The Baader Meinhof Complex as the name implies is as much about the psychology of the Baader Meinhof Group as it is about the events. Not knowing much about the time it is hard to say how accurate the film is to the events. It does portray the unrest in West Germany of the late 60’s and early 70’s well and which is reflected in some of Fassbinder’s films, especially in The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum. The more interesting take of the film, though, is not the historic, but the motivations of the group. What was it that drove them and how did it manifest itself if their actions?
The film makers make clear that they see the group as well intentioned ideologues who could not control what they were: free loving anarchists from the 1960’s. The anarchism in their personal lives leads to mistakes in their actions. They are undisciplined terrorists and while they can plan out bank robberies well, they can’t plan out the next steps. And when they are arrested those who follow cannot plan any better. It doesn’t mean they are the Three Stooges of terrorism, because they managed hijackings and the German Embassy raid in Stockholm. It means they had no plan after the action. What happens when you reach your tactical objective?
The Badder Meinhof was good at achieving the tactical, but not the strategic and eventually the movement died out. However, it was not because the police were particularly cleaver. They caught group members, but were not able to stop new members from starting following after the group. Badder Meinhof dissipated as the times dissipated, as the politics that drove the original members changed.
It was also the seeming patience of the police that stopped the gang. The film makers show a scene where the head of the terrorism squad says, we must understand their motivations. It doesn’t make those motivations right, but it is the only way to defeat them. When he says it those in the meeting with him are resistant and it is an obvious criticism on the American War on Terror, which has posited a with us or against us mentality that has seemed to block analysis the movie posits. Yet the film also makes it clear that the German legal system was not able to handle the group adequately, since its processes were based on the idea that the accused will want to fight their charges. Instead the group makes fun of the case and spends time in their prison cell planning escapes.
Ultimately the questions The Baader Meinhof Complex grapple with is how do you stop terrorists? And how do you do it without destroying your society or creating more terrorists. The movie has no answers, but the skilled acting and film making make this and excellent film.