The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser: How do your smarts measure up?

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, originally titled Everyman for himself and God against them all (a much better title I think) is a film by Werner Herzog based on the real life story of Kaspar Hauser, a boy of seventeen who turns up in a village square in Nuremberg after having lived in a cellar as a prisoner his entire life. All that is known about the lad is that in the past few days a man who had been keeping him chained up for his entire life, taught him to walk and write a little, and then set him loose on the town. The townsfolk take him under their wing till he becomes too expensive, then they deliver him to a local circus to ‘earn his keep.’ he is rescued from that situation by Herr Daumer, who takes him to his home and teaches him to read and write. It is there that Kaspar’s unique world view and his capacity for dreams and visions come to the fore. He is fast considered a genius and admired by many. However Kaspar sees only manipulations and little goodness in those beyond his home and soon becomes depressed. Then mysteriously, he is attacked by the man who delivered him to the square, and later stabbed fatally by (what appears to be) the same man.

What is the most interesting about this film (and there is a LOT that is interesting about this film) is the actor Bruno S. who plays Kaspar, is himself a mentally challenged man who had a similar kind of upbringing to Kaspar’s. Bruno often displayed severe mental disorders while on the set. He remained in his costume for the entire production, sleeping in it and refusing to take it off after hours. He slept in his room on the floor by the door. Herzog often had to spend several hours in the morning working with Bruno to calm him down and help him feel secure enough to act his part through the rest of the day. Herzog claimed at the time and later that this was all worth it as the performance is a remarkable one, and I would have to agree with that.

This is a fun film to watch and most enjoyable. As Kaspar comes more and more into his own intelligence he sees the falsity in the those around him more and more clearly. Kaspar is a kind soul that merely wants to exist and listen to music and care for those around him. But the world is filled with too many inconsistencies and these start to irritate Kaspar. A wonderful scene when he questions the role of women to a female domestic in the house. He asks her what women are good for and why they are only allowed to cook and care for others. Flustered by his questions she tells him that he must ask her employer (a male) those questions and he will answer them. Another delightful series of scenes occurs when the Doctor is trying to bend Kaspar’s observations to something more consistent with the ideas of society. he informs Kaspar that apples have no will of their own, but that they exist only to be eaten. However when he tries to demonstrate this, the apple he uses for his example continually ‘gets away’ from him, refusing the roll the way it was pushed and hitting rocks and jumping a small barrier meant to contain it. Kaspar argues that this is proof the apple has its own plan for itself.

The Doctor also takes Kasapar back to the tower where he was originally held. Kaspar says it can’t be the same tower, because he can see this structure in front of him, but the room he lived in existed all around him.  There fore, as the tower isn’t performing the same function, it can’t possibly contain the room. In a brilliant moment that still holds true today, Kaspar is quizzed by a ‘logician from the university’ by being given a question that has only one possible answer. Like many iq tests, it has several answers but there is only one that the logician wants that will ‘prove’ Kaspars superior intelligence. Kaspar comes up with an alternate, simpler and more brilliant answer and when it is rejected as ‘not logical’ the look on Kaspars face as he ‘tolerates’ those more stupid is priceless.

This is a film for those who didn’t ‘fit in’ to established modes of education. The non-traditional thinker is celebrated here, and you get the feeling all the way through the film that Herzog sees himself that way. he has every right to, because the film itself is radically different. It doesn’t take the shape of linear narrative, rather it is a series of vignettes that each display an important point Hertzog wants to convey. bIn many scenes in the film Kaspar questions theology. In fact, both the university, theology, socially acceptable behaviour and the authority of the ‘father’ are all questioned here. Hertzog seems to want us to question all forms of ‘logic’ and all systems of learning. The message is a simple one – look at the world from alternate viewpoints inside yourself. Don’t trust what you have been spoon fed to nurture you.

However it is in the scenes that are not taken directly from Kaspar’s real life, but imposed by Hertzog’s mind that make the difference here. The dream sequences, filled with the mysteries of alternate truths are shot with the character’s own truth in mind whie still exploring issues beyond the wider story are where Hertzog brilliance with this film really shine.  This is what Herzog calls an ‘ecstatic truth,’ and is something he does better than any other artist in film. His visuals only underscore this ‘logic beyond logic,’ from the gauzey opening shots of a boat on a river – which seem like colorized fragments from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr, to Kaspar’s abandonment by his captor (Hans Musaus). The dream images Kaspar has are filmed in a different style – as if they were home-movies made with an old 8mm camera of an imaginary Caucasus mountains through to the caravan led by a blind man in the Sahara Desert.  here Kaspar dreams a story with no end. Film logic has rarely been done well in film, but it is excellent here.  Another exceptional shot is one where people are climbing a hill that will result in their death. Kaspar sees life-like this, the toil and hardship of life ending only in the obliteration of each human being.

In a final ‘up yours’ to logic and rationality, at the very end of the film, Kaspars dead body is the subject of an autopsy and he is found to have had deformities and a liver deformity. This is summed up as the ‘logical’ explanation for Kaspar’s strangeness by an odd little comic character who documents everything about Kaspars life for the town records. His delight in Kaspar is what fine reports he makes, and he often fantasies about winning prizes for his reports. It is he who declares the ‘logical’ answer for all Kaspars strangeness and enlightened views can be summed up as a brain deformity, as if this somehow allows for a dismissal of all of the enlightened things Kaspar has to say. Rather than accounting for the different vision, the vision itself is dismissed, revealing science as a place to confirm ones comfort zone, rather than an objective observer of facts.

I enjoyed this film a lot. It is very beautiful without the phoniness that period pieces can often have. Clothes don’t fit everyone perfectly and people are rude, loud and mean as well as good-natured and kind. the dusted colours and

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