Where do the boundaries between inactive witness and active voyeurism, between gradual doubt and late insight, between bewilderment and fascination become blurred?
The inconspicuous and devote Basini has been caught stealing money from his dormmate’s closet in order to pay his dues. Beineberg and Reiting, the victim of theft and the creditor, demand a much higher repayment: his dignity.
Regardless the matter, from now on Basini will be their slave. Törless, a friend and follower of both dormmates also becomes a witness of the brutal and occasionally bloody fights, tortures, and humiliations that take place every evening in the attic of the boarding school. Without success he tries to convince Beineberg and Reiting to denounce their dormmate which would result in his exemption from the boarding school. However, from initial shock evolves a secret desire, and Törless therefore becomes a knowing accomplice of the sadistic actions. He now comes to recognize that there is only a fine line between power and powerlessness, between good and bad.
“All this is reminiscent of the Nazi regime, the practices of the takeover, Himmler’s speeches and the attitude of the enlightened bourgeoisie that only watched the primitive Nazis – until it was too late.” (Schlöndorff 2011,p. 160)