“STYX”— A Parable on Global Refugees


A Parable on Global Refugees

Amos Lassen

 Set almost entirely in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Wolfgang Fischer’s “Styx” is a parable of the global refugee crisis. Rieke (Susanne Wolff), represents hand-wringing European liberalism; she is a strong-willed and a good-hearted German doctor who reveals a tragic indecisiveness when she comes upon a boatful of stranded African migrants in desperate need of help, during a solo yachting excursion. She has been instructed not to become involved and to leave the situation to the proper authorities.

The film is an indictment of the bureaucratic obstacles that are placed in front of refugees. Rieke clearly wants to assist the refugees she encounters. She wants but  to provide them with bottled water, medical care, and sanctuary on her yacht.  She lets allows her natural empathy to be overridden by a cruel official demand.  

Rieke does eventually get the opportunity to help at least a  refugee, a young boy, Kingsley (Gedion Oduor Wekesa), who floats over to her vessel and is in dire need of medical attention and bring them to the yacht but she says that the boat is too small and she is able to provide this. But once Kingsley recovers, he starts to push her toward helping his friends but and she responds that her boat is too small.  When pushed further, she says, “I have no answers for you. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.” There is a sense if helplessness hanging over the entire situation.

The film begins with seemingly unconnected sequences and then emphasizes Rieke’s privileges. Her journey is filled with dangers but this is  the journey that she chose to make. Of course she is equipped with all she needs from maps to supplies to a GPS.

Gradually, though, the film tightens its focus onto Rike’s ocean voyage to Ascension Island, a remote volcanic outpost in the South Atlantic which Charles Darwin helped to terraform into a botanical wonderland. The refugees, meanwhile, have far more limited choices and none of Rike’s access to resources.

The film is  named after the river in Greek mythology that runs between Earth and the Underworld and we see that ware all faced with moral dilemmas in facing the immigration situation. We also know that Environmental catastrophe has been  spurred in no small part by America’s stubborn reliance on fossil fuels and this has caused various parts of the world to become increasingly uninhabitable, forcing those who live there to seek a new home, only to be confronted with one border wall after another. Rieke has to deal with the question of whether the immigrants we see in the film should be left to drown because of xenophobic protocol or should we the question a paramedic like Rieke. Rieke had to deal with driving rain and gale-force winds but through this we see her expertise in acting quickly and effectively during daunting circumstances.

Rieke’s destination of her ocean journey is the artificial forest created by Charles Darwin on Ascension Island, an enduring example of how the seemingly impossible can be achieved with the necessary effort and ingenuity. We sense Darwin’s ideas reverberate through every scene.

The specific reasoning behind this venture are unclear. Rieke is obviously wrestling with something unknown to us  We move back and forth in time and frequently. Halfway through Rieke meets her critical crisis. Dialogue is sparse and this heightens suspense and exaggerates the importance of cinematography further. The film is gripping and is a visual feast.  


  • Commentary by Director Wolfgang Fischer and Star Susanne Wolff
  • Bonus Short Film – Ashmina (Directed by Dekel Berenson | Nepali with English subtitles | 16 minutes) — In an impoverished country, rife with contradiction, a young girl finds herself torn by her obligation to her family and the influence of foreign visitors. 


Founded in 2002 as one of the first-ever subscription film services with its DVD-of-the-Month club, Film Movement is now a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com.

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