I remember decades ago reading Wilhelm Reich, and finding his ideas mesmerizing the way young people find ambitious, rebellious, emotionally charged, crazy ideas mesmerizing. (I think there must be for everyone who thinks a “vitalist phase” during which they project their sexuality on the very cosmos.) His characterization of communism as “red fascism” helped as well: there is, in every young libertarian, this desire to be allowed to appropriate the full panoply of progressive pathos, which is tough because one’s pathos pulls one toward socialist ideas, and one’s ideas pull toward conservatism. So figures that can allow you to feel radical while not making evasive excuses for the Gulag are like manna. (This is probably still a part of my attraction to Foucault.) Reich had that, plus the fascinating connection to Freud. And he is, more than anyone, the kind of figure Foucault is lampooning in History of Sexuality, the radical who proclaims that getting laid is the best way to strike a blow against the System. Heady stuff.
So sometime in the early 80s, I read this biography of Reich, Fury on Earth, and though it is in some sense a defense of his ideas, what comes across most powerfully was what a titanic, insane, and ultimately tragic figure he was, who had the misfortune of finding his crazy, magical ideas collide with the bureaucratic state which would keep us ever safer from every damn thing. Whenever anyone criticizes libertarianism for not caring about stuff like health and safety, and regarding such well-intentioned things as innocuous to hand responsibility for to the state, I remind them that the FDA burned Reich’s books, caged him and killed him. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But power is meant to be used, and sometimes it is.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. If you read this book, what you have to come away with is what an unbelievably amazing story all this makes. Reich’s life wove through some of the most important figures and issues of his time, and at the center of it is classic melodrama: a man driven mad by his insistence on being loved and respected. To get a sense of the story, skim this. To put it in the language of The Player, it’s A Beautiful Mind meets Reds meets Kinsey. It’s got cameos from Freud and Einstein. It’s got Nazis. It’s got lots and lots of sex. It’s every film you’ve ever seen where a woman shouts at the man she loves that she can’t stay anymore and watch him destroy himself, and walks out the door.
It also already has its own weepy theme song. C’mon Hollywood. This is Oscar-bait, and the script practically writes itself. Make the damn film.