Yes, I saw the movie first, many times. I craved the pinging echoes and the claustrophobia of men living like rats. No triumphant American army come to sweep up the European debris of 1944, flexing muscles that haven’t known suffering.
The film gives a sensual experience of the Boot. The book gives us the rest. We begin with monotonous boredom, captured with endless descriptions of the different shades of gray and wet that the sea gives the few who are allowed onto the small deck. The reader also wants to blow some shit up, even if it is just mostly cargo.
We get German/Prussian chain of command. No American bullshit where we kinda obey because that’s what we were taught to do in boot camp, with an angry man shouting at us. The souls of these motherfuckers obey.
The Boot is the protagonist of the book. The machine has to be trusted, loved, understood. Only it can bring us back home. The boat is the only one without hatred, political difference and the stupidity of Europe to slaughter itself. The boat is pure. It is rational and beautiful.
Buchheim’s Boot is his post-war therapy. The story places him as part of the machine. He obeys as serenely as the many wonderful pistons and valves. He is as pure as the boat. And his painter’s eyes come up with hundreds of colorful memories to name the blues and grays of the ocean.
Das Boot is Buchheim’s survival strategy. It gets him through the war and then negotiates his successful return to life in post-war Germany, where he quickly bought up artwork that the Nazis had devalued with the degenerate label. They were colorful paintings. On the right is one of Ernst Kirchner’s paintings. Dude shot himself in 38 after most of his work had been burned. Buchheim got a good price. And it now lives in his museum.
I lived in Germany for five years. I watched the documentaries. I listened to old people talk. But I never really got it, what it would have been like, to be on the Boot.