Adapted by director Julian Pölsler from Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel of the same name, The Wall depicts the struggle of a nameless woman (Martina Gedeck) who’s left alone with her own thoughts for years in the Austrian Alps. Traveling to a hunting lodge with two friends who, soon after arriving, go on a walk to town and never return, the women searches for her companions only to discover that an invisible wall, humming like an electric fence, blocks her from continuing down the main road and reaching a neighbor’s cottage—cutting her off, in effect, from human civilization. Sealed in a natural environment, with only her friends’ dog and some other animals as company, the woman begins a descent into a state of nature not unlike that of Vincent Gallo’s own nameless protagonist from Jerzy Skolimowski’s more psychologically rich Essential Killing.
Just as Pölsler, who at times resorts to a heavy-handed use of slow motion to overemphasize the dramatic nature of the story’s events, exhibits too little trust in his visuals to convey the film’s message, he shows even less trust in the audience’s ability to follow both the plot and the implications of his protagonist’s actions without quick, sometimes even preemptive explication. Gedeck’s heroine has little recourse but to hunt for her food; however, she can’t get rid of her disgust for doing so. She would be better off if she could, as she puts it, stop thinking like a human being and ditch all moral qualms about killing, but she can’t regard a beautiful fox she encounters without feeling it’s done nothing to deserve death by her hand. We know how she feels about this and more because of her incessant voiceover, which veers from philosophical musings to descriptions of feelings (“I was overcome with a weight of despair”) and scenery (“A bird of prey lingered in the blue sky”), much of it either redundant or readily apparent on screen. This prattling voiceover repeatedly demonstrates the movie’s most egregious fault: We may find out how Gedeck’s character reacts to her isolation, but we’re never privy to her actual feelings, largely because in a film about a sudden onset of solitude, Pölsler is far too afraid of silence.