Thursday, January 15, 2009

Revisit: The Enigma of Kasper Hauser

A New Yorker Films release 1975

Written & Directed by Werner Herzog

Based upon the true and mysterious story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man suddenly appears in Nuremberg in 1828, barely able to speak or walk. His benefactor attempts to integrate him into society, with intriguing results.

Herzog's Kasper Hauser tackles the German equivalent of the French L'Enfant sauvage -- a real life wild child, abandoned at birth and void of any linguistic or cultural understanding of the world. As doctors, scientists, and the cultural elite try to 'educate' the boy, tension mounts, and the child ultimately rejects civilization, preferring to run amok in nature.

But where Truffaut's L'Enfant Sauvage focuses on the struggles of the educator (indulgently, I might add, as Truffaut cast himself in the role of Dr. Itard), Herzog's film uses Hauser as a tool to question language, religion, and society as a whole.

After all, what would happen if a person had no concept of speech, of writing, of God? How would he react when presented with such things? Herzog tackles all these issues through Hauser's 'education', and, in typical Herzog fashion, they provide a springboard for some beautiful natural imagery and a condemnation of the 'unnatural' acts of man.

As always, Herzog's camera is constantly probing the Earth, and we get some beautiful shots here -- a gull picking apart a frog, plants spiraling out of the ground, shimmering lakes and stormy deserts. Likewise, Herzog cast the perfect actor as his idiot child -- Bruno S., the real life abandoned musician whose broken speech and awkward mannerisms blur the lines of reality and fiction. The New York Times published an amazing profile on Bruno S., Herzog's former muse and the start of Kasper Hauser. Check it out: Bruno S. NY Times Profile: From Berlin's Hole of Forgottenness, A Spell of Songs

Ultimately, I prefer Herzog's film over Truffaut's. Then again, I prefer Herzog over Truffaut in general. But where Truffaut saw drama in a doctor's attempt to conquer nature, Herzog found a character who could question the very fabric of life itself. The result is a much more profound and interesting film, one that challenges our conceptions of language and nature. Worth a gander.

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