lördag 16 februari 2013

Catching a rat

Harry Lime caught in his own "limelight".
When Harry Lime walks into the picture, after a good long bit into Carol Reed's classic The Third Man, it is hard not to like him. After all, he is the writer Holly Martin's best childhood friend, and he is the man Anna Schwarz loves, the melancholy actress who is hiding under a false alias in the divided post war city of Vienna. Harry, dressed all in black, moves swiftly towards the camera, where Holly is standing, by the great Ferris wheel, and he smiles, greeting Holly as if he came to meet his at the airport. He is happy to see his friend again, and during their interview, inside the Ferris wheel, his face is at times clouded by suspicion, anger and perhaps even pure evil, but then he composes himself and lets through that boyish charm that has made Holly and Anna love him so. We know that Harry LImes is wanted for drug trafficking in the damaged old city, respnsible for thousands of people dying under horrible circumstances for having taken his penicillin dilluted with water. And he is most porbably also guilty of murdering the man that has been found in his coffin.

"Don't you know what's happened to your girl?" Holly asks Harry in an attempt to wake his conscience. Harry breezily brushes the question off, but later, like a regular Werther, he writes her name in the shape of a heart, on the misty windowpane. 
"I buried you" Holly says angrily, resenting both the deceit of his friend and the show he is putting on, trying once more to pull wool over his eyes.
But Harry only pats his chest, complaining of the assumed ulcer he's having trouble with, and points to the people down there, on the ground far below them:
"Victims? Don't be melodramatic.... Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"

And then comes that crude reference to money, all the money you can make if you only can decide how many of those dots you could "spare", and finally, the brilliant coup de grâce: Harry compares the bloody times of the Borgias and how that produced the Renaissance, while five hundred years of democracy in Switzerland produced only the cucko clock.

I wonder how we would have perceived the stunning chase through the sewer's systems underneath Mozart's ailing city, and accepted Harry's death, if we hadn't heard that speech. Because it's hard not to like Harry, the way he casually drifts into the picture halfway through it, as if he didn't belive in how much we care. We're just like Holly, ready for an adventure and the help from a friend who we think is nice enough to be offering a job to someone who is broke. And we've seen Anna cry, the close up of her beautiful face, and we've seen her move around the rooms where they used to be together, opening drawers and absentmindedly combing her hair.

In a way, it lets us off the hook. In the end we want Holly to kill Harry. After all, he is nothing more than the lowest form of criminal, a man who makes money from letting children die, who has betrayed the woman who loves him and every bit of fibre in him that makes him human.

I leave the cinema where I have seen "The Third Man" stunned as always, Anton Kara's music haunting me while I stumble thorugh the darkness and snowy landscape, to find the bus that will take me home. There is a fourth character that really is just as important to the story as Harry, Holly or Anna. It is the city of Viennea, of course, and it shocks me how the city around me is so different from the monstrous wreck of a city that is a constant presence in Reed's movie. Vienna after the war is the ravaged mother who can't take care of her kids anymore. Her children have all become perverse, or insane, like in the Doors song.

Everything in Reed's film is in fact after the catastrophy. Holly is too late, not only for Harry's funeral, but for saving him. Anna is mourning the life she had with the nice and gentle Harry. Callaway, the British officer, who is trying to capture Harry, ias aldo too late. For the children in the hospital there is no remedy. It is probably there that Holly makes upp his mind. After that, there is not much left of the film, but time enough for Holly to chase Harry through the chillligly expressionistic tunnels under the city, like a buried past, and kill the man who lost his humanity.

"The Third Man" is about becoming inhuman in a time when resurrection is needed, and I ask myself the question: How come I still find Harry Lime such a lovable character, when he should have been the man who saved Anna, took care of all those kids and gave his old friend a job?