The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) Poster

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The mystery of Kaspar Hauser
Camera Obscura7 November 2006
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF AND GOD AGAINST ALL (Werner Herzog - West Germany 1974).

Lacking a traditional narrative or dramatic structure and full of obscure images, this film feels more like a hypnotic dreamlike experience. It also features one the more enduring trends in Herzog's work: the featuring of individuals with exceptional physical or psychological conditions.

The film is based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who suddenly appears on the market square in the German town of Nuremberg in 1828. This strange occurrence has become one of the most enduring inspirations in German history, literature and science, with well over a thousand books written on the case. When Kaspar Hauser was found, he could barely grunt, let alone speak and caused a minor sensation among the locals. After living in a cellar for years with only a pet rocking horse, he is abandoned by his protector and provider, the mysterious "Man in Black." Having been isolated from all humans except his mysterious protector, Kaspar is suddenly thrust into civilization, and is expected to adapt himself to 19th-century society. He becomes a public spectacle and everyone in town lines up to catch a glimpse of him. Soon the local officials in town decide he is too much of a (costly) burden and, in an attempt to profit from the public interest, he is turned over to a circus ringmaster, where he is added to the local carnival freak show, as one of "The Four Riddles of the Spheres." The other three include "a midget king", "A little Mozart" (an autistic or catatonic child), and a lute playing "savage". When Hauser comes under the tutelage of a sympathetic professor (Walter Ladengast), he gradually acquires an impressive degree of socialization and learns to express himself with a reasonable degree of clarity, but most of society's conventions, manners and thoughts is more the young man is able to adjust to.

Herzog adopted a technique of incorporating film material shot by others filmmakers into the film. Early on in the film, just before Kaspar is found on the town square, Herzog used material shot on super 8 of a Bavarian landscape and the town of Dinkelsbühl, that was almost disposed off, but Herzog thought it would be ideal for his film. These grainy shots, accompanied by a requiem of Orlando DiLasso, make for one of the most haunting images I've ever seen on film. Dream sequences are another important aspect in this film. In one of them, Kaspar Hauser has dream images of the Sahara desert, for which Herzog used material he shot in the Western Sahara on earlier occasions. I don't know of any other director who used this technique to such avail up until now. One of the most stunning scenes is when the "Man in black" leaves him with the shot on the mountain and soon after the music with the requiem starts. It's almost like a romantic twist on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Herzog has done a fantastic job recounting the legend of Kaspar Hauser to the screen. The casting of Bruno S. in the role of Kaspar Hauser is of particular interest. He was a street artist in Berlin, when Herzog found him and decided he would be ideal to play the role of Kaspar Hauser. Before this, Bruno S. had a troubled past. After being severely beaten by his mother, he became deaf and was placed in an institution for retarded children at the age of three. At nine, when he tried to escape, he was transferred to a correctional institution. With further escape attempts, he amassed a number of criminal offenses and was incarcerated for more than twenty years. The authenticity of Bruno's performance brings such an element of sincerity to the film, that makes it almost impossible not to root for his cause. Bruno S. also starred in Herzog's STROSZEK (1976).

Camera Obscura --- 10/10
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The story of a soul
solitaryman29 February 2000
"This is the story of a soul", someone said and I agree because loneliness is here described through a slow moving plot and endless silences which make us see Kaspar Hauser not as a man but as something more sulfuric, almost a being from outer space. The performance of Bruno S. is simply moving and caused me a lot of tears and the use of time through the narration is perfect for a film of this kind. The poetic vision of Werner Herzog is very peculiar and unique and you can love it or hate it but you cannot ignore it. Herzog doesn't care about the audience, he tells what it wants in the way he likes and that's the praise and the defect of European cinema and it's what makes the difference between European authors and American ones.
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One of my top ten films of all time!
Zen Bones10 November 2000
Herzog has a way with documenting history as if it was our own past we were re-living. It all seems strangely familiar, yet slightly surreal. This film is rich with detail of the period (19th century), yet it's not the slightest bit in-your-face like so many of the current period films that seem to be about nothing more than lush furniture and the people who sit on them. Yet there are images here that you'll never forget! There are some especially stunning sepia dream sequences of an Arabian caravan strolling in soft, slow-motion across a windswept desert. They reminded me of Sam Fuller's effective use of raw colour footage of distant lands in "Shock Corridor". Images that seem to burst out at us from the B&W angst of a mental ward. Such contradictory images seem perfectly normal in Herzog's world, since after all, they're from the world of our dreams.

