KRANK: FILM OUTLINE
A warm November day, 2009. The Toronto Island ferry pulls away from the city side, creating impressive swells.
Standing on deck is AINSLEY GIDDINGS, an attractive woman in her 40s. As the ferry reaches the half-way mark, lines of tiredness recede from Ainsley’s face and are replaced by an expression of calmness and anticipation. She is leaving something behind, and heading for something better; a winter in a charming rented cottage… an idyll of isolation and hard work, self-discovery and self renewal.
Ainsley is a psychotherapist, and she intends to write a definitive text about her particular branch -- Gestalt Therapy. This kind of therapy focuses on a client’s experience and emotions in the present, as opposed to “talk therapy” which deals a lot with the past. To help her concentrate, she has referred all her clients to colleagues. Also, she is leaving behind an unsatisfactory ten-year relationship. A new beginning all around.
But her solitude is broken, even at this point, by an encounter with a STRANGER on the ferry. A somewhat disheveled man, patting his pockets as though looking for something. Ainsley offers to help, and there is a brief conversation. He is German, it seems. Mid-fifties, cultured but curiously abrasive at the same time. Intriguing. Curiously, he asks the date, which is not unusual. But also, he wants to know what year it is. Which is definitely unusual.
When the ferry docks she encounters an old friend, ELEANOR. Eleanor is a high-strung and highly political woman who is involved in trying to prevent an airport and other forms of commercialism from gaining a foothold on the island’s quaint community. She attempts to get Ainsley involved in a demonstration, but Ainsley demurs. She is not interested in politics of any kind.
Ainley cleans up the tiny cottage and organizes her work desk to start on her book. She types “The idea of Gestalt Therapy is to change paper people into real people” – Fritz Perls.” But, in a pattern of interruptions that will never cease, she is interrupted by her phone. KENNY, a client, has attempted suicide, is in hospital, and refuses to see anyone but her. So she breaks her rule and consents to a therapy session.
As if this is not enough interruption, her ex boyfriend wants to see her, to sort out some belongings and to “talk”… always a bad sign with DAN. Ainsley’s attempts at solitude are being thwarted at every turn.
On the ferry back to town, where she is to meet her Dan, she again encounters the German man. As a psychotherapist, Ainsley prides herself on her ability to size people up at a glance, and she decides this man is not only interesting but quite safe to talk to.
As Ainsley does her best to resist intrusions by bossy Eleanor, needy Dan, and her suicidal client, she becomes more and more fascinated by the German man. He follows her to a restaurant, where they talk more. He attempts to kiss her. She pushes him away, but at the same time she is aware of an attraction. He is a little rough, he smells of sweat and tobacco, and he is a blunt talker – in every way different from her squeaky clean boyfriend. His name: Hauptmann.
But she has to write her book, and Ainsley struggles to be free of all these interruptions. She loses her temper with Eleanor, she is abrupt with Dan, she is competent but impatient with her suicidal client, and she avoids the German. Until one night he shows up on her doorstep. A little against her better judgment she lets him in and gives him something to eat. He is fascinated by her computer and, in particular, Google Earth. They focus in on Berlin, where he studies the streets. He stays the night, though Ainsley has to rebuff a tentative seduction on his part.
As conversations proceed, peppered by unfunny German jokes, Ainsley begins to suspect that this fascinating German may not be who he pretends. “Who are you?” she asks. “Where are you from, what are you doing here?” He replies, “Meet me at the café on Tuesday, I will tell you everything.” Clearly, he is protecting both her and him by meeting on neutral ground.
And finally the truth comes out. Finally he says “My name is Brecht. I am Bertolt Brecht.” By this he means that he is the renowned Berlin playwright from the 1930s, author of The Threepenny Opera, with its song Mack the Knife. Back then he was a communist, persecuted by the Nazis. But, most startling to Ainsley, he points out that he died in 1956, and has just found himself back to life on the Toronto Island Ferry. Some Canadian money in his pocket but no I.D. He does not know why this has happened except that Ainsley is part of it. This is too much. Ainsley carefully backs away and escapes to the island.
Despite her efforts, by this point Ainsley has become too distracted to do much work on her book. She takes long walks on the island, as the weather turns colder and the days become shorter. She loves the empty parks, little cottages, private boats and windswept shores. But then Hauptmann, which may not be the man’s name any more than Brecht is his name, shows up one morning. He waves a newspaper. There is a production of one of his works at a local small theatre. The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is being produced on a shoestring by an underground group calling itself the “Poor Opera Company.” The storyline of this “anti-opera” involves a complete inversion of society – the criminal class is in charge: a clear political statement by Brecht. The newspaper review is devastating, calling the production heavy handed. Ainsley, being resolutely apolitical, is not really interested. Nevertheless, she agrees to go.
