DER FAN - a Chronicle of Erotomania
by Zack Long
Eckhart Schmidt’s 1982 exploitation masterpiece Der Fan opens by bathing the screen red throughout the credits. It is a fitting color, representing blood, violence, lust and desire. However, there’s a notable lack of red throughout the running time of the film; instead we are treated a world of muted colors, the bold tones of the opening seeming to have disappeared – only to return at moments of heated passion and violence, proving itself to be a warning of what’s to come in the second half of the film. The promise of violence, of lust gone wrong, finds itself manifested through the narration of our lead, Simone (Désirée Nosbursch).
A meditation on the obsessive nature of celebrity worship, Der Fan follows the journey of Simone to meet and woo pop vocalist R. Almost neatly divided into two parts, Der Fan first brings us into the world of a teenage fangirl. Perhaps she seems to take her desire a little too far but, within a culture that positions celebrities as gods (complete with unauthorized videos of their private lives and mail-in fan clubs), obsession is what’s being sold. It is not until the second half explodes with sudden shocking violence that we realize we’ve been privy to something much darker: we have bore witness to the most frighteningly accurate depiction of erotomania put to film.
Erotomania as classified as a delusional disorder within the DSM-V. It is characterized “by the persistent delusion that one is loved from afar by another person.” (1) Our first introduction to Simone’s bedroom pans across a blown up image of Nazi Germany’s crowds, images of R slowly fading over the historical document, finally pulling away to show us walls covered in newspaper clippings and headshots of R. Within this shot we see Schmidt’s thoughts on celebrity culture clearly, the willful loss of the self to the veneration of a ‘divine’ figure can only ever bring pain. And, as the scene shows, Simone is truly lost. Her narration brings us into her psychology:
“I’m listening to his last album. It’s beautiful. More than you can imagine. It’s like he wrote every song for me. Like … he knew me inside out. Like I knew him inside out. I understand him and he understands me. Like we’d known each other forever … but a cruel fate prevented us from really meeting.” (2)
This may be our first introduction to R, but his presence has already loomed over the film. Our first introduction to Simone shows her waiting for the mailman outside of the post office. He approaches, shakes his head, and Simone’s whole body droops in response. Her voiceover tells us it’s been three weeks since she wrote to R, the lack of a response weighing on her heavily. She stalks away, putting her headphones back on her head and introducing us to R’s music. The DSM-V sees delusional disorder as lasting at least a month; the ICD-10 sees three months as the minimum. The course of the film sees an unspecified length of time pass, though we can identify at least ten days from the opening to the meeting with R. However, within the text of her second letter (or, rather, the second we are informed about), Simone writes, “You don’t know me…but I’ve known you for 2 years now,” giving us a clue that the roots of this sickness run much deeper.
However, the onset of delusion is typically sudden (though not always) and there are clues within the film to suggest that we are seeing delusion and reality battling for control of Simone’s mind. As R predominates her conscious thoughts, Simone finds it impossible to stay within school and concentrate. She walks out the classroom and we’re shown a bridge she must cross: one of the symbols of physical travel that represents the loss of reality to the delusion state. The next time Simone is at a bridge is along the highway where she flees from a diver that stops to offer her a ride. She is not ready to cross this threshold yet as she still hangs onto the tattered remains of her sanity, best represented not by her actions but by her dreams: a mail truck parks in front of an expensive looking house and a mailman begins to unload bag after bag of fan letters for R. Her psyche demonstrates an understanding of the reality of her situation, that she is just one of many and it’s unrealistic to believe he would find her letter within such a haystack.
But even here we see Simone’s delusions rise to defend themselves: a woman, likely a lover of R’s, steps out of the house and informs the mailman he might as well just burn the letters. The figure of R’s lover represents a gatekeeper figure, someone that is working to keep R and Simone apart. This first comes to be vocalized by Simone in regards to R’s letter, which she knows he must have sent her. In her mind, either the mailman or her mother are working to keep them apart. This is expanded to later include R’s secretary as the possible culprit. In the mind of Simone, it makes no sense why her and R aren’t together. They are meant for each other, she knows it and she knows he does, too. By filtering their distance through a gatekeeper, she is able to maintain that R loves her despite the facts. The shifting nature of this figure – from mother to mailman and finally secretary – demonstrates just how fragile Simone’s delusion is, as well as how fluid. The film never gives the feeling that Simone believes her individual excuses, rather Simone believes there is a conspiracy but the shadows keep changing shape.
