An axolotl is a kind of salamander. We learn that late in Axolotl Overkill. Prior to that moment, I thought it might be a kind of drug, an anti-psychotic or anti-depressant of some kind, or even a kind of exotic narcotic used by the hard-partying glitterati of Europe’s underground. The film that takes the salamander’s name as its own follows a teenage girl who runs in those cocaine and alcohol-wasted circles. She uses and abuses substances and people to the extreme – “overkill,” you know?
The story of the self-destructive young person is common. Axolotl Overkill is a fine addition to the genre. This German film adopts an syncretic timeline, jumbling up moments in its protagonist’s, Mifti’s, timeline to mimic her never-quite-sure-where-or-when-she-is existence. It makes for a narrative more focused on mood and (dis)affect than on plot, and the sooner you let go of your need to understand how one thing leads to another, the better. Interspersed throughout are also surreal moments that can only be Mifti’s drug-added perspective. You never really know what’s going on, only that Mifti needs help.
Not that anyone in her life is in a position to help her. Her extended family of half relatives, drug dealers, other partiers, and paramours are all as messed up as she is. Not only do you never know what Mifti is going to do next, you never know what they’re going to do either. They might serve the teenager half a glass of vodka as her birthday breakfast. They might scream obscenities at each other. They might encourage Mifti to see a therapist, not that therapists are much more well-adjusted than she is.
Watching movies like this, often, though not always, from Europe, always urban-set, I wonder if there really are people like this out there. I’ve known some hard partiers fond of consciousness-perturbing substances, and while they’re lives are in disarray, they’re never quite the nuclear holocaust Mifti’s life is. The people I’ve known still have to work, so they have to pull themselves together every few days at least. People in these kinds of movie never work. I always assume they’re independently wealthy. These movies make me wary of wealth.
Their goal is to make me feel compassion toward their young protagonists, I think. The best of them are at least, see Oslo, August 31 and Netflix’s Love. When the people are as young and vulnerable as Mifti, I certainly care about them. I despair for the paucity of their community. If only there was at least one responsible person in their lives. Even their teachers—teachers are always involved—are frustrated beyond compassion. Watching movies like this becomes a kind of compassion endurance test. Do you love me now? Now? Now!?!
I’ve known people like that in real life too. I succeeded and failed at loving them well at different times. Some people I know never fail to love them. Their hearts are bigger than mine. These care-givers are also, tragically, likely to experience greater heartbreak as well, since the people they love most try so hard to not be loved. I glimpse God in them. They make me ever more astounded at the love of God for us, a people who, throughout all history, have screwed up our lives and others in ways greater even than what Mifti accomplishes in Axolotl Overkill.