“As for Wilhelm Reich himself, upon whose ideas and career the film is largely based, today he seems less like a sex radical than like a crypto-conservative without knowing it. Reich’s glorification of the orgasm is actually quite heteronormative and prescriptive, as well as being entirely caught up within the discursive deployment of sexuality-as-liberation, described and denaturalized by Foucault. (Indeed, as far back as the 1950s, Norman O. Brown had already denounced Reich’s privileging of “normal adult genital sexuality” over the multiple potentials of “polymorphous perversity”). Reich’s later ideas about orgone energy, for which he was prosecuted and persecuted by the US government, and which (in the late 1950s and the 1960s) had a correspondingly subversive prestige among writers and intellectuals (like Norman Mailer and William Burroughs), today seem little more than variants of today’s fashionable (and entirely conformist) New Age beliefs.
Where does all this leave WR: Mysteries of the Organism? I’ve been suggesting that the ideas and practices which make up the film’s subject matter have all been tarnished by the passage of time. In a certain sense, this means that what Makavejev proposed, in 1971, as images of liberation, have now become parts of everyday experience, in all their banality and obviousness, and have turned out not to be liberating at all. But I am trying to suggest that, in an important way, this only makes the film more visionary and more relevant. And this, of course, has as much to do with the film’s form and dynamics as with its overt content. WR begins as a sort-of documentary about Wilhelm Reich. But other strands quickly get woven in, and Makavejev’s montage becomes increasingly dense and delirious as the film proceeds.
Makavejev, however, is neither as didactic as Eisenstein, nor as contemplative as Godard. Rather, he pushes intellectual montage in the direction of what I can best call a kind of energizing of potentialities (of what Deleuze would call the virtual, or what Whitehead would call the “mental pole” of a concrescence). Makavejev is concerned with multipying potentialities, even (or especially) when these potentialities (obviously) cannot all be realized (since they are “incompossible” with one another), and when they lead to an impasse. Which is why the film can both enthusiastically celebrate the potentials of free sexuality, and envision the way such a “liberated” sexuality is only a pseudo-liberation, as it issues either in rampant consumerism (the American way), or in the exaltation of a sort of phallic totalitarianism (which applies, in different ways, to both Stalin and Hitler), or to the panicked reassertion of male privilege via murder (Vladimir Ilyich loses his self-possession when he gives way to orgasm and to his desire for Milena; which is why, in classic masculine-domination mode, just like in all those American film noirs, he punishes the woman for having allured him).
That is to say, in comparison to either Eisenstein or Godard, Makavejev’s intellectual montage is… more intellectual, more world-significant in its ramifications. (None of this should be seen as criticism of Godard, for whom I maintain an undying love and allegiance). But, besides being more intellectual, Makavejev is also (how to best put this?) more material — no, rather, more corporeal, more deeply embodied, than Godard (or Eisentstein). This has much to do with Reich, whose insistence on the embodiment of affects and desires is perhaps the most significant and powerful aspect of his theories. Reich, for instance, thought and wrote at great length about how repressions and conflicts and erotic positions are manifested, not just in linguistic and intellectual symptoms (as per Freud), but also very much in bodily postures and gestures, in what might be called the visceral forms of expression. (This non-linguistic dimension is precisely what the Lacanians ignore, systematically and on principle). This aspect of Reich’s theory is in fact explained to us, on screen, by a Reichian analyst (Alexander Lowen, if I am remembering correctly).
Following this principle, Makavejev’s montage is as visceral as it is intellectual. The sexual scenes in WR have generally been the ones that have caused the most controversy: in the dvd of the film that I showed my class, during the plaster-casting scene the man’s erect penis is obscured by a ridiculous sort-of psychedelic efflorescence special effect. This is something that wasn’t there when I viewed the film years ago; it was added to the film by Makavejev in 1991 (he proclaimed it an “improvement” ) in order to satisfy British censorship regulations (is WR the only Eastern-bloc film that has been thus censored both by a Communist country and by a capitalist one?). But in fact, the most physically jolting scenes in the film are not directly sexual at all — they are documentary scenes of Reichian therapy, showing patients violently thrashing and convulsing their bodies while yelling things like “give it to me.” source: The Pinocchio Theory