Wolfgang Grimmer – The Beauty of the Human Spirit (Monster)

Wolfgang Grimmer – The Beauty of the Human Spirit (Monster)

January 12, 2020 100 By William Hollis


From the very beginning, Naoki Urasawa’s
Monster is a narrative that spends an effectively excruciating amount of time pondering the
concept of human emptiness. Of the void. Of situations that will leave a person totally
wandering, broken, aimless, and apathetic to all things. While it handles its characters and themes
with a tactful elegance, it isn’t afraid to horrify with a lot of the uncomfortable
questions it tackles. And one of the most prominent of those is
the following: When all is stripped away from a human, what becomes of that empty husk? The answer, by and large, tends to be one
of two terrible things: darkness, or death. But as I have talked about before, Monster
is more balanced than an exercise in futility, and there is a hidden third option: one that
can be found through the journey of a certain Wolfgang Grimmer, and one that, while extremely
tragic on multiple levels, presents some light to balance out that ever-present idea of the
void. During the time of the story, Wolfgang Grimmer
is a freelance journalist secretly investigating cases of child experimentation in order to
bring these terrible deeds to light. In actuality, he is one of the survivors of
511 Kinderheim and is desperately trying to uncover the truth of it and similar situations
to better understand himself and the world. This was an incident conducted by the internal
division of the German government in order to reprogram children to make them emotionless,
robotic soldiers for the military to use at their whim, despite the false, postured front
of the orphanage being a means of proper re-education for children. 511 Kinderheim was essentially a lab that
forcibly brought about the most prominent emotions from the children, which usually
led to conflict, in order to then use negative reinforcement to desensitize them and strip
them of these prominent feelings, along with their memories. Children were told that there was no purpose
to anything at all, that their dreams and goals in life were impossible, and that there
was no chance of fulfillment for them. The names and identities of the subjects were
disregarded and they were given numbers instead, and in order to mould the children into perfect
soldiers, they were told that they had to dismiss everything and just focus on strength
and survival. Those with inadequate strength or mentality
were tossed to the streets, with a permanently blunted affect and a disinterest in most things. Some died, whether it be during the experiments
or years later due to various mysterious circumstances. And Grimmer in particular was subjected to
unique experiments where the scientists attempted to form a split personality of sorts within
him. These experiments ended up being successful,
and Grimmer gained the persona entitled “The Magnificent Steiner,” a beast-like monster
of a personality full of aimless rage and a penchant for bloodshed. This then became a permanent part of his psyche. Grimmer attended Kinderheim until age 14,
after which he was then trained to become a spy. And as a result of this sequence of events,
Grimmer’s ability to feel emotions, especially extreme ones, was stunted. He was able to form a family due to a woman
confessing her love to him and him realizing that this all would be a good cover story
for a spy. But after the tragic death of his son, he
was unable to feel anything and thus unable to properly grieve. His wife, disturbed by this and his general
incapacity to feel, left him. Yet despite all of this, he is able to talk
about these events without feeling any remorse or pain, and with a constant pleasant smile
on his face. It would seem, outwardly, and if you disregard
his motivations for a second, that Grimmer was a great success for the experiment. A perfect, strong, emotionless individual
with no capacity to feel. But a simple examination of Grimmer’s actions
and behaviours makes it clear that things are not quite as simple as that. The vast majority of individuals in this world
are characterized by an innate sentimentality. Humans, inherently, have feelings. We all have emotions, regardless of the nature
of those emotions.. it is just hard to express that sometimes. Sometimes, due to various circumstances, things
get buried. Grimmer was always able to pretend extremely
well. He could feign happiness and sadness, he could
conceptually understand the human psyche as an outsider. He often helped others out of kindness and
concern for their well-being. He was easily able to form rapports with people. He could explain to others *how* they should
feel, even if he couldn’t feel himself. And he would sometimes get emotional while
doing so. Not to mention, his Magnificent Steiner persona
is an embodiment of compartmentalized rage and fury itself. As he dies, Grimmer makes it clear that his
emotions never truly left him; they were just lost at sea. Yet I don’t think they were as far away
