Die Farbe

Or, in English: The Color (out of Space)

The Color out of SpaceThis 2010 German film is at its center a faithful retelling of HP Lovecraft’s novella, moved to a new setting: Germany just before World War II and just afterwards, with a more modern framing story.

I only know a handful of German words–the useful phrases that a tourist learns while traveling, and the useless ones picked up from WWII movies–but most of this story is told so clearly in visual images or adheres closely enough to Lovecraft’s familiar tale that I can follow most of it without turning on the subtitles.

Anyway, the first part is in English.

Old Dr. Davis has flown from the US to Frankfurt, then disappeared. His son Jonathan (who is supposed to be American, but I find his accent extremely suspect) goes to Germany to try and find him.

Dr. DavisBefore Jonathan leaves on his journey, he speaks to an old friend of his father’s at Miskatonic U, who recalls that Dad was stationed as an army medic at end of the War around Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Dr. Davis hadn’t visited Germany since then and has no other connection to that country, so this is the only clue Jonathan has as to where his father might’ve gone.

Arriving in Germany, he rents a car and drives around the Wurttemberg Forest area until he encounters a detour; an empty valley is being flooded to create a reservoir. The road that used to lead through it is already impassable under water. A narrow dirt road winds around the edge of the new lake. Jonathan takes this through the forest, stopping at one point to get out and look around. The water is visible through the trees.

PassportThere’s a feeling that something strange and unsettling is going on in this place: The wings on a  dragonfly audibly snap shut when it lands on a leaf. A toad appears to be watching Jonathan from its hole.

What Jonathan doesn’t see before he gets back in his car is an American passport lying on ground not far from the road.

Eventually, he reaches a village that’s mostly abandoned now that the main road has been cut off. The windows of many houses are boarded up. The only place that’s open is a bar where the old people who haven’t left their  homes yet still hang out. Jonathan shows them a recent photograph of his father, but no one recognizes Dr. Davis.

Then he bumps into one old man and drops the handful of photos and travel documents he’s holding. Among these scattered items is a photo of Dad as a young soldier. This one, the old man does recognize.

He introduces himself as Armin Pierske (a Germanization of Ammi Pierce) and tells Jonathan how he knew Dr. Davis. This is shown to us in flashback.

Returning home after the end of the War, a younger, wounded Armin finds  his home has been commandeered by the US Army to shelter displaced persons. The house is at the moment occupied by a group of GIs accompanied by Dr. Davis, who speaks enough German to explain this to Armin.

When Armin sees that the GIs intend next to explore an empty farm that they see down in what appears to be a desolate and burned-out part of the valley, he protests and tries to stop them from going. Since none of them except the doctor speak any German, they don’t heed his warnings, but when he wonders aloud, “It’s not over, it is?” (in German), Dr. Davis decides to take him along.

When Old Armin learns that Dr. Davis returned to Germany 2 weeks ago, he says that no one forgets it… The Color.

This leads him to tell Jonathan about that ruined farm and what happened to the family who used to live there. 

It all began with the meteorite.

Johnathan and Armin Meteor

Young Armin saw the meteorite fall and land in the valley one night in the late 1930s, and the next day went out to see the crater near the farm belonging to his friends, the Gärteners.

Like Armin Pierske/Ammi Pierce, the New England names of the Gardners have been Germanicized. The father remains Nahum, but the three sons are Thaddäus, Marwin, and Samuel (as in the Finnish adaptation of Hypnos I reviewed a little while ago, this last is pronounced “Sam-well”; there may not be any German name similar to Zenas).

Before the meteorite crashed in their field, the Gärteners’ farm and the valley around it were fertile farm country. We see Frau Gärtener drawing up water from the well on the hillside above their home while the boys run through the lush landscape.

This part of the film follows Lovecraft’s story most closely. A group of scientists come out to the farm to see the meteorite at the bottom of its crater and chop out a sample of the extremely soft rock. This, they put it into a wooden bucket, and when it burns a hole through the bucket, they ask for a metal one. They take their sample back to their laboratories for a wide range of tests–which produce some remarkable results–then, when the remains of the sample evaporate overnight, return to the farm to get more. The meteorite is now noticeably smaller.

