A Cure for Wellness (2016) – Matters of Purity
“You understand absolutely nothing about modern civilization unless you first
admit that it is a universal conspiracy against all interior life” – Georges Bernanos
‘A Cure for Wellness’ (2016) is a compelling motion-picture which keeps you glued to the screen until its very end. The last 10-15 minutes are a bit of a let down, but only because the atmosphere and storytelling were so well orchestrated, no ending would have been able to deliver on such high promises.
The subject of the film is an obvious reference to the alternative medicine industry, the entire ‘holistic wellness homeopathic’ rebellion against industrial society and its big pharma complex. Those who are vaguely aware of this alternative scene might be able to pinpoint its origins in 19th century scientific projects started by German and Swiss doctors such as Louis Kuhne and other eccentric figures who built on Vitalist foundations, namely the idealist belief that matter is animated by a mystical ‘vital force’ or a Nietzschean ‘will-to-power’, and by preserving it through sexual abstinence or harvesting it through various medical experiments, humans can preserve or even prolong their lives. The idea which proved highly influential in all sorts of circles, secular or religious, eventually boiled down to an obsession with purity, with preserving one’s ‘vital force’, keeping it safe from miscegenation, contamination, appetitive excesses and all sorts of other impurities.
The film starts with a monologue:
“A man cannot un-see the truth. He cannot willingly return to darkness or go blind once he has the gift of sight, anymore than he can be unborn.
We are the only species capable of self-reflection. The only species with the toxin of self-doubt written into our genetic code. Unequal to our gifts we build, we buy, we consume. We wrap ourselves in the illusion of material success. We cheat and deceive as we claw our way to the pinnacle of what we define as achievement; superiority to other men.
But there is a sickness inside us. Rising like the bile that leaves that bitter taste at the back of our throats. We do our best to deny its existence, dealing in lies and distraction. Until one day the body rebels against the mind and screams out… I am not a well man. Only when we know what ails us can we hope to find the cure.”
The main character, Lockhart, is an overly ambitious salesman who, in order to climb the ladder of his unscrupulous corporation and facilitate some big merger with an equally corrupt competitor, must travel to a remote Swiss sanatorium to persuade an old colleague (now a patient) to travel back to NY for a few days to sign the merger documents. The patient, Pembroke, had written a resignation paper containing the lines quoted above, which everyone interpreted as the old man losing his mind.
The arrogant young protagonist, Lockhart, arrives at the sanatorium, an old idyllic castle on a mountain top, and is greeted by the friendly but firm staff. Time seems to stand still in this place, where the elderly patients are enjoying the same repetitive but pleasant routines. The action develops slowly and I won’t describe it in detail, although if you haven’t watched it, be aware that this contains spoilers.
The old castle baron who had lived there in the 19th century had married his sister in order to preserve the purity of his bloodline. They had tried desperately to conceive a child and eventually succeeded; they had also performed strange experiments on the local peasants, attempting to extract some chemical compound that would prolong the baron’s life. Enraged by the incestuous union, the peasants had revolted and burned the baroness at the stake, and it was rumoured that the baron and his daughter had managed to escape. Early in the film it becomes obvious that the hospital’s director, dr. Heinreich Volmer, was in fact the old baron, and Hannah, a strange teenage girl roaming around the castle battlements, was his incestuous daughter.
The entire purpose of the sanatorium was to experiment on its patients; the water they were given, said to be a panacea for all their diseases, was in fact contaminated with a rare breed of eels which contained a key ingredient for unnatural longevity; but in order for it to work, it had to enter the human metabolism first; the patients were in fact nothing more than cattle used to synthesise the remedy that prolonged the lives of the baron, his daughter and the entire staff of blond Swiss German employees. When the unknowing Hannah finally has her first menstrual cycle, her father takes her to his chambers for yet another incestuous union that would further preserve the purity of his bloodline. Predictably, Hannah is saved by the meddling Lockhart, a fight ensues with the now disfigured Volmer who shows his true zombie-like face, and it is Hannah who kills him with a spade, eventually leaving the sanatorium to burn in sky-high flames, escaping on a bike with Lockhart.
Maybe the film’s conclusion would not have been such a let down had it not promised so much. I am aware that Hollywood is not in the business of truth-seeking, but everyone must have realised by now that the motion-picture industry is interested in reinforcing the normative narratives of the post-WW2 truth regime. Furthermore, every cultural production cannot refrain from circling around its sacred maypoles. When those maypoles are perverted until no truth can be found in them, we witness a toxic society which cannot orient its citizens towards anything good or transcendent.
In its beginning, the film seems to realise the problems of modernity, with its incessant agitation that leads nowhere. To quote another Italian baron (not from the film), ‘a frenzied need for possession; a dark angst towards all that is detached, isolated, deep or remote; an impulse to expand, circulate, associate with others and find oneself in any which place’ is what characterises our society in which every aspect, from ‘communications, ultrasonic speeds, radio and television, standardisation, cosmopolitanism, internationalism, unlimited production’ (idem) – has been touched by the revolutionary, Faustian spirit.
The Swiss sanatorium seems to promise ‘a cure’ or even ‘a detox’ for this restless condition. In the Italian baron’s word, ‘traditional civilisations were dizzying in their stability, in their identity, in their subsisting and unwavering and changeless fashion. […] If one understands this image by viewing it in relation not to the physical plane but the spiritual plane, one thereby perceives the correct hierarchy of values; thus we cast our gaze beyond the horizon which confines our contemporaries. What has been referred to as ‘static’ proves to be overflowing with a dizzying life. The others – they are the fallen, those who have lost their centre. Changeism, historicism, evolutionism, and so on, all seem like the thrills of the shipwrecked, truths applying to whatever flees, to whatever lacks inner consistency and ignores what this means or even what the origin of all elevations and achievements is.‘
This is the promise the Swiss baron makes to the modern man. He confesses to Lockhart that most of his patients used to be men of high achievements, who realised the futility of their agitation and had to find a cure for it. And unforeseen by anyone watching this film, behind this hunger for the transcendent lies the ugly face of fascism! To quote Alain de Benoist:
‘If “fascism” is the absolute evil, and [politicians] denounce it, that means that they are not entirely bad. False accounts, unfulfilled electoral promises, grafts and corruptions of all sorts become lamentable faults but, in short, secondary ones in relation to the worst. But not only the Left or politicians need a non-existent “fascism” that embodies absolute evil. Also, all of modernity on the decline needs a black beast that allows it to make the social pathologies which it itself has engendered acceptable, under the pretext that however bad things go now, they would never have a point of comparison with those things that took place in the past. Modernity is thus legitimized by means of a phantasm of which, paradoxically, we are told at the same time that it is “unique” and that it can return at any time. Confronted with its own emptiness, confronted with the tragic failure of its initial project of human liberation, confronted with the counter-productivity that it generates everywhere, confronted with the loss of references and with generalized senselessness, confronted with nihilism, confronted with the fact that man becomes increasingly more useless from the moment in which his abstract rights are proclaimed, modernity is left no other recourse than to divert attention, that is, to wield non-existent dangers to impede the rising awareness of the truth’ – The Sole Anti-Fascist Thought
The trick described so aptly by Benoist is employed by every faction that wishes to preserve the grand post-WW2 narrative; not only Antifas engage in it, but every stripe of Progressive, Liberal, Socialist, Libertarian and Neoconservative ideologue. ‘The chaotic and agitated drive to action characteristic of modernity’, they proclaim, ‘cannot be left behind. The only way to tame it is to embrace it’. As a proud gay citizen of the Current Year you are not allowed to disengage and become contemplative; you are “absorbed and rapt in eager self, driving, pushing, carried on in a stress of feverish force like a bullet, dynamic force apart from reason or will, like the force that lifts the tides and sends the clouds onwards. […] They cannot stay, they must go, their necks are in the slave’s ring” – Richard Jefferies, The Story of my Heart.
But why are the two barons ‘fascist’, the readers might ask? What makes a life of contemplation so dangerous? Dr. Heinreich Volmer answers in the film: ‘Man rid himself of God, of hierarchy, of everything that gave him meaning, until he was left worshipping the empty altar of his own ambition.’ Oh the sweet sound of such words! Makes you realise why Peterson had such huge success. The doctor continues: ‘Do you know what the cure for the human condition is? Disease. Because that’s the only way one could hope for a cure.’
Must we reject the thesis from the opening quote that man is fundamentally broken? Is it not true that ‘homo hominis lupus est’? Do we need to question even this reality that our ancestors took for granted? Lockhart becomes convinced there was nothing wrong with him, nor with the other patients. I mean yes, we do ‘oppress’ others through unjust hierarchies, we cheat, steal, conquer and murder. But what if there is no cure for this? What if we are simply what we are and any attempt to find redemption is a mere chimera, exploited by predatorial types who want to turn us into cattle? You notice the circular aspect of nihilism? If self-reflection and self-doubt are ‘toxins’, all we can do is follow our appetites to their conclusions. Be ambitious, make money, prolong your life, dance with Dionysus. Don’t let others tell you what to do. But then isn’t this what Volmer and his staff are doing? Why are they bad then?
Well, obviously, it’s because they are non-egalitarian relics of the past; they long for the times when ‘God, hierarchy and everything that gives man meaning’ were governing human interactions. So badness resides in religion itself. Every philosophy that attempted to offer remedies for our chaotic self-destructive drives, every institution that attempted to govern sex and hunger, everything that gave life a telos and meaning – God himself – was part of the problem. Don’t let anyone tell you what to think, don’t follow any system or creed, beware the predators lurking all around, that’s about all, peace out (Edcibinium of Cuckxigen 2 is clapping like a seal).
But we are once again hit with the circularity of this thinking. If any person and any thought (even your own!) attempting to limit your appetites and ambitions is predatorial and discriminatory, giving in to your untrammelled ambition leads you into pure hell – psychological and societal. So the only modern answer to the emotivist dilemma is ‘self-invention’ – be who you are, but also transform and don’t let anyone tell you how and what to become. The answer lies in you. And by doing so, instead of seeking an intelligent and divine exemplar, you are forced to treat yourself like a little god. Like those damned mid century Germans! Back to square one.
TOXINS AND PURITY
The other reason why the baron is evil (aside from being hierarchical and patriarchal), is because he has a conservative predisposition. He values the sanctity/purity moral intuition, and look at what that gave us – Himtler with his racial obsessions and pathological fear of contamination; Vitalist kooks promoting pseudo-science; obscurantist doctors acting like shamans (Edcibinium tips fedora) and so ooon, and so forth, sniff. Just use your untrammelled liberal intuitions, please, and you will be safe from this mess. Except when you’re a venture capitalist, then you deserve the Gulag, or at least to be locked up and put on strong medication, like ((Pasternak)) did to all those Hollywood celebrities. Hmmm, why are purity spirals, public shamings and pathologising dissent so prevalent in contemporary society?
The sanctity/purity moral intuition is not a disease you must eradicate; it is quite vital to the survival of humankind. It is, for instance, the main factor which led to the shunning of incest in all human cultures that ever existed. It ensured that humans, when faced with contaminated corpses or swarming species like rats carrying diseases, felt an intense disgust at the danger of contamination. It also ensured that, when you had an infection in your body, instead of tolerating and including it in your list of ‘okay’ organs, you acted quickly to restore the body’s former integrity. It also ensured that you did not allow weeds to smother your crops, or false hypotheses to corrupt your scientific projects.
The purity intuition also acted as an upward force which is required to order your appetites, live peacefully in society and undergo the sanctification requirements necessary for a connection with the Transcendent. Certain drives are ‘filthy’ when left unchecked; hunger and sex can turn you into a beast, if exerted outside of proper context.
Finally, the purity intuition allows us to discern the noble, dignifying aspects of human nature. When you look your baby in her eyes, you see an innocent human being bestowed with infinite love and dignity by her Creator. ‘Purity’ makes you willing to raise her in integrity and righteousness. Purity is hierarchical and this is why liberals of all stripes cannot stand it.
It is true, however, that Vitalists and German idealists degraded this moral intuition and turned it into something monstrous. Not because they acknowledged it as something intrinsically human, but because they tried to instrumentalise it. Refusing to worship an intelligent God, they posited an impersonal ‘will-to-power’ or ‘vital force’ that moves things at the most metaphysical level. Thus, instead of seeking to enter into communion with any Personal divine exemplars and purify themselves for this purpose (all religious ‘cleansing’ rituals you read about), they used the purity/sanctity intuition as a tool for self-deification, and so ended up positing all sorts of feverish dreams of ethnic sacredness, genetic memory or Promethean self-willing. Thus the baron can ignore his natural revulsion to incest and turn it on its head.
Finally, being ‘on the right side of history’ does not fix the problem of the so called ur-fascism lurking in the dark; progressives, liberals and socialists of all stripes are guilty of the same instrumentalisation of moral intuitions (purity excluded, admittedly) for the ultimate goal of self-deification, finding immortality through medical means and all sorts of other Transhumanist delusions. The film thus ends on a disappointing note, one too familiar in our contemporary culture – that of endless denunciation and cynicism; the messed up Lockhart fails to find a cure for his wounds and character flaws, but simply by escaping the predatory Uber-Swiss blond beasts he somehow is ‘liberated’ from something bad, and it is implied that in the end he gets Hannah for himself; both having gotten rid of their tyrannical Patriarchs (Hannah by direct murder, like a good third waver), both free to roam the earth, follow their appetites and maybe become romantically involved, or simply fucking off to wherever their Emotivist adventure will lead them next.