As always, Herzog finds great music for his score in this film, and he uses it in a very subtle way. But he also is a master at allowing silences to tell part of his story. If one is really listening, they can hear a great many things that define the world that his characters are inhabiting. This of course, was more obvious in films like 'Aguirre', where one swears they can still hear the wild birds squawking in their head for days! Can any film-going experience be more real?

But this film is not all just sound and imagery! The story is a puzzle. It's up to us viewers to decide who this man is and how his mind functions. It also challenges us to think about how our own minds function. While various "instructors" try to cram a lifetime of education into Kaspar's brain in just a few short years, we are forced to re-evaluate the logic that we have been taught. This is illustrated with great tongue-in-cheek humour when Kaspar approaches a lesson in logic with a Zen-like understanding that leaves his instructors livid. Needless to say, this film is a good preamble to "Being There", only more subtle, more haunting, and far more memorable.

The film will also bring to mind "The Elephant Man", not just in its depiction of circus "freaks", but in its illustrations of cruelty, madness, kindness and alienation. It is in essence, a movie about humanity. Told in a poetic vision with just the right doses of wit, intelligence and mystery. For this is, The MYSTERY of Kaspar Hauser. The film never pretends to be a documentation. It is simply an interpretation. One man's imagining of what might have gone inside the mind of a man who was born into the world at sixteen. See it with that in mind, and you'll have one of the richest movie-going experiences in your life!
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My favorite Herzog Film
enicholson3 August 2001
Even if this film had failed on the level of character or narrative (which it doesn't), I would still love this movie for its incredible imagery. The memory/dream sequences are haunting and will never leave my head. The opening shot of a field, long blades grass bowing under the wind to the music of Pachelbel, is extraordinary. And of course there's the performance of Bruno S, the most intensely hypnotic and genuine performance you will ever see.

But my favorite scene is of the impresario and the dwarf king and his kingdom. This is a true Herzog moment -- bizarre but somehow still a moment of striking epiphany -- the dwarf a parallel, isolated soul to Kasper's own isolated, lonely soul. The extremity and weirdness of moments like these seem commonplace and everyday in a Herzog film, and therefore somehow commonplace and everyday even in our own lives.
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inarticulate real
fifo356 February 2005
Herzog's characters tend to have an uneasy relation to language, whether they are Kaspar, who lives years in his life without language at all,Bruno(Stroszek,1976)who, rather than explaining his emotions,builds a "schematic model" of his feelings, or Fini Straubinger(Land of Silence and Darkness 1970),who cannot explain in words how it feels to be blind and deaf.Indeed, virtually all of Herzog's films are populated by marginal beings who resist language or who affirm its insufficiency to produce "true" meaning.For Herzog, their resistance to language is clearly a sign of their purity.More importantly, this resistance has the effect of rendering such figures opaque and image-like.An image that is visually striking but not wholly susceptible to verbal explanation.Their opacity gives them the quality of an unformulated image, an image that to some extent retards or actually interrupts the narrative flow with its non narrative effect.Kaspar is "outside of language and outside of difference," and later resists the patriarchal narrative with which he is equipped.Despite the pronounced literary subtext in these films, the dismissal of writing as a secondary mediation in contrast with the immediacy of the image occurs persistently in Herzog.The words of Kaspar's name spring up as the watercress he has planted, becoming living things in a triumphant romantic gesture that recalls Holderlin's longing, in BREAD AND WINE, for "words which spring up like flowers."By gestures such as these, Herzog has, in his view, redeemed language by transforming it first into a thing and then into an image.The lack of erotic impulse in Herzog's narratives is pronounced: the sexualized body is not of interest to Herzog and in his characters libidinal impulses tend to be sublimated into an all-consuming vision or to disappear into introit by some other means.Kaspar's enthusiasm for knitting that so shocks Lord Stanhope and in his general refusal to distinguish between male and female tasks.The black caped man who initiates Kaspar's entry into narrative, a symbolic father whose identity nevertheless remains enshrouded in mystery, resembles on one so much as Dr. Caligari in his black cape.As in some measure the "founding text" of German cinema and as an allegory per SE, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI would naturally speak to a filmmaker anxious to create a bridge between German films of the Weimar period and those of his own time.So the black caped father functions here as the symbolic father of German cinema as well.Within the overall narrative of the film, it is the Caligari figure who intervenes with violence at various junctures in order,it would appear, to be able to direct its course.This violence, in turn, generates in the imagination of Kaspar a succession of visionary images that, like Herzog's films, begin with landscapes.When, in one dream sequence, Kaspar creates a mythical landscape of the Caucasus, a landscape with golden temples for which there has been no equivalent in his experience, Kaspar is creating with natural signs, like Herzog in hoping to bring "the real" into his film-making.
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Werner Herzog: Like A Prophet
Bloodfordracula6 January 2003
Not only is THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER Werner Herzog's best film but I also believe it to be the greatest film ever made along with Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. KASPAR HAUSER has some of the most incredible and powerful images ever filmed.