She hopes her boyfriend Dan will not be there. Dan, a wannabe cultural expert, prides himself on his knowledge of German theatre, and is in fact how Ainslie first heard about Brecht a few years ago. She desperately hopes Dan will not be at the performance, so of course he shows up. They all sit through the show, which is as bad as the newspaper critic said. But the evening becomes even more uncomfortable when Dan insists on telling Ainsley and her German friend all about Brecht’s theatrical theories. Brecht mocks him with clever irony, which escapes Dan entirely, and finally they part. As sometimes happens in underground theatre, there is more afterwards… this time a singalong of famous Brecht songs, mostly set to music by Kurt Weill. Inevitably, Mack The Knife.. “Hauptmann” joins in and takes over, his shrill voice full of intensity. Everyone stops and listens, most of all Ainsley.
There is no question, this man is actually Bertolt Brecht.
They go back to the island together and spend the night. His sexual hunger is almost ferocious… after all, the last time he was in bed with a woman was more than 50 years ago. Ainsley too is hungry, realizing that she had always wanted a man like this, a man unlike the oh-so-polite-and-considerate Dan. She loves the smell of this man, sweaty and real.
The affair goes on… bizarre, eccentric. Ainsley learns to like German sausage and German beer, and even Brecht’s unusually harsh German accent. Brecht wants to know all about Ainsley and about Gestalt psychotherapy. It was, after all, invented by a German, Fritz Perls. And there are theatrical elements involved.
But this plays havoc with Ainley’s attempts to run her life. When meeting with her suicidal client in the living room of the tiny cottage, she has to kick Brecht out for a walk on the island. She wonders if her client can smell cigar smoke, or the scent of lovemaking when, one morning, she does not have time to shower.
Dan inevitably shows up, totally drunk. He really, really believes that he and Ainsley can make a go of it again. He is ready to admit he made mistakes, was self-absorbed, and he even breaks down and pretty much begs her to give him another chance. But when he realizes that Brecht is there, he knows his rejection is complete.
And finally, Eleanor keeps coming around. She is more and more angry about Island politics, and is becoming more and more certain that exploitation of the island by the airport is simply part of a global financial conspiracy. Eleanor is getting a little shrill, and Ainsley doesn’t like it.
When Eleanor meets Brecht, she has no difficulty believing his real identity, and she becomes obsessed with co-opting him to her anti-Capitalist campaign. And not just anti-Capitalist… Eleanor is starting to toss the word fascist around. Reluctantly, Brecht agrees to discuss ways of opposing fascism.
But, once Brecht agrees to meet with Eleanor, he takes to disappearing for days at a time.
At first, Ainsley welcomes the free time she has, time in which to work on her book. In addition, she has to prepare for a Gestalt conference that is about to take place, in, of all places, Berlin. She works happily for a while, but can’t help suspecting Brecht’s activities… it may not be fascism that he is discussing with Eleanor. She confronts Brecht, and he claims that he is spending a lot of time in town, hanging around the Poor Opera Company and working in his room. But Ainsley can see right through this. She becomes certain that Brecht and Eleanor are getting it on, roughly and repeatedly. She pretends this doesn’t matter. The historical Brecht was a bastard with women, she knows that, so this is just another decadent Berlin love triangle, bizarre and rather interesting. But jealousy takes hold.
A confrontation happens. Words are said, words are regretted all around. But this is the way it is, and life must go on.
And the chief business of life, for Eleanor now, is to take over the Island anti-airport group. She asks Ainsley and Brecht to help her stage a takeover coup at the next general meeting. Eleanor wants to chair the meeting and run the organization.
The meeting is noisy and confrontational. Eleanor is shouted down and the coup fails. Eleanor is ashamed and Ainsley is embarrassed. Brecht is faintly amused.
So, what to do next? Eleanor points out that there is an event about to take place in Toronto, an economic summit. Leaders from around the world are going to get together. There will be protests, demonstrations. Forget Island politics, that’s small stuff. Let’s go for the big one.
(The “Summit”, of course, will be basically the Toronto G-20 of 2010, rearranged for dramatic purposes. A few people in black torched some police cars, which were left burning as justification for the ensuing police crackdown. The police repression was called -- by the Ontario Ombudsman no less -- “The most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history.” Intimidation, brutality. A thousand arrests, incarceration in intolerable conditions… and very few people actually charged. Just look for the youtubes: “Toronto G-20”)
Brecht offers to introduce Eleanor to the gang at the Poor Opera Company. They intend to be active at the Summit.