When they chop into the meteor more deeply this time to get a bigger sample, they discovers a globule of an unknown color within it. The viewer doesn’t see what they see; our point of view looks up through a slightly distorted, glassy bubble, as if we’re looking through the surface of the globule at the people gathered around it. When the lead scientist taps it with a hammer, there’s a pop and flash like an old-fashioned camera flashbulb going off.

During a storm that night, the meteorite draws repeated lightning strikes. In the morning, nothing remains left in the crater. But the influence of whatever was in that burst globule continues to be felt.

Giant pears

Throughout that summer, the crops on the farm grow fantastically. The fruit in the orchard are ridiculously huge; the pears look like gourd squash.

Nahum looks forward to the harvest, but when he and Ammi pick the first pears to take a bite, the fruit is inedible. All the produce is similarly tainted. The crop is worthless.

The family is quick to connect this blight with the meteorite–as if disaster has literally dropped down upon them from the heavens.

“Perhaps God doesn’t love us anymore,” muses Marwin. His dad hushes him and sends the boys to bed.

That winter, the snow doesn’t stay on the ground around the crater site and the acres of the Gärtener farm, even though it lies heavy in other parts of the valley. The neighboring farmers notice.

Thaddäus, the teenaged son and almost a grown man, stops by one night at the bar and joins the other people hanging around and drinking. He confides that he’s seen the branches of the trees moving when there’s no wind, and that his little brother Marwin listens for sounds at night that no one else can hear.

Marwin is also spooked by the trees moving. So is Armin when he comes to call. The other villagers begin to avoid the farm and the Gärteners whenever they do come into town, which isn’t very often anymore. The whole family is constantly weary and depressed.

The following summer,  the farm is plagued by insects as absurdly huge as the pears–like the giant bee Armin sees perched on Frau Gärtener’s head during one of his visits. More disturbing still, she doesn’t seem to notice it nor care.

No snow Giant bee

Frau Gärtener is the first person to be seriously affected. She stands in the farmyard staring blankly, yet she seems to be hearing or seeing something the others do not and responds to that alone. The family shuts her up in her room, where she goes mad over what she hears.

By the autumn, the local wildlife dies off and the oversized plants start to wither and rot, then fall apart. When Nahum touches a large mushroom growing in the woods, it crumbles into ash beneath his fingertip.

Thaddäus goes mad next from something he’s seen up at the well. He screams about “Lights! Lights everywhere!” as he’s taken to his room and to be shut up there like Mom. Little Marwin is deeply disturbed by the shouts and hysterical cries he hears from behind their doors; he ventures into Thaddäus’s room.

That night, during a pan around the farmland at dusk, we see the Color for the first time.

How does a film show a color “unlike any known… of the normal spectrum… almost impossible to describe”?

The ColorBy making it the only color we see.

Up until this point, the film has been entirely in black and white. The pin-points of magenta light that suddenly appear in the twilight landscape like unearthly fireflies are an unexpected and delightful surprise the first time you see them.

There’ll be more of the Color as the story progresses, used more effectively on some occasions than others, but for me that first glimpse is the most wonderful, even magical.

Now the true horror begins.

Marwin disappears. Old Armin says that he didn’t know then what had happened to the boy, but it was clear to him that something in the water  was affecting the family. They hadn’t eaten the tainted fruit, but they did drink water from the well.

After he didn’t hear from the Gärteners for two weeks, he went out to farm for the last time.

Young Armin at the farm tells Nahum about the water, but that information is long past doing any good for anyone. All of three of the boys are gone, one way or another. Nahum sits huddled in his chair in the kitchen, and doesn’t seem clear on what happened to his sons. Samuel, he says in answer to Armin’s question, “lives below. Below in the well.” He thinks his wife and eldest son are sitting right there in the room with him although no one else is there.  He also thinks that Marwin is around the house somewhere and calls for the boy to come and put more wood on the fire. There is no fire.

Armin ventures upstairs and looks around the house for the others. He finds Thaddäus lying dead in his room, little more than a dust-covered skeleton. Frau Gärtener is in her room as well. Still alive? Sort of. She’s a desiccated body about to crumble into ash, but animated by the globules of Color that pour out of her as she reaches out and falls to the floor.

