October 18th, 2006
German, English subtitles. Directed by Werner Herzog.
Set in Germany in 1828 and based on true events, this is the story of a young man raised in an isolated dungeon, unable to walk, talk, or even eat anything except bread, who is abruptly set free to try and live in human society.
Reminiscent of several other films - Forrest Gump, Charly, Dogville, The New World - the film has clear roots in literature as well, from Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” to Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy.” Like Charly, Kaspar struggles to learn how to be a human being, but he can never quite reach his goal. Like Grace in Dogville, he is tolerated as long as he seems fresh and amusing, but soon he will be required to perform for his keep. Like Gump, and like Chance and Gulliver, he is above all an outsider, a sweet innocent who casts a searchlight on human society just by being there.
Kaspar sums up many of the themes of the film with the chilling statement that it has been a long fall from the dungeon into the world. If the film is at least partly a religious allegory, as I think it is, the viewer has to ask “What then is the dungeon? And what is the world?”
The cinematography is striking, and the film is often very funny. I know I didn’t get it all in one viewing so I’ll definitely watch it again. If you like slow-moving European films with subtitles, no action, no sex, and with challenging intellectual and emotional content (and who doesn’t!), this is highly recommended.