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The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Jeder Für Sich und Gott Gegen Alle

Werner Herzog

Germany, 1974

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 10 July 2004

Source Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD

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The opening images of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser are of soft-focus, pastelled and unrelated scenes: a woman’s face, a riverbank, and a wheat field. These deliberately artificial images serve as a contrast to the scene that they precede. Cut to a man in his thirties or forties, chained to the floor of a windowless room strewn with hay. It is suggested that this man, in whom any former personal interaction is absent, is incapable of envisioning the world that surrounds him (or one perceptibly similar to the film’s opening). For his entire life, he has been confined to an empty room.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (or the more appropriate translated German title Every Man for Himself and God Against All) follows a factual occurrence in 1820s Germany: a man is found in a village square with a note and the knowledge of one sentence. He cannot speak and he can barely walk.

Immediately a curiosity, the townsfolk embrace this figure, intrigued by his history. Kaspar Hauser was thereafter educated, and wrote of his past experiences—an action that did little to explain his state.

Herzog’s screenplay for Kaspar Hauser is based upon the man’s diary (much of his writing is said to be retained in the dialogue). However, whereas Hauser’s history founded numerous books and studies of his behavior, Herzog’s film instead considers Kasper’s treatment. There is a profound philosophy at the base of Kaspar Hauser: how does emotional growth occur, deprived of any foreign influence, sociological, familial and otherwise?

Herzog relies upon the film’s ability to mirror judgment. Kaspar Hauser is the most innocent character in the film; he is exploited, mocked, and eventually murdered by a member of the society in which he is forcibly immersed.

Despite its fiction there is a reality that underlines the film’s every scene. This unique quality is reserved to Bruno S.’ performance. When his character experiences emotions his actions convincingly correspond. The histories of each figure (Bruno and Kaspar) are timelessly similar: each has been deprived of a natural introduction to their world, and Bruno S.’ performance as Hauser is brilliant, for the simple fact that they are for all intents and purposes the same character.

A later attempt to socialize Kaspar involves a problem of logic: there are two villages, one’s inhabitants only tell truths, the other’s lies. Meeting one villager, without the knowledge of his descent, one question will yield the answer of his home village. Immediately responding, Kaspar asks: “I should ask the man whether he was a tree frog.”

This action and others cause frustration in Kaspar’s volunteering educators. He is incapable of conforming in conventional terms. He is later introduced to the town’s aristocrats at a bourgeoisie party — the scheme is so odd for Kaspar that it stifles his ability to be comfortable. This scene, as with the very nature of the film, is heavily sympathetic.

After Hauser’s death there is a scene of his autopsy — not to search for clues towards the identity of his murderer, but to further research for his unique existence. The scene is underlined by the harrowing suggestion that people fail to aim their judgmental analysis internally. Kaspar Hauser is a sociological guinea pig, and his history may reveal more about his company than he.

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