Culture Magazine

Movie Review – The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974)

By Manofyesterday

Director: Werner Herzog

Stars: Bruno S., Walter Ladengast, Brigitte Mira, Willy Semmelrogge, Michael Kroecher, Hans Musaus

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is based on a true story when in 1828 a young man appears in the German city of Nuremberg, holding a note and unable to speak properly. After being questioned, a benefactor takes him in and tries to acquaint him with life. However, since Klaus was held in a tower (and nobody knows why or by whom), he needs practically everything explained to him.

This is an odd film to review to me because there are parts I love and parts I dislike immensely. The central concept is an intriguing one – a mysterious man with no knowledge of life gets exposed to the world in a burst of vividness. Parts were haunting, like when silent tears rolled down his face after he encounters the flame of a candle for the first time, and other parts were amusing, like when a professor gave him the logic puzzle of how to tell if a person is from the village that tells the truth or the village that lies. When told that there’s only one possible solution, Klaus responds that he has another answer, to ask the man whether he is a tree frog. The professor gets livid at his answer and clings rigidly to his logic.

As Klaus gets a lifetime’s worth of education thrust upon him in just a few years, it allows us an opportunity to examine our own education. His reaction to religion was particularly fascinating as it highlighted that some things we take as evident truths may not actually be so intrinsic to the nature of existence. It’s also moving in parts too, as he begins to discover his own identity and forges a life for himself.

The film is directed well with some surreal images, and it’s chosen with a gothic chanting that gives a layer of grandeur. A lot of the film is made up of small moments of ordinary life as well, perhaps to show how precious they are when compared to the way Hauser was raised.

But then a lot of the film moves slowly and I found my attention drifting. When it came down to it I just couldn’t bring myself to invest heavily into the character. The film didn’t facilitate it and I didn’t find myself glued to the screen, which I really wanted to be as I love the concept. Ultimately I feel this is a film that is less than the sum of its parts. It provokes interesting thoughts and offers some commentary on humanity and the nature of life, but I didn’t find it entertaining.

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