Fox & His Friends serves as Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s outlet for commenting on Germany’s current social state within the gay community, and how socioeconomic power can buy someone love, but only for as long as it is profitable. It’s narrative centers on a character study similar to that of Annie Hall, only that Annie is now played by a blue-collar Fassbinder by the name of Fox [Franz], who’s recent lottery win has led him into the exploitative arms of a posh industrialist.
The most subtle statement that Rainer Werner Fassbinder tries to make in his film Fox & His Friends is that of inherent hetero-normative expectations that existed within the homosexual circles of Germany. The first scene that begins to establish this ideology is when Fox is driving to the home of his newly acquainted lover Eugen. During this period, the two verbally duke it out, trying to assert themselves as somewhat of an alpha male. Once the two arrive at Eugen’s home, the conversation continues. They call each other “girlfriend” and “honey”, in an attempt to establish who will be the woman in the relationship. The bizarre nature of this hetero-normative interplay is further amplified by the mise-en scene’s use of paintings of naked women, indirectly implying that this relationship can’t exist without somebody taking on this character.
When looking at this sequence objectively from a hetero-normative perspective, Eugen appears to be the “man” in the relationship. Eugen invites Fox home, and pours Fox a drink of alcohol. He engages in small talk until Fox is willing to enter Eugen’s bedroom, at which point Fox jumps onto the bed and lures Eugen in. It’s interesting to note that the entire scene’s dialogue is a pretty much a back and forth between which of the two men will be the woman in the relationship, whilst the visual indicators end up answering this question.
The fact that the two need to come to a decision seems a bit odd at first, but it slowly begins to make sense as the story unravels. Eugen is evidently the dominant in their relationship, at least from a social (and economic) position. Fox often refers to himself as a member of the proletariat, and Eugen’s bourgeois table manners and social circle are barriers that begin to alienate Fox from the relationship.
Eugen treats Fox much like Woody Allen treats Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, indoctrinating and teaching him the ins and outs of his white-collar lifestyle. However, it is Fox that holds the (traditionally male-dominated) position of payment. In fact, this escalates to the degree where Eugen is purely using Fox for his money (a character trait more commonly associated with that of women). What’s brilliant is that Fassbinder manages to keep flip flopping gender expectations by making the audience unsure of who in the relationship is supposed to represent what gender, because at the end of the day, both characters are merely people, not MEN or WOMEN.
Fox’s wealth is driven to the ground until there is nothing left. Eugen, like any cliche gold-digger, abandons his lover at this point and seeks love somewhere else. At this point, Fox enters a bar that he has returned to numerous times during the course of the film. Here he interacts with two American soldiers that he had spoken to before. The soldiers ask Fox “how much [he] pays”, which turns out to be the last straw on the camels back.
Fox has a nervous breakdown and cries “why do I always have to pay!” This is the single defining sentence of Fassbinder’s film, and elegantly formulates Fassbinder’s thesis about Germany’s inherent hetero-normative ideology within the gay community. Fox doesn’t understand why he needs to pay. Why does he need to take on the role that conservative culture has for for centuries attributed to men? Especially now that Fox has nothing left! Why can’t another man pay for once? In fact, why is it a question at all? Can’t they both simply be people and leave the money out of their love life?
Fassbinder’s conclusion appears bleak and tragic. In a world plagued by heterosexual expectations formed by a hunter-gatherer civilization, a homosexual man can’t find proper footing.
Fox might have his friends in the bar, but regardless if his lover is a blue-collar man he met in the lavatory or a suit-wearing industrialist he met at a country club, they will never split the check.