I, Olga Hepnarová (film)


Based on a true story, the film follows Olga Hepnarová, a 22 year old woman who committed a mass murder in the 1970s. Somewhat abstract, somewhat dream-like, the film provides a compassionate and questioning perspective on the demands of modern life and inadequacies of institutions to manage what is an organic and fluid issue.

It is not fully explained how Olga became Olga. Her family appears unable to communicate and rigid with formalities and social protocols. Her mother swings between a (failing) disciplinarian trying to get her daughter to "behave" to being a purse string: resigned to throw money at the problem to make it go away.

Set in the background is 1970s Prague; a highly functioning socialist society where the state provides for basic school, work and living. Olga grows up at the school hostel where she gets bullied by other girls. She finds other people dumb and boring to talk to. She has nothing in common with people around her and resigns herself to being a permanent outcast. 


After leaving school, she lives by herself in a cabin in the woods but realises that she's not equipped with the life skills to live in the wilderness. Her existence depends on modern amenities without which life becomes as insufferable as living amongst other people.  

She comes back to society and lives with her colleagues at work where she works as a mechanic. She wants to get some time off work and asks to see the work psychiatrist to try to get them to send her to an asylum to rest. The doctor kindly tells her that that's not what the hospitals are for. She asks them to find her a lesbian partner; her doctor tells her that "that's not what the health care system is supposed to provide". What is the health care system supposed to provide? What is the point of work and earning wages if your core being can only be described as 'confused' at best?

There is a German word: Prügelknabe meaning victim of bullying. Olga defines herself as Prügelknabe. But the film doesn't exactly go into great detail of the bullying that was inflicted on
Olga. This is what makes this film different from other films that are based on a story of a murderer. They usually provide reason or justification for the offender's actions -  for the horrific crime the person has committed. 

This film doesn't even really portray Olga as a criminal. The overall impression on the audience is that these abuses are common to the human condition and here is one person that decided to scream out, leaving the question as to why other people don't scream? Hostility, violence, neglect, manipulation, exploitation; from friends, parents, lovers, colleagues or random strangers: human condition is a myriad of physical and psychological abuses that happen during social interactions. What the film is about, loud and clear, is the inadequacies of the formal and official manners of institutions to deal with these kinds of issues.

Olga decides to take revenge against all the people that harmed her: against the whole of society. On a sunny day in 1973 Prague, Olga drives a truck through a busy promenade killing 8 people and injuring 20. At the trial she declares her sentence against "your bestiality" and asks to be given death penalty. However it doesn't turn out to be the meaningful death that she intended for it to be. The time in prison prior to the execution grinds her further down so that she no longer recognizes her former self. Prison; the ultimate form of institution obliterates what is left of Olga's soul.

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