The opening shot is that of a rye field blowing in the wind; we hear Pachelbel's 'Cannon' and the following words appear on the screen; "Don't you hear that horrible screaming all around you? The screaming men call silence." This sequence perfectly captures the spirit of this film; the beauty of suffering seen through the eyes of a human that is untainted and unformed by society.

This film changed my life. I now see the world with a new set of eyes. It has the most amazing photography, brilliant use of music and an amazing performance by Bruno S.; a schizophrenic street musician who never acted before and who had been incarcerated for most of his life.
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The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
AdFin11 November 2001
Werner Herzog's film deals with the true story of Kasper Hauser (Bruno S.), a young man who appears, supposedly out of nowhere in a small German town of Nuremberg in 1828. The film deals with Kasper's slow educational process and his introduction into polite society by Professor Daumer (Walter Ladengast). Kasper is a true outsider, and the film looks at the problems this creates (for example, Kasper is unable to believe that god could create the entire universe from scratch, so he his shunned by the church elders).

The films title (The Enigma of Kasper Hauser is just one of many others) seems to sum up the film perfectly. We never really know just who Kasper is and why the mysterious man wants to hurt him; the film ends up giving us more questions than answers. But the beauty of the film lies in the performance of Bruno S. his child like innocence and odd take on life is so pure and beautiful, I love the scene where he talks about how he sowed his name in seeds, and how someone had trodden on it. This seems to be a pretty clear metaphor for the film, how Kasper was crushed by the town folk, and used for social merit.

Herzog's visuals are also fantastic, from the soft focus opening of the boat on the lake; to Kasper's dream of the caravan at the end he fills the film with a mixture of the naturalistic and the surreal. No other director has given his films such an air of the hypnotic and the style works wonders with this story. Kasper Hauser is a beautiful, if at times painfully slow film, that gives us yet another interpretation of the outsider in society, definitely worth the watch.
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One of the great masterpieces of The New German Cinema
tuba-27 May 1999
Kasper Hauser is one of the great masterpieces of the New German Cinema and stands as one Werner Herzog greatest achievements. It is a powerful movie that will strike at the heart of the viewer through it's strong visuals and thought provoking story. Those who are use to the spoon fed narratives of Hollywood may find Kasper Hauser hard to deal with. But those who are willing to engage themselves both mentally and spiritually will find the movie richly rewarding.
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Strange masterpiece by master filmmaker
che-292 November 1999
A truely visionary work!!I have always been fascinated with the story that this film tells.Herzog seems to be an expert at showing the way that an outsider relates to the world.Bruno S. is amazing in the lead role , Herzog has definitely made the right casting choice.the movie is just a must for all fans of cinema,even if your not a Herzog fanatic you will still be moved by this extraordinary vision!!!
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Soft feet – a Biedermeier tragedy
manuel-pestalozzi29 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a highly artistic treatment of a very sad story. The cast is very good, especially Bruno S. in the main role, a non actor but a pretty determined fellow. This suits the movie very well. Contrary to Forrest Gump or Chance the Gardener in Being There, Kaspar Hauser is definitively an intelligent being, a man with a will and, if the guesswork about his past is correct, a fast learner - a man with opinions. He is not above telling his „keepers" that his life in confinement with a total ignorance about anything of God's creation was a better existence compared to what followed. He talks mechanically but with much determination and palpable inner pressure. Everything he says wants to convey meaning. Not one for smalltalk, Kaspar Hauser is. (it is highly recommendable to watch this in the original German version)

The script is excellent. There is an emotional side, where speculation about this true story is admitted, and in contrast the „protocol" of the officials, scientists and theologians who make Kaspar Hauser the subject of their curiosity and their studies. The „protocol" part is clearly delivered as a comedy, embodied by the protocolist himself, a Dickensian geezer. Any scientific and philosophical approach to the Hauser phenomenon is presented as complete albeit generally well intentioned humbug, and in the end one is as helpless an saddened as in the beginning. But at least these people collected a lot of data which let one assume that the story Kaspar Hauser learned to tell was true. The most touching detail was the discovery that the man had unusually soft feet.