Brecht, Ainsley and Eleanor attend a strategy meeting at the Poor Opera. There, they make useful connections. And in an odd coincidence – though there is no such thing as a coincidence in a story where a man springs back to life after being dead for 50 years – there is a Bertolt Brecht lookalike at the meeting; BARRY BRIARS. Eleanor finds him interesting, but more about this later.
The day of the Summit is a tragedy. The 3 friends join an anti-poverty march advancing towards Queen’s park. It is entirely organized and peaceful. Then some marchers with earplugs attached to radios indicate that there has been some trouble about 6 blocks away. A police car has been torched by anarchists in black shirts. There is a trail of black smoke in the distance. Then the crackdown: screaming cruisers, police on horseback, riot gear, and, as the police move in on the demonstrators, clubs in the air. There is no escape, all side streets have been blocked. Everyone is trapped. Brecht, in particular, is terrified, and hits the ground. Eleanor shouts in protest, only to be brought down by a club. Ainsley wants to intervene, but another protester advises that they try to make a run for it. They escape in the chaos, but not before Ainsley sees that Brecht and Eleanor have been forced into a paddy wagon. There is blood streaming down Eleanor’s face.
Next morning Aisley is back at her cottage. She paces the floor, not having slept all night. Her phone rings. It is Brecht at the detention centre. He is being released, without charges being laid. Just as she is leaving, Ainsley gets another call. Eleanor is in the hospital, with a black eye and stitches, under observation for a possible concussion.
Ainsley picks up Brecht, who renews his desire to go back to Berlin, or at least back to wherever he came from when he appeared on the deck of the ferry. Coincidentally, in a story where there is no such thing as a coincidence, Briars, the Brecht lookalike, shows up. He is furious about the Summit events and only too happy to help Brecht out. He agrees to give Brecht his own passport, and report it stolen in a month’s time.
Ainsley and Brecht visit Eleanor at the hospital. She is beyond anger and fear, and is instead coldly resolute to continue with serious activism. She is going to leave the island and join the movement out in Vancouver. Occupy Wall Street is in the process of getting organized. She hopes to go with the Brecht lookalike.
Ainsley and Brecht sort out their plans to go to Berlin.
So, thinks Ainsley. This is the final act. This is the end. I will take him back and never see him again. All this trouble will be over. Paradoxically, she orders him a return ticket. Maybe, just maybe, somehow, it’s not over.
The two fly to Berlin, where Ainsley is about to be part of a conference about Gestalt Therapy. But Gestalt is the last thing on her mind right now. While Brecht goes on his own journey, Ainsley explores the place. This is her first visit. For the first time she sees, and for the first time she understands, the grim reality of concentration camps, execution rooms, the Gestapo, German fascism. She sees, and intuitively experiences, the world that Brecht came out of. If Brecht is cautious about protesting authority, she now knows why.
Ainsley and Brecht walk down a deserted street, and Ainsley all of a sudden is aware of a police presence. After the Summit, she has become extremely sensitive to power in uniform. But this time she is alarmed to see that the police are Nazi Brownshirts. These were the thugs that Hitler used to intimidate his way to the top. Is this a time warp? Has Brecht taken her back to the 30s? We don’t know yet.
Ainsley and Brecht find a crowded café. The people in it are dressed in a contemporary way, but the café itself has not changed in decades. The two order a characteristic German meal when, once again, the Brownshirts appear. They talk to the cashier at the front, as if gathering information. Ainsley is scared, Brecht starts to sweat. Hoping against hope, Ainsley asks Brecht, “Are these actors? Is there a Nazi film being shot around here?” Brecht replies, in an even voice, “No actors are that good.” Clearly the past has invaded the present, and the two decide to get out of the café as quickly as possible.
Needless to say, Ainsley is no longer apolitical.
On the street, they walk quickly. Brecht intends to show her where he is buried: a small cemetery overlooked by a residence he shared with his wife. They walk steadily, knowing they are about to encounter destiny. They stop and sit near the gravestones, exhausted. There are two gravestones: Helene Weigel, Bertolt Brecht.
And all of a sudden, Brecht vanishes.
Ainsley takes out the return ticket, folds it carefully, and buries in the ground beside Brecht’s gravestone.
He is gone, out of her life. Back at the hotel she finds that all evidence of his presence has also disappeared. And there is a complete emptiness in Ainsley’s life.
Is this the new start? Is this the new beginning she was looking for when she boarded the ferry all those months ago?
She takes out her notebook and reads the first page “The idea of Gestalt Therapy is to change paper people into real people.”