from home. She ends up at the Re/Generation conference and initiates a relationship with Karl.
Who bombed Maxi’s mother and brothers?
A flashback sequence established that Karl procured explosives from a friend intending to spread hatred. Karl disguised himself as an Arabic man with a thick dark beard and tried to plant the bomb in a building. However, Karl failed to sneak into the planned location.
Karl walked ahead and found a truck unloading household items outside Alex’s building. Due to it, the building’s door was open, and Karl coined the opportunity. He handed over the bomb to Alex, who brought it to his apartment, thinking the parcel belonged to his elderly neighbor.
The following day, when Karl checked the newspaper and read about the death of German citizens, he panicked out of guilt. He saw Maxi with Alex in the reports and visited the memorial and the funeral of the victims. Probably, Karl felt guilty for taking the lives of his countrymen and thus approached Maxi for atonement.
The Complexity of Karl
Karl had his extremist agenda but inherently was an emotional being. He had Islamophobia and hatred towards migrants, but he felt remorse for killing German citizens in the Berlin Terror Attack. He didn’t speculate that Maxi would turn up for the Re/Generation conference in Prague, but when she did, Karl tried to fill her void with his love.
To explain it in simple words, Karl was a complex character that struggled between goals and emotions. His mind exploited the Berlin Terror Attack to promote identitarianism and anti-immigrant sentiment. But simultaneously, he followed his heart and helped Maxi to recover from the tragedy. Karl made sure that Maxi would get all the love and attention that he robbed from her.
Karl’s close associate, Jitka, could perceive his confusion and thus warned Karl not to fall in love with Maxi.
The Final Straw
Karl believed that the 16 dead people would create ripples in the country and pressurize the German government to formulate strict regulations and death penalties for the migrants. But when it failed to have the desired effect, his “Wrist Movement” squad started brainstorming for a final straw.
The group attended a right-wing French politician, Odile Duval’s stage conference in Strasbourg. Karl was invited to provoke the nationalists with his emotional speech. And for the final straw, Karl persuaded his team to shoot him after the speech. The assassination of a young patriot in a cowardly attack would send the European nationalists berserk, and their plan would be fulfilled.
The Return of Yusuf
In Berlin, Alex got paranoid and doubted his young Libyan friend, Yusuf, for the terror attack in Berlin. He searched for Yusuf on social media sites. When he failed to find Yusuf, Alex contacted authorities and informed them about Yusuf’s stay at their house 2 years ago.
Later, Yusuf paid a visit to Alex and informed him that he had changed his name to “Adam” to avoid discrimination. Together, they visited the memorial site where Alex told Yusuf that Maxi had run away from home. Yusuf tried to help a grieving father and soon found out Maxi’s location. They commenced a journey to bring Maxi back to Berlin from Strasbourg.
‘Je suis Karl’ Ending Explained.
Karl’s plan to spread hatred and violence against migrants was already effective. But when Maxi decided to tell her story in Strasbourg, Karl celebrated his sense of accomplishment. Maxi’s stage speech went viral, and it helped the Identitarians and right-wing nationals to promote their evil agenda.
Alex arrived at Strasbourg and pleaded with Maxi to drop her involvement in the violent movement. The father knew how these treacherous revolutionaries were using his family’s death to influence hate. However, it was too late.
Karl gave an emotional speech on live stream outside the restaurant, and Jitka (off-the-camera) shot him. Karl’s murder created a power grab situation on all corners of Europe. The coordinated mob resorted to violence and lynched people of color and migrants in the streets.
Fearing an attack on Yusuf, Alex and Maxi escaped the restaurant to help him. They dodged the heavy gunfire and found Yusuf hiding in a secluded lane. The trio descended into a sewer tunnel to save their lives. Inside the tunnel, Maxi hugged Yusuf and accepted the existence of a migrant in her world. The film ended as the new generation, Maxi, became the light at the end of the tunnel and guided Yusuf and Alex towards an uncertain end.
Je suis Karl (or I am Karl in English) is a 2021 German political drama film directed by Christian Schwochow.