The last of Frau Gartner The Color in the window

More Color pours in through the window. Armin hides in the closet and watches through a crack while the Color descends on the crumbling form on the floor; it sounds like it’s slurping as the little purple globules from the body coalesce with the bigger globs.

Downstairs, Nahum… melts. We don’t quite see what happens to him–but we do see through his eyes as if he’s looking up from beneath water as the horrified Armin throws a blanket over him.

Even though much of the movie is set in Germany during the late 1930s, there’s no mention at all about the rise of the Nazis. History doesn’t play a part in this story except very briefly when old Armin mentions that the War began soon after this; he was glad to go into the army and get far away from the place. He didn’t go near the now-empty farm of his former friends until he returned home again.

Jonathan doesn’t believe Armin’s story. It sounds too weird to him and it doesn’t tell him where his father is now.

As he leaves, Old Armin calls after him that his father and the other US soldiers saw the Color too, but Jonathan doesn’t come back to hear the rest of the story. We see it, though.

As Young Armin flees the farmhouse after covering up his liquefied friend, he hears a strange, buzzing sound in the distance and looks up to see a bright, but not Colorful, light shining between the hills. He stares at this, entranced, until he’s distracted by a reflected glare in his eyes, which allows him to pull himself together and run away. He knew then that it wasn’t over. 

During the years of World War II, the blight around the Gärtener farm spreads to cover most of the valley with ashen grey.

It’s through this barren and desolate landscape, after the War, that he and young Dr. Davis and a couple of the GIs drive out in a jeep to look at the ruins of the farm. It doesn’t look like anyone’s been there since Armin fled the place years before. There are no bodies to be found. The bedrooms are empty apart from a thick layer of dust.

The GIs want to check out the well up on the now bare and rocky hillside. They look down into it while Armin hangs nervously back; he tries to warn them again when one of the soldiers drops a rock in to see if there’s any water.

The well The Color at the well

The rock plops into the sludge far down at the bottom, then sinks slowly into it. Something awakens and a magenta glow rises from the depths.

Before everyone runs for cover, one of the GIs tosses a grenade down the well, which only bursts the well’s wooden walls and brings up a large globule of Color. Armin is drawn toward it, but the doctor holds him back. The others hide behind the jeep.

As they stand bathed in purple light, they witness a scene that corresponds to Ammi Pierce’s final visit to the farm with the Arkham coroner and a group of other officials after the deaths of his friends–the departure of the Color:

“It was a monstrous constellation of unnatural light, like a glutted swarm of corpse-fed fireflies dancing hellish sarabands over an accursed marsh; and its colour was that same nameless intrusion which Ammi had come to recognise and dread. All the while the shaft of phosphorescence from the well was getting brighter and brighter, bringing to the minds of the huddled men a sense of doom and abnormality which far outraced any image their conscious minds could form. It was no longer shining out, it was pouring out; and as the shapeless stream of unplaceable colour left the well it seemed to flow directly into the sky.”

Bright magenta points of light rise out of the land all around them and merge to form one big blobby thing that flies swiftly upwards and off into space.

“Is it over?” Armin asks. He looks up into the quiet night sky.

Instead of staying in the village overnight, Jonathan has camped out in his rental car on the road through the woods close to the new lake’s shore. I don’t know how he could sleep there out in the dark all alone with the creepy trees rustling all night, but it looks he managed it.

The next morning, when he gets out of the car to have a look at an old standing stone nearby, he finds his dad’s hat in the underbrush… and then sees Dad standing there, staring off in the direction of the lake.

Jonathan runs over to hug his father and talk to him, but Dad is unresponsive, much as Frau Gärtener was many years ago. His son takes him back to the car.

As they get in, there’s a quick flashback, a memory, of young Dr. Davis during the War. After the Color has flown off, he looks down into well again and says that he sees nothing down there. “Absolutely nothing.” But he’s lying. There’s still a faint purple glow.

Old Dr. Davis’s eyes move to look toward Jonathan as they drive away.

Jonathan finds his dad

Old Armin, meanwhile, lies curled up at home, remembering earlier scenes from his youth–including one or two we haven’t seen before related to the fates of the Gärtener boys. He murmurs to himself. “Is it over? Is it over?”

No, I don’t think it is. 

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Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.