The Shipwrecker
(Der Havarist)

Directed by Wolf-Eckart Bühler.
With Burkhard Driest, Rüdiger Vogler, Hannes Wader.
West Germany, 1984, DCP, color, 92 min.
German with English subtitles.
DCP source: Filmmuseum Munich

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?” Actor Sterling Hayden found himself at the end of that double-edged sword, which sliced through Hollywood in the 40s and 50s, taking careers, relationships and, in some cases, lives. Within an elegiac reconstruction of the complicated figure of Hayden, Der Havarist meticulously tracks the restless actor’s search for meaning, his discomfort with Hollywood’s easy money and the circumstances that led to his naming names through “re-enactments” by judiciously selected German actors. Hayden’s outer persona is portrayed by nonconformist felon-turned-actor/director Burkhard Driest; his ruminative, philosophical self is played by Wenders regular Rüdiger Vogler; and Hannes Wader—the defiantly leftist singer-songwriter—narrates passages from Hayden’s book Wanderer (1963), in which the actor details the soul-numbing, excruciating process of cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Featuring Germans playing the American interrogators and the interrogated, Der Havarist both acknowledges and reaches far beyond either country’s respective sins, pointing toward more universal, timeless conundra that continue to tear through national and individual psyches. Ultimately, Bühler notes, “Hayden’s story is an opportunity for us to all question ourselves” as Hayden attempted, perhaps too late.

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