A diamond in the rough, "Anatomie" is a genuinely creepy piece of cinematic artwork that leaps from the shadowy corners of modern film, and becomes genre defining through its scare-tactics and gruesomely endearing atmosphere.
Following in the footsteps of her terminally ill grandfather, Paula Henning (Potente) leaves behind her family and friends in Munich for a bright future in Heidelberg, the most prestigious medical school in Germany. Boarding a train headed for this erudite and cultured anatomical Mecca, Paula bonds with Gretchen (Loos), a former classmate distinguished with playing a cat-and-mouse game of musical beds, also making this pilgrimage. Their conversation coming to a close, the next act begins with a man drifting from a state of unconsciousness to rapid-eye-movement, blinking and flitting under a bright light, naked, lying face-up on a cadaver's table. A handful of "surgeons" are standing over him, one prying his eyelids apart, acknowledging that the he has regained consciousness. Although paralyzed, he manages to crane his neck enough to see surgical clamps holding back the flesh on his chest and stomach. Glancing at his arm, he gapes in horror as the skin has been delicately peeled back, revealing an artistic cross-section of the muscles and tendons and bones in his fingers and wrist. As the death doctors continue in their ruthless excavation of the man's organs and intestines, his visage reflects the excruciating pain he is suffering, and his severed vocal cords painfully vent raspy yowls.
Dovetailing this scene, the film recoils to the familiar setting of the train compartment where Paula clenches her head in her hands while Gretchen speaks incessantly about her promiscuity. Suddenly, someone shrieks for a doctor. Running down the train's corridor, Paula literally stumbles upon the body of a collapsed adolescent. Reviving him after minutes of fruitless mouth-to-mouth and cardiac massaging, Paula learns that the teenage boy also headed for Heidelberg suffers from a rare heart defect. Truly one of the doomed, David (Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey) makes an impression on Paula. Hours later, after settling into their dormitory, an older Heidelberg student announces to our protagonists that all fresh arrivals are to report to the anatomy laboratory for orientation. Promenading into the macabre presence of several disfigured cadavers, one of the accompanying girls straightens her spine and becomes poker-faced as she stutters that she saw one of the corpses move. As the lights begin to flicker, we watch as the concealed form of a man begins twitching beneath chalky sheet. In one of the film's most heart pounding sequences, Paula emphatically strides disjointedly over to the blanketed carcass, and dramatically lifts the shroud. Paula, letting out a whimper, divulges a headless torso with extremities intact. Upon closer inspection, she discovers an electrode leading from under its armpit to the laboratory's circuitry closet. Behind the closed door was a group of lighthearted, idyllic university students relishing in their own prank.
The next day, after becoming acquainted with their instructor, Professor Grombek (Traugott Buhre), the class divides into partnerships as cadavers are freighted from the meat locker to their cold, metallic slabs. Brain-addled, nauseated, and faint-hearted, Paula stares at her subject. It was David, the young man from the train who claimed to be on his last leg. Paula doesn't believe that his oversized heart caused his expiration, but that something much more unnerving and perverse is as work. As the film drudges through its own carnage, Paula observes the letters "AAA" carved into David's ankle. Asking her classmate and soon-to-be significant other (Blomberg) about the acronym, he perks up, responding that they are the initials of an underground anti-Hippocratic organization, living by the utilitarian principle that a few people must die for the benefit of many. What she doesn't realize is that Heidelberg is a breeding ground for the anti-Hippocratic society, striving to maintain their position on the summit of the medical school hierarchy, raking in Nobel prizes while throwing ethics to the wind.
A slick medical chiller written and directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, "Anatomie" offers a didactic perspective of the cold apathy of the scientific community. Inspired by Dr. Josef Mengele's "T-4 Euthanasia Program" conceived during the Holocaust, the film calls into question John Stuart Mill's concept of utility, and the reprehensibility of the furtherance of the medical field at the expense of innocent people. The only character in the movie with concise vision and a humanitarian mentality, Paula makes for a plucky heroine, sharply contrasted against the impersonal doctors and staff of the university.
Also capitalizing on our fascination with our internal clockwork, "Anatomie" presents several of the cagey exhibits that constituted Mannheim's Gunther von Hagens' late-nineties touring "Body Worlds" museum, intensifying the queasy atmosphere and laying the foundations for the grisly end to one or two of the characters. Also amplifying the unnerving tone of the piece is the grimly humorous muzak that thickens the tension during some of the more graphic vignettes. Fairly early on in the film, the audience is exposed to some jaw-dropping and groundbreaking special effects that have a lasting flavor and leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
"Anatomie" is a well-conceived, well-handled, and well-executed noir thriller, craftily keeping the audience one step ahead of Paula, while fastidiously maintaining suspenseful composure. Marius Ruhland vamped an effectively "edge-of-your-seat" score that accentuated some of the more entrancing visual sequences, some of which, although lucidly polished for a glossy, Hollywood mien, achieved something more divine. Borrowing a handful of genre clichés introduced in such films as "Re-Animator" and " Nekromantik," and lending elements to the more recent genre leviathan, "Hostel," "Anatomie" is a great contribution to the Western "slice-and-dicer." The screenplay even manages distinguished eloquence, as nothing is lost in translation. Falling within the same ranks as "Das Experiment," "Tattoo," and its sequel, "Anatomie 2," "Anatomie" is a must-see from the muddy banks of Germany.