Robert Musil's novel Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Torless was the source for this allegorical German film. Mathieu Carriere plays Torless, a student in a costly boarding school during the glory days of the Hapsburg empire. While at school, Carriere is a bystander to the sadistic behavior of fellow students Alfred Dietz and Bernd Tischer. Carriere watches with fascination, but does nothing to intervene or to help his classmates' hapless victims. When Carriere finally does blow the whistle on his friends, it is he who is "invited" to leave the school. The parallels to the Nazi years are deliberately strong.