Tuesday, January 24, 2017
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser
The 19th century. Kaspar Hauser is a man who grew up in captivity in a cellar, chained to the ground, isolated from the world except for a nameless man in a black coat who brings him food. One day, the man releases Kaspar and leaves him in the middle of a city. Shocked by his first contact with the outside world, Kaspar at first stand motionless on the square, until some people bring him to the police. He is adopted by Professor Daumer, who decides to teach him how to read, talk, think and be part of the society. Kaspar quickly learns how to act completely normally, and even finds out how play a piano. However, the same man in the black coat attacks him in the garden, killing him.
Werner Herzog's 5th feature length film, based on a real life story from the 19th century, "The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser" is a movie less preoccupied with a clear narration then with exploring the human conditions and states. Herzog does so in a much more poetic way than many other directors would: the sole concept of the title hero who grew up in a dungeon his entire life, isolated from the outside world, could have amounted to very disturbing and depressive scenes (as it was the case with the explicit "Bad Boy Bubby" or "Room"), yet Herzog is luckily subtle, leaving that opening to the minimum, refusing to use shock or elaborate on details that could stem from such a dark situation, softening it thus, also among other thanks to the great music of Pachelbel's Canon. The opening act doesn't last more than 5 minutes, and Herzog is more interested in what happens afterwards, when Kaspar is freed and has his first contact with the civilized world, which offers a few contemplative messages about the clash between the untreated and cultivated people, between the human raw nature and human norm of civilization, and mostly between the honest and fake people. It is a quiet, meditative, minimalistic film, yet a one that seems a little bit overstretched, lukewarm and uneventful at times. The film has its moments, however, such as it is implied that Kaspar might be an illegitimate child from a nobility, and was thus kept hidden from the world, or when he answers the famous "two villages of truth tellers and liars" riddle from a philosopher with his own answer ("I would ask them if they are a frog."). The most was achieved from Bruno S., who is very genuine in the title role of a "grown up child" who has to learn everything from anew, but Herzog's sense for nature is also again strong, though he tends to "wonder" off from the topic here and there.