A trio of young idealistic germans breaks into houses of the wealthy, not to steal or inflict much damage but rather to rearrange the furniture in odd designs and leave haunting messages such as "Your life of Plenty will not go on for long" as a form of protest against the inequalities of capitalism. When on one occasion they are caught by a rich home owner, they kidnap him in order to avoid arrest but dont really know what to do with him. So, they abscond with him to an uncle's mountain cabin where they hope to devise how to proceed.
The young revolutionaries are no Baader-Meinhof. It is apparent they have no wish to hurt the middle-aged capitalist, though we fear that in order to "save their behinds" they might foolishly take some action that would plunge them into deeper trouble. But alongside this drama regarding the man's fate, there is a philosophical story unfolding that is even more compelling. As it turns out the kidnapped man was not always a bourgeois. During the 60s revolts he was a student radical himself and identifies with the idealism of his abductors. Over the course of their conversations, he explains the mechanisms by which he ended up in his current situation. It is familiar to many of us.
One day, you want a car that doesn't break down and some other conveniences. Then you have children and want security for them.
Then one day, to your surprize, you find yourself voting conservative.
So this is a movie about how difficult it is to effect progressive change nowadays. There is (usually)no need for a police state to pounce on progressives, as the media and the sirens of commodity fetishism circumvent our disquiet. The activist's message does not get heard in the big media, except for the passing derogatory remark. Television, on the one hand, numbs people and, on the other hand, makes them believe they must have certain commodities in order to be "somebody". Faced with a populus distracted by all this glitter, the revolutionary, too, grows tired of waiting for people to wake up to reality, and finally, slowly slides down the same slippery slope as the german capitalist depicted here. All the easier since young people of this ilk tend to be extremely intelligent and can quickly rise in the system once they set their minds to it.
Even the capitalist realizes what a trap the sytem is. He is not happy. He collects things but does not even have the time to enjoy them. So, it would appear that one is faced with a dilemma, a catch-22. If we stay true to our ideals, we face poverty and insignificance. If we get "realistic" and join the system, we become food for the machine and live to purchase more things which we hope will save us from our hell.
The situation portrayed in this film speaks to the young and not so young whose banner reads "A Better World is Possible". Revolts, like that of Seattle and the recent demonstrations against the war, flare up and die off again. The failure of "real" socialism and the momentary (I hope) ability to imagine a plausible alternative makes us timid and we feel daunted by the strength of the system vis a' vis our powerlessness. This film explores that psychology.