Director Michael Haneke says that in The White Ribbon he tried to depict the roots of evil. The movie is very beautiful to look at, shot in black and white - but the contents of it is not; it's about evil. The story is set in the village of Eichwald in 1913-1914, starts with a terrible accident when the village doctor falls from his horse, caused by a wire set up between two trees. When the police come to investigate, the wire is gone. Next, a female worker falls from the sawmill due to rotten floorboards; a baby almost die because an open window in cold winter; the baron's son is tortured; a barn burns; and last: a handicapped boy is attacked and almost blind. Who has done all this?
The story is told from a school teacher's point of view. Near the end of the movie the handicapped boy's mother tells him, "I know who did all this. I'm going to the police." and she goes and never returns, the teacher is also unable to tell the audience who is the culprit. He himself believe that the pastor's 2 children did it. But did they? As the teacher says in the beginning of the movie: "There are some questions unanswered." The doctor and his daughter has left the village. Where to and why? Are all those crimes done by the same person? Is the handicapped boy made blind because he has seen something he has not supposed to see? If the victims are punished, what crimes they have done? The movie offers no obvious conclusion and perhaps the director wanted us to do repeated viewings in order to see the hidden meaning and find more clues.
It makes sense if the teacher thinks the 2 children of the pastor did it. Klara and Martin are brought up in a harsh way by their father, who is a Protestant pastor. The root of evil meant by Michael Haneke can be grown inside the abused and suppressed children. The way Klara and her mother dress, they look like wicked characters in films and books - although this must be how respectable family member of a pastor dress normally at that time. Violence does not only happen in the pastor family, but also in the steward's like when he whipped his son for taking the baron's son's whistle. This must be also a common practice at that time. I remember reading in Laura Ingalls Wilder's book that in her father's era, punishment by whipping was common for children.
White ribbon is a symbol of innocence and by wearing it, the children are expected to behave well. Yet they cannot be what their parents ask and the heavy task can make them express themselves by hurting others. In WW2 the children in this movie have become adults and it could be that they are growing to be the seeds of Nazi.