The central dilemma of FEAR EATS THE SOUL is a case in point. Ali and Emmi suffer from ostracism because of a liaison that is considered a breach of decorum. But the way it presents itself to the couple is as a contradiction: they cannot be ‘seen together’, because there is no social space (work, leisure, family) in which they are not objects of aggressive, hostile, disapproving gazes (neighbours, shop-keepers, bartenders, Emmi’s sons and daughters-in-law). Yet conversely, they discover that they cannot exist without being seen by others, for when they are alone, their own mutually sustaining gaze proves to be insufficient to confer on them or confirm in them a sense of identity - that delicate balance between their social, their sexual and their ethnic selves, in the interplay between sameness and difference, self and other. Love at home or even a holiday abroad is incapable of providing the pleasure that being looked at by others gives. There is thus, apart from the pressure to conform, also the pleasure to conform in the field of vision, and the tragedy is that the couple are incapable of securely attracting the social eye either in its approving or its disapproving mode. 

— Thomas Elsaesser, Fassbinder’s Germany, Pg. 65-66


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