The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser ★★★★

“Let us suppose that a child had at his birth the stature and the strength of a grown man, that he emerged, so to speak, fully armed from his mother's womb as did Pallas from the brain of Jupiter. This man-child would be a perfect imbecile, an automaton, an immobile and almost insensible statue. He would see nothing, hear nothing, know no one, would not be able to turn his eyes toward what he needed to see…Nor would this man formed all of a sudden be able to stand on his feet; he would need a good deal of time to learn to maintain himself in equilibrium on them. Perhaps he would not even make the attempt, and you would see this big body, strong and robust, staying in place like a stone, or crawling and dragging himself along like a newborn puppy…I repeat: the education of man begins at his birth; before speaking, before understanding, he is already learning. Experience anticipates lessons.”
-Rousseau, Emile, or On Education

Most of Herzog’s major 70s works have some element of nature vs. nurture, but Kaspar Hauser stands above by being a work that is not only comic, but also more invested in its narrative and the metaphysical quandaries that develop. Not that I don’t love the mad nightmares of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo and all the visual chaos that comes with it, but in some way they are limited by the sheer physical-ness of the movies – the real life boat takes over any narrative that could develop. But Kaspar Hauser is a very, very curious film, a parable that satires societal rules in a way not too far from what Renoir does in Bodou Saved From Drowning. Beginning with never showing the father’s face, and giving an alien-colored palette to Kaspar’s first entrance to the world (all over-exposed colors), it eventually becomes a strange comedy as Kaspar slowly adapts to “proper” society, but his natural tendencies expose his relation to the world as simply silly practices, such as his conviction that even apples move on their own. Even the way he “plays” the piano is no longer toward some abstract goal of art, but only as something one does to perform at societal functions. Favorite scene for me is the logic puzzle about the truth and lie towns, as Kaspar’s brilliant response is actually what I was thinking when I heard it (though my question was “What is 2+2?”). I think this film also shows a little more of Herzog’s compositional elements; the restraint he can show with the camera and how he documents the world from his character’s point of view. The final though seals the film’s brilliance, and a very subtle satire of Occam’s Razor, and perhaps all of Western civilization.

Peter liked this review