as he assumed. Though these feelings weren’t orthodox,
I think they were able to bubble to the surface at points in a vicarious way, as he was able
to feel things for himself through feeling for others. It’s just that Grimmer never quite realized
they were there, having been resigned to a dead life anyway. 511 Kinderheim was an exercise that dismissed
the idea of inherent nature, individuality and identity, which is among the most terrible
crimes that can be committed. In the end, life is pointless without an identity
for the vast majority. But an identity can only be forged once you
know your motivations or general purpose, and those things is so often intertwined with
the connections we form – with people, with places, with art, whatever. These experiments stripped the children of
that, and as such, stripped them of their lives. Being able to conceptualize the beauty and sorrow
of the human condition while not being able to feel it must be a pain that I can scarcely
imagine. But being able to lament one’s apathy is
not quite apathy, is it? Essentially, Grimmer is a display against
nihilism throughout the story despite his insistence that he is a shell. He very much believes in people in the way
Tenma does, and advocates for true human freedom more than anyone in the story despite being
incapable himself. As someone who lived most of his life without
the ability to feel attachment, he knows better than anyone how pointless an existence that
is. A stifling of expression and emotion is death. We attribute who we are to the connections
we have, and erasing a person’s ability to feel pleasure and joy and emotion is robbing
them of the right to make connections and be a human being. It is not entirely different from killing
them – it’s just subjecting then to a slow, agonizing purgatory of a death. It is a grievous, horrible thing to do, and
yet.. Grimmer was a rare case. Even though he may not have realized it, he
was able to quickly form attachments. To strike up a quick sense of comeradery with
Lunge, to befriend Tenma, to see enough possibility of fulfillment in this life to want to stop
children from ending their own, even if he hadn’t been fulfilled himself. To search for truths, and use those truths
to help others. He himself would deny it, but Grimmer was
a genuinely good person. One who was able to find it within himself
to scrounge together some vague sense of value from this life that had been stolen from him. Choice. Freedom. Individuality. Emotion. Expression. The highs and lows of feeling. Grimmer had many significant events in his
life, both professionally and personally; he was relatively, successful, he got married,
had a child, even experienced the death of his child. But thanks to the experiments of 511 Kinderheim,
thanks to people like Bonaparte, all he felt during these times was a numbness. As mentioned, here were little instances where
he was able to tap into some empathy and emotion, but ultimately he was left unable to know
how it felt to truly experience the joys and sorrows of existence. Unable to be a true human being. As such, the greatest moments of Grimmer’s
life were ironically right at the end of it, during his most tumultuous times – because
he had finally unlocked his humanity. Because despite the deep suffering he endured
in these final moments; the anger, the sadness, the pain – he was finally able to feel something. He was finally able to become human. To genuinely cry; not out of sadness for his
life having ended, but out of a paradoxical happiness for finally being able to grieve
and feel for his long-lost son. To live as others do. Truly, we are nothing without our connections. And those connections may alter, sever and
weaken over time, but we always feel them as we continue through our lives, strengthening
us, teaching us, and helping us to be genuine. Not to mention, these connections work both
ways. Grimmer was able to feel things through his
relationships by the end, but his kind heart was able to impact others too. Lunge, Tenma, Suk, all of the children.. he
impacted the lives of others, and his legacy is one of compassion, empathy and truth; one
that continued to enrich the world long after he departed it. As terrible as the majority of his life was,
Grimmer is an example of this unrelenting emotion and how it comes about as a result
of these attachments we form throughout life. He is the story’s proof that you can’t
simply erase these feelings, and his life is Monster’s most succinct encapsulation
of this idea. His selfless endeavour to champion the importance
of genuine humanity despite his experiences is just as admirable as anything else from
the story. And 511 Kinderheim may have stolen what should
have been a fulfilling life from him, but for just a moment, just a tiny expanse of
time, Wolfgang Grimmer was able to experience a glimpse of the blessing and curse that is
the human spirit. And what a beautiful glimpse it was. Many thanks for watching.