When it comes to stalking, the typical perpetrator is male and the victim is female. Erotomania, being a delusional disorder, is seen with a 3:1 ratio of women to men. Dr. Brendan Kelly argues that cases of erotomania, in specific, likely have an even higher ratio. A key feature of erotomania is that the object of affection is of a higher social class. R’s celebrity already sees him as higher in the social hierarchy than Simone, a middle class teen from Ulm. Interestingly, women are far less likely than men to resort to violence when it comes to erotomanic obsession – a point that we will return to in a moment when Simone and R finally meet.
Throughout the film we are intimately connected to Simone through her narration, giving us a feeling of understanding her. This is a privileged position that sets us apart from the rest of the characters within the film. Delusional disorder is helped along by social isolation, of which Simone appears to be suffering. Whether this is at her own hands, however, is open to discussion. When she first returns home at the start of the film, Simone enters into the dining room where her parents sit in silence. She takes a single bite of her supper and then heads to her room where she can be alone with her facsimiles of R. Throughout the course of the movie, Simone only speaks to her parents twice: once upon her return home at the end of the film and once earlier in an attempt to get her father to switch channels to the show R will be appearing on.
From her parents in return she receives silence, pity and anger. It is clear that in this household, what her father says goes and that neither Simone nor her mother have a say. Out in the world, Simone is often seen on the borders of groups: she stands outside of the music studio R is set to appear, across the road from where all the other fans are; within school she fails to connect with anyone, her only line of dialogue being an excuse for her absences. The boy sitting behind her in class reappears on the street and follows her. At first seeming to be a stalker, it is suggested that Simone and the boy had a relationship of some kind. He takes her hand and tries to kiss her neck, telling he missed her. In response, she fails to make eye contact, shoots down his suggestion of getting a coffee, and we linger on their hands as she literally pulls away from him – a rejection of her peers, socially, that suggests her social isolation is a newer phenomenon.
In response to her skipping school, Simone’s dad threatens to send her to boarding school. It has the opposite effect, instead compelling her to run away and hitchhike her way to Munich where R is scheduled to appear on the TV show Top Pop. The first driver to pick her up attempts to rape her, hinting ahead to the sexual violence of the second act. This attempted rape is one of violence and force, as is typically conjured by the word, however Simone is able to escape and continue her journey unharmed. This is in contrast to the loving nature of the later date rape and it’s shattering effect on her psyche. Within Der Fan violence and sex are intimately connected, the one suggesting the other in alternating fashion.
Having arrived in the city, Simone sulks outside of the Top Pop studio, unsure of when R is due to show but determined to be there. R doesn’t appear that first day but we’re greeted to the squeals of fans as an unnamed celebrity appears. In a premonition of the actions R will take with Simone, the celebrity exits his car and takes one of the young girls waiting for an autograph into the studio with him. She can’t be more than 16, a child, but the look in his eyes tells us exactly what he wants from her. He even goes so far as to belittle his employees as a show of force for the girl’s amusement, a behaviour that R repeats. In this world, the celebrity gets the girl even if she’s underaged and no one says a word of confrontation. This attitude becomes even more prevalent when R brings Simone inside, the host of the show making underhanded comments that suggest R gets off on treating his fans mean, sleeping with them and then forgetting them.
This is all lost on Simone. The second day R appears and she is too in shock to cross the road to meet him. Unfortunately for her, R spots her and pushes his way through the crowd to get to her (much to the dismay of the other fans and his secretary). Unable to answer his questions, to even speak her name, R tells her that if she wants she can come into the studio later. Simone faints as he walks away, only to awaken to him watching over her, his hand holding hers. R gives her such attention and care that, as Kier-La Janisse astutely notes, “we question whether all this is filtered through her delusion.” (3) There are cracks, though. We don’t know how long R sat with her hand in his, but after she is awake he immediately abandons her to the cafe. When he comes back after an unspecified time, he demands that she leaves her food to come with him. Him, aka the only figure within his world. They lay together while he waits for the show to start, then afterwards he abandons his band and secretary to take Simone to his friend’s loft. They have it to themselves, he informs her, because the owner is overseas in America.
By this point R and Simone have spoken only a handful of words to each other, most often questions that R doesn’t dignify with a response. Entering the apartment, R leaves to make phone calls. When he returns he takes her head in his hands without a word, kisses her, removes her clothing, and they make love. At least, Simone would call it making love. R would just call it fucking. The scene is tender, almost beautiful in it’s way, until you remember that Simone is only 17. The mood shifts as soon as they are done, R taking his leave of her and demonstrating her biggest fear. Simone has told us already that she is different from the other women that R sleeps with; he only beds and leaves them, but Simone he will love. Finding herself in the same place as the imagined women, Simone desperately clings onto R. “I love you,” she tells him. “Me too,” he replies as he removes her hand, speaking not of her but of himself.
R puts on his clothes and goes to leave. Simone, in a fit of emotion, smashes him over the skull with a statue of an archer. The statue’s arm pieces the bone, dropping him to his knees. Taking his head in her lap, we notice for the first time the blood on her leg. His wound faces away, however, implying that the blood is not his but hers. She wasn’t lying when she said she had no interest in boys, R being the first and only person she has slept with. From virgin to murderer, Simone’s understanding of connection is tainted with death. Our opening suggests this connection long before it’s a reality. Having climbed “the hundreds of steps up the cathedral” in Ulm while imagining holding hands with R, Simone daydreams while looking out over the city.
Noting the funny looks from the tourists, she imagines they think she’s going to climb the bars and throw herself off. “And they were right,” she tells us, “That’s what I’ll do if I don’t hear from R. But I won’t just be dead splattered all across the square. If I jump, I’ll have a farewell letter to R with me. Then R will hear of me. He’ll have to think about me. And so I’ll be a part of him and he a part of me.” Love, the connection between her and R, does not require either to be alive – death itself can be connection.
In the darkness of the hallway, Simone strips R naked. Flesh moves against flesh, seeming like nothing more than another coupling. As R stripped Simone, the film fades between two parts of the same shot, blurring the temporal boundaries of the sex act. This same technique is used as Simone strips R’s corpse, suggesting a necrophilic tinge to her actions. Instead we’re treated to a different form of consummation: that of consumption. Simone has already told us that her and R will be a part of each other – she’s not wrong. Using an electric knife, she cuts R into pieces to be stored in the freezer until she is able to cook and consume all of him, going so far as to grind his bones into powder.
The consumption of R marks the fusion of Simone and R into one being, the perfect creature as she would have it. His death also begins the process of her erotomania taking on a new subject. As Simone contemplates what to do with R’s corpse we are treated to a final shot of him as a whole, splayed out across the kitchen floor. The effect of the lighting gives him a translucent appearance: already he is beginning to fade away, the physical R no longer of importance to her. This is demonstrated on Simone’s journey back home where for the first time we see Simone in public without R’s music playing through her walkman. She doesn’t need his music to be close to him, they are one in the same as Simone’s new haircut shows us. While performing on Top Pop, R dawns a bald cap so that he can blend in with a display on mannequins. The next time we see Simone after consuming R, she is now bald. A reflection of R. (Interestingly enough, research on erotomania has taken to examining brain morphology and has identified a greater degree of temporal lobe asymmetry people suffering from delusional disorder, something that Schmidt would have had no way of knowing but is startlingly present in the uneven application of Simone’s bald cap).
Returning home, Simone makes peace with her parents. Sitting together in front of the TV again, a police bulletin informs us that R is still missing and we’re treated to the most chilling of revelations:
“I missed my period. I’m four weeks late. I’ll deliver you into the world. We will be happy. I know you love me. Me too…I love you.”
Her erotomania now turned towards her own child to be, or, rather, the child she believes will be: those suffering from erotomania have been known to experience the conception and birth of children that never existed.
This was not the end for Simone, merely the beginning.
1. Erotomania: Epidemiology and Management – Brendan D. Kelly, 2005.
2. Translation from Mondo Macabro’s 2015 blu ray release of Der Fan
3. House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films - Kier-La Janisse, FAB Press (October 15, 2012).
Zack Long is the editor-in-chief of Scriptophobic.ca (@Scriptophobics), a site dedicated to helping genre writers improve their craft, where he also hosts the Fade to Zack podcast. When he isn’t researching film, studying screenplays, or helping writers, Zack can be found meditating, studying neuroscience and psychology and writing obsessively. In his spare time he is a lover of cats and a muppet of a man.