Monster – 15-16
What is in a name?
Dr. Tenma meets Gen. Wolfe — the man in the photograph with a circa Kinderheim 511 Johan — and remarks that the Wolfe in front of him looks nothing like the Wolfe in the photo. Wolfe takes this a step further: He says people refer to him as “Wolfe”, and that he introduces himself as “Wolfe” to people who do not know him, but there is nothing real that proves he is Wolfe. For all anyone knows, Wolfe could be anyone else and it would not matter, because he is labeled to the world as “Wolfe”.
Monster explores names and their connection to identity more as the series goes on, so I’ll limit my own analysis to this episode. What specifically Wolfe seems to suggest to Tenma is that names are meaningless without accompanying markers of identity. Names are just like any other symbol; think, for instance, of a stop sign. By itself, a red octagon with “STOP” plastered on it is meaningless — yet, we know to stop when we see the sign because there is an implicit agreement about what the sign means. It is the same with names. They are not born with meaning or identity; we supply the meaning by our actions, and by how we are perceived by others.
By the time Wolfe and Tenma meet, Wolfe has very few others remaining in his life. His bodyguards are, in fact, the closest people Wolfe has to “loved ones” in this world, because everyone else who matters to him is dead — his family, friends and colleagues have almost all been killed by Johan in a manner reminiscent of Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects. (“He kills their kids, he kills their wives, he kills their parents and their parents’ friends.”) When Wolfe and Tenma meet, Wolfe can be anybody, because everyone who really knows him is dead. Wolfe knows who he is, but that is it; when he is gone, his identity — his existence — will be scattered in the wind, lost forever.
To think it begins when Wolfe saves Johan and Anna from the barren wastelands of the Czech border, and Wolfe asks Johan how he feels. Johan, smiling serenely, gives a simple answer: “You will soon know how I feel.” And once Johan lays waste to Wolfe’s life, Wolfe can at least grasp the despair within Johan. I cannot delve much further into that without venturing into spoiler territory except to say Wolfe’s assumption is accurate — it is that dwarfing sense of loneliness when one is completely alone despite being surrounded by people every day.
It is the closest anyone can come to have a name completely ripped away and made useless. Wolfe still has his name, but without the people who have helped shape his identity throughout his life, it is simply an empty symbol. He can be Gen. Wolfe, or Dr. Tenma, or Johan Liebert, or Inspector Lunge, or anyone else as far as outsiders are concerned. When Tenma meets Wolfe, Wolfe is no longer the general who sent Johan to Kinderheim 511 to craft him into a super soldier; he is nothing like the man in the photograph. Wolfe is simply a dying old man who has only his money and his bodyguards. They alone serve to reaffirm the fact that Wolfe is Wolfe, and nobody else; it is a nice literary touch that Wolfe’s bodyguards protect not only his life but also the very fact of his existence.
Descartes’ famous statement is, “I think, therefore I am” (or, perhaps, “I am thinking, therefore I exist” depending on the translation). But how far does that go? I, sitting in front of the computer, am aware of my existence. But what about some random person in Japan? China? England? Australia? Mexico? Do I exist to those people? The argument Wolfe makes is that existence is not limited — nor validated — simply by the self. Other people must come into play. The entire evolution of humanity — biologically, socially, psychologically, etc. — points to the fact that, however we got here, we were not meant to go it alone. We mark ourselves not just by how we perceive ourselves but also by how others perceive us, and by how we want others to perceive us.
Everyone, even if it is to a slim extent, cares about what other people think of them. J.D. Salinger cares that other people know he wants to be left alone. Bill Russell, the legendary Boston Celtics center, cared that everyone knew he gave his all on the basketball court and that he would not stand to be treated as a second-class citizen as a black man, even if he valued his privacy and didn’t want to be bothered by other people. I want to be known as someone with an open mind who tries to understand as much about people (and characters) as possible without passing unnecessary judgment. This is identity.
To go at it from a modern angle that has always interested me: People on the Internet deliberately craft identities. Whether those identities are close to, or far apart from, their identities in “reality” is beside the point. Names are chosen if people choose to venture to those places requiring names, and they interact wherever they want to establish an identity. A LOST fan might seek out other LOST fans. Movie fans might go to movie message boards and read movie-related blogs. I have an anime blog and read many anime blogs. This is a part of who I am.
But this is the important part: Nothing on the Internet matters without interaction. Just about everything that exists on the ‘net is meant to be viewed by other people. Without that interaction, what else is there? If I posted 10, 100 or 1000 posts, and nobody ever commented on them, and they then disappeared into the darkest corners of the Internet, who is to say they existed? If I post with vague, easily forgotten comments on a message board, who is to say I exist there? We can craft and hone our identities to an extent, but without interaction with others, wouldn’t we just be trying to show ourselves who we are? With every word we write, we say, “This is who I am, and what I think; now, what do you think?” Our words, our thoughts and our very selves do not amount to much more than vague symbols without other people to see them and give them meaning.
For Gen. Wolfe, the essence of being is predicated upon the bonds he shares with other people; he is Wolfe not just because he exists as Wolfe, but also because people know he exists as Wolfe. To simply exist, without that validation, is true loneliness.
Some notes to close out the post:
– The Baby still creeps me out. He’s like one of those weirdo villains you find in a David Lynch movie. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lynch’s movies actually did inspire the creation of The Baby in some way.
– Couldn’t find a way to fit this in the main post, but I like how Anna and Johan have shifted identities throughout the beginning of Monster, because they have no true identities of their own.
– Prof. Geidlitz compares Johan to Jesus Christ and counts himself among four men who claim to have helped Johan in his rise to the top of Germany (including Wolfe, who has rejected this mission). This furthers the Antichrist theme that has been present from the beginning — Geidlitz sees Johan as the Savior and ends up being killed by him. Dr. Tenma is on the mark when he says Johan doesn’t give a damn about the right-wingers and their desire to make Johan more powerful than Hitler.
– Villains talking a big game and then getting swept up by Johan is a common theme in Monster as well. Even The Baby is talked about among people as being a crazy right-winger who tried to create a pure-blood German town and failed. He gets a rebuke of sorts to his identity by not receiving expected praise from Wolfe; instead, one of The Baby’s men is killed by Wolfe’s bodyguards.
– Dieter pulling a Heckel by downing a drink in the bar, leaving with a cherry in his mouth and impressing the patrons is pretty badass. Too bad he is WAY too young to hold his liquor.