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Review: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Updated: Sep 14, 2019

Logged on to Fandor to watch The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, a haunting character study about a mentally underdeveloped man in 19th Century Germany that is suddenly and without explanation released from the locked basement in which he has spent the entirety of his existence. As he gradually learns to read, write, socialize, and reason, however, he begins to realize that he remains a prisoner wherever he goes—whether he becomes a sideshow attraction, an anthropological curiosity, or the “protege” of a pompous English nobleman. Street musician turned nonprofessional actor Bruno S. (who also appeared in the wonderfully weird Stroszek) is perfectly cast in the title role, projecting an authentic sense of dumbfounded bewilderment at the world around him and creating the impression that the very act of speaking requires immense effort.

I wish I could describe the film’s narrative structure and tone more thoroughly, but as is the case with a lot of director Werner Herzog’s best work, it is utterly unclassifiable. On a superficial level, it’s a period drama, but it refuses to conform to the rules and conventions of the genre in a way that I can’t quite articulate. Like Stroszek, Even Dwarfs Started Small, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is not intended to be understood logically; it would be more accurate to say that it just kind of… happens to you.

[Originally written May 6, 2018.]

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