Kaspar Hauser appeared in 1828, a time which in art is known as the Biedermeier period. The English translation for the term is nosegay, the term „bieder" means something like meek, conformist or even cowardly. In culture it meant kind of bourgeois „pretty pretty", frail, introverted, apolitical. The makers of this movie took great pains to create settings that seem to come right out of Biedermeier paintings. They were awesomely effective, I must say in admiration. The sites and locations are very well chosen. I particularly liked how domestic animals and birds were integrated into the scenery – I never remarked this in a movie before. Of course, Kaspar Hauser as a person is as anti Biedermayer as can be and a misfit if anything.

The „background" of this movie is pure evil. For all the considerable kindness Kaspar Hauser receives from Biedermeier society, it is not capable to dispel it. In the end Kaspar Hauser comes stumbling into a Biedermeier garden with an expression of amazement in his face and his waistcoat covered with blood. He has been stabbed, no one knows where, why or by whom. It is all in the background, or the substructure. But it happens, almost like in H. G. Welles Time Machine. On his deathbed Kaspar Hauser tells an unfinished story he has thought out (on the screen transformed into a badly flickering Super8 footage – one of the very few weak points of the movie), and the final point is made, namely that even an unfinished story is worth being told. In this case I could not agree more.
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flaviobguedes1 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The movie is beautiful, easy yet complex and slow yet interesting. I have just watched and I could see it again a thousand times. You get so involved in the story, is impossible to don't love Kaspar, he is so like a child but at the same time so deep and complex.

His dislike for learning "normal" habits and "logical" thoughts, what was consider stupid, shows beautifully that he is in a way superior to those professors and priests, he understand the world like it is and not like people wanted him to see it.

Whem you see him crying when holding a child, or when he is playing with animals like a child, or when trying to learn simple kids rimes you just fall in love with that person. Is impossible to don't be emotional about this movie, is beautiful.

I noticed that I wrote beautiful a lot of times but is the only word that I can think of to describe it, I'm not gonna use hard and complex words because I'm trying to follow Kaspar's way to live, simplicity make you see the wonderful in the world.
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A powerful and difficult film.
Cory Heitman5 February 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has become somewhat obscure, partly due to it's multiple titles (The misleading "Mystery of Kaspar Hauser") and due to Herzog's own focus on his work with Klaus Kinski. However, if you are a fan of Herzog, neither this nor "Stroszek" should be overlooked. This has less to do with the historical Kaspar Hauser (and there are inaccuracies, as with "Aguirre") than a harrowing look into alienation and exploitation.

I will avoid spoiler details, but the scenes with the circus and the churchyard are especially evocative. This is a restrained film, as subtle as anything Herzog has done. If you are expecting grand historical panoramas, look elsewhere. If you want a harrowing view as to how we are all alone even when in the company of others, and a view of how we force our expectations on others, see this film.
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Learning to think
paul2001sw-11 June 2010
It's a well known philosophical conundrum, would a man be able to think (or even be properly considered a man) if he was denied all sensory stimulation? In Nuremburg in 1828, there was a practical test of this proposition, when a person was discovered in town who had spent all his previous life incarcerated and denied human contact. He was duly taught how to think; but in fact, was not grateful for the experience. Werner Herzog's film examines the strange life of Kaspar Hauser - I find it hard to say whether or not I consider it a good film, because that life itself was so strange. Certainly it better recreated the bafflement of those who interacted with Kaspar than it managed to suggest what it really felt like to be Kaspar - but then, who could know? It's probably not Herzog's greatest achievement - but it's certainly an intriguing subject.
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What a pleasure for the audience but what a pain to a human soul
ewsk404 November 2005
Magnificent, epic movie, applicable in all times and all places. General assert that god does not exist. Support to Orwel, Bunuel, Harms and other historic men, claiming the same in their opus. Explains, at simple, even romantic way how life might be simple and pure but men makes it complicated, bitter and obscure. Makes you think that mankind would be beautiful without men. Makes even the spectator who abhors pathetic to let tears go by. Director avoided all the traps that can make bad movie of a good story. No long dialogs and insisting on details to stress the point. No explanation of messages that story offers, leaving the audience opportunity to use their own brains. Camera is a separate story. Each cadre is made like a beautiful piece of art from renaissance era. Lights, colors, costumes expressions of faces, all brought to the perfection. Might be compared only with visions from Kubric's movies. Perfect sample of what makes the cinematography competitive branch of art.
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juanathan1 July 2005
Werner Herzog continues to amaze me. He has been able to make great commentaries on the human character through bizarre and uncommon circumstances which makes his work even more effective.

This is the perfect movie. As I stated in my summary, this movie is beautiful. Landscapes, people, dreams. I do not think I have seen beauty so greatly captured on film. All the acting was great. Bruno S. embodies the character of Kasper Hauser. The rest of the supporting cast is also great. The movie is slow at times but ultimately overcomes its flaws in the end where the movie really shines. Werner Heerzog also adds humor to the film to lighten it up. Most importantly, the movie is full of Werner Herzog's awkward overly long shots that I just love.

A must-see!
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lucifergary6 February 2000
This is the third Werner Herzog film I have watched. The first two were Signs of Life and Aguirre: The Wrath of God. All for themselves and God against All is by far my favorite Herzog movie (and my favorite title). The exploration of Kaspar's primitive mind was fascinating and, at times, even humorous. I enjoyed Kaspar's disdain for the arrogant priests and scientists (but especially the priests!). Like every Werner Herzog movie I've seen thus far, the film does not progress at breakneck speed. This is definitely a turn-off to most movie-goers. I can relate. (Signs of Life had me checking my signs of life). However, I felt that the significant and often humorous dialogue more than made up for the admittedly slow pace.
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A Dark, Mysterious, Real, Discerning and Instinctive Character Study
jzappa18 September 2008
Werner Herzog's strange and enticing film divulges only what is known of the account of Kaspar Hauser, played by Bruno S., who dwelled for the first 17 years of his life shackled in a small basement room with nothing more than a toy horse to occupy him, without all contact with humans or other living things save for a stranger who gives food to him. One day in 1828, the same anonymous figure takes Kaspar out of his chamber, schools him on a handful of expressions and how to walk, and then leaves him standing still in a cobblestone court in Nuremberg. Kaspar is the focus of novelty and interest and is even put on display in a circus before being saved by an aristocrat who slowly and good-naturedly endeavors to renovate him. Kaspar gradually learns to read and write and forms unorthodox perspectives on religion and logic, but music is what gives him great pleasure. He draws the attention of members of the clergy, professors, and aristocracy.

The most telling scene is in fact my favorite, when Kaspar is being schooled by a psychologist who asks him a classic brain-buster, to which Kaspar gives an effortless, unusual, perfectly legitimate answer that is swiftly rejected by the psychologist for not being the standard answer. The people surrounding Kaspar in Herzog's film are perfectly subjugated, as in the scene where a little girl tries to teach Kaspar a nursery rhyme, and while it's clear that he doesn't know the meaning at all of the rhyme like she does and that he hasn't even developed as far as a small child, it's also clear that the small child has not developed far enough to know how to educate someone with less common knowledge than her.

Herzog chronicles the real-life mystery of Kaspar Hauser not so much as a creepy mystery but as a character study that demonstrates that society's traditional manner of perceiving the world may not essentially be the most well-founded or defensible, hence the film's brilliant original title, Every Man For Himself and God Against All, as all but laid bare when Kaspar's assertion that apples are tired is apparently substantiated by the incapability of his aristocratic savior to show support of the argument that they are lifeless objects subject to human control.

Bruno S. is Herzog's beautiful achievement. Bruno S., the disdained son of a prostitute, was beaten so cruelly by his mother as a toddler that he fell deaf for awhile. This caused him to be institutionalized for the next 23 years in countless institutes, regularly committing petty crimes. Regardless of this horrendous history, he became an autodidactic painter and musician. At the same time as these were his beloved pursuits, he was also pressed to take jobs in factories. Herzog saw him in a 1970 documentary, he swore to work with him. In and of himself, Bruno S. attested to the power of Herzog's vision. He was exceptionally strenuous to work with, at times not so much wanting but requiring numerous hours of screaming a scene could be shot. Owing to all of this, Bruno S. literally is a Kaspar Hauser, an inordinately tortured soul utilized for the sake of revealing the shock value of reality's hidden ugliness to common society. Kaspar is taken under the wing of several groups of people but whether their intentions are good or bad, he can never seem to live a life without the exploitation of his completely removed mind for the commotion of nobility or business.

Short of an accepted narrative or dramatic construction and full of indistinct imagery generated only by Herzog's instinct, many unexplained elements never resolve themselves in Herzog's unique character study, and they shouldn't. His encapsulating only what the world knows of this very little-known story intensifies the intrigue of it. Why did this strange person do this to Kaspar Hauser? Who was he?
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Another (minor) Herzog masterpiece
mstomaso23 August 2006
Werner Herzog's films reach emotional and aesthetic levels that few directors can aspire to. As one of the rare film-maker's more concerned with the artistry of their work than what they achieve at the box office, Herzog is nearly peerless in his purity and ideosynchrasy. Herzog uses the film medium as a moving canvas upon which he expresses, affects, and creates nightmares and dreamworlds which are so vividly real that they threaten our own naturalized consciousness of the projection we call reality.

So much for the postmodern gobbledygook. As you can tell, I love Herzog.

This early film deals with many of the familiar elements that