„You can starve your family out of your body.“

„Nora“ of Münchner Kammerspiele begins with a new introduction in which the protagonists reflect on their positions in the upcoming play. It is repeated several times: that the play is essentially about a house. The chain of associations house – domestic – woman seems to be the most obvious interpretation. The subordinate role of the servants is also pointed out, as well as the over-presence of Helmer, the patriarch of the play. Nora behaves in an extensive and dominant manner in this opening section. Despotically, she approaches the others – and above all, her servants. Meanwhile, she consistently follows her husband, stoically insisting on being in the first line together with him, and on being mentioned in the same breath. Thus, on the one hand, she behaves according to ‘her position’, but on the other, she herself displays behaviour that can be associated with patriarchal stereotypes. This culminates in her standing wide-legged on the table, and yelling „fuck the patriarchy!“ as if she were in a soccer stadium. A disarming performance – the audience cheers her on. 

After the prologue, an upside-down facade of an apartment building fills the stage. Different weather conditions are projected onto it during the play. Due to the upside-down position, rainwater running down looks like the rising bubbles of an aquarium: a cosy and quite limited place, where beings with supposedly low intellectual needs are well-contained. 

In what follows, Nora initially remains unbreakable, and confirms her position at the man’s side. Only in the further course – when her hard shell gradually crumbles and Nora’s tragic passion comes to light – does she make an actual break with the patriarchal structures surrounding her. She loses her apparent superiority, getting caught in a maelstrom of problems. Finally, she pulls the ripcord, and escapes her fate. „You can starve your family out of your body“, says Nora, leaving her husband and children behind.


While Nora’s suffering wrings emancipation from her, the same pressure spurs Helmer on to patriarchal feats towards the end of the play. After the revealing letter from Krogstad lands in the house’s mailbox – which hovers above the stage as a kind of glass ballot box throughout the play – and Helmer learns of Nora’s secret deeds, the play also presents the most noteworthy psychological moment for his character. We witness a display of the male psyche that can be compared to „Force Majeure“[1], the 2014 film by Ruben Östlund. In both stories, the man suffers precipitation in his position as sovereign and, like a helpless child, must triumphantly display it in suffering. He feels deep satisfaction in what he sees as a justified display of the injustice done to him, so that he believes he is entitled a priori to the affection and comfort of his wife as a result.

In Östlund’s work, this motif culminates in the perversion of the two children clinging to their father in sorrow, and crying with him while he sobs on the floor in the fetal position. The perplexed woman standing next to him receives hostility from her children about why she does not help dad. So finally, defeated by the reproduction of her subjugation embodied in her own children, she lets herself down to the cowering group, and takes part submissively. Just as spineless as the male role in the film, we experience Helmer, who loses his attitude in a matter of seconds, and thus we become aware of the inner weakness of a male socialisation, which let himself be chauffeured through life by the emotional care of a woman. 

The male self-perception of being entitled to this treatment opens up the absurd idea that the woman is in his debt if she denies him this. In the following, he erupts in misogynistic[2] ejections , in which he declares, for example, that Nora is now ill. Of course, whoever breaks the gender rules must be „sick“ and cannot be „a real human being“, as Helmer spitefully states. A little later, he suggests to attend a masked ball, and then Nora can finally be someone else. He emphasises this patronisingly, as if it were obvious that this is the common wish – Nora’s too. Helmer denies Nora her status as a human being and turns her into a monster who is suited best in disguise. And all this because she does not enough of care-work for him. Because she wants to break out.

The class question

The voice of the nanny, Anne-Marie – who speaks a few words exclusively over the loudspeakers at the beginning because her physical representation had been rationalised away – does not reappear in the rest of the piece. Is this a lost thread, or a statement? It can be mentioned here that the class question, which was raised at the beginning, recedes more and more into the background as the evening progresses. It celebrates its „departure“ with a pompous two-man performance by Mrs. Linde and Krogstad, who launch great antics that make us believe that a takeover of the story by the subaltern power is imminent. However, nothing happens. The two leave the play without comment. A “turning upside down” of the relations – which would have worked so nicely against the staged „turning upside down“ of the house that happens in the middle of the play – does not happen. After all, we are not in „Triangle of Sadness”[3], even if the above parallel to Östlund’s work can be discerned. Not to be forgotten, however, is the emancipatory significance of Nora’s deeds, which, in a certain sense, certainly question the relations – at least in Ibsen’s time.

As a final act, the protagonist resorts to extremist means, and destroys the house. A grand gesture? A liberation blow? Did the very direct video of an exploding house have to be shown as a last impression, on the grounds that the evening itself was not able to evoke this image in the minds of the audience? At any rate, there were standing ovations during the applause. At first, however, only one woman dared to stand up to pay homage to a play in which a woman did the same. It took a while until others joined in.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Force_Majeure_(film)

[2] I refer to the definition of misogyny according to Kate Manne and her 2019 book “Downgirl”.

[3] In Ruben Östlund’s 2022 film “Triangle of Sadness”, a luxury cruiser is shipwrecked. Some survivors are stranded on an island. The previously-existing class relations are turned upside down here, as the previous cleaning lady Abigail is the only one with the skills to ensure the survival of the group under these circumstances. She establishes a new order. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_of_Sadness)


Günther Mailand

Günther Mailand hat von 2008-2015 als autodidaktischer Musiker, Produzent und Instrumentalist in Projekten unterschiedlicher Genres mitgewirkt und als Komponist für Kunst- und Dokumentationsfilme produziert. Gemeinsam mit Hans Innenhof arbeitet er seit 2015 unter dem Namen Mailand / Innenhof als künstlerisches Duo interdisziplinär zwischen bildender und darstellender Kunst. Kern ihrer Arbeit sind Aktionen und Eingriffe im öffentlichen Raum. Besonderes Interesse gilt dabei theoretischen Fragestellungen zu politischer Ökonomie, materialistischer Gesellschaftstheorie und Ästhetik im Kapitalismus.
From 2008-2015 Günther Mailand has worked as an autodidact musician, producer and instrumentalists in projects of different genres. During this time he also produced art and documentary films. Since 2015 he has been working together with Hans Innenhof under the name Mailand / Innenhof. As an artistic duo they work interdisciplinary between visual and performing arts. They are particularly interested in theoretical questions of political economy, materialist social theory and aesthetics in capitalism.

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