Wim Wenders’s movies bespeak his fascination for the American Wilderness. In such films as Paris, Texas and Don’t Come Knocking, however, the Western hero is prevented from walking away into the sunshine: he is trapped in a past that just will not go away.
Everything Will Be Fine presents another kind of environmental desert and human dryness. Tomas tries to fish for ideas while others around him fish for survival in the icy landscape that offers a mirror image to his writer’s block. The camera explores his face, allowing the viewer to probe into his emotions. A sense of doom pervades the opening sequences, poised between horror film and drama. A distracted driver, an accident, a life-changing encounter with fate: the pivotal moment takes place off stage, as it always does in a good tragedy; we are left to suture the holes left by ellipses in the narrative fabric. Fiction, as it turns out, is the real culprit. Kate, as an avid reader of Faulkner’s novels, admits that she just could not let go of the book she was reading and failed to supervise her children adequately, allowing real life to break into her readerly destiny. Later, she tries to exorcise her guilt by burning the cherished literary work. In Tomas’s case, death delivers an unexpected harvest. Circumstances become a burden or an opportunity, depending on how you “take ownership of your stories” in the words of Ian Frazier in a recent article for the New York Review of Books (LXII.8, May 7-20, 2015, p. 38). The prototypical American hero shapes mourning and loss into a challenge. The faulknerian intertextuality with curse and doom is woven into the characters’ predicament: how to deal with absence and loneliness? The convict of Faulkner’s novel If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, states bluntly: “Between grief and nothing, I choose grief”. For Tomas, grief ushers a new beginning.
Wenders’s movie stages the passing of time—with its inevitable changes and erasures—to the pace of forgetting and remembering. The script is built around sudden temporal close-ups alternating with fast-forwarding ruptures akin to chapters or landmarks on a journey toward otherness, inward and outward: breakthroughs on unchartered paths, moments gesturing towards some resolution and reconciliation, a possible romance. And a “road not taken” (in the familiar image proposed by Robert Frost in one of his poems) that comes back to haunt Tomas until the final reckoning: Christopher, the estranged sibling of the killed child, stalks him right into the privacy and comfort of his rich cozy home. Instead of running away, Tomas opens the door (literally) and experiences some catharsis by truly reaching out and welcoming otherness in his life. Kate finds peace and healing away from resentment, bitterness and hatred through faith and forgiveness. There are paths towards self-fulfillment other than success and social recognition. You may even find the way to joy and harmony while cycling around—suddenly aware that you are alive indeed—knowing that what memory does may be undone and remembered anew. “Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing ever wonders” (W. Faulkner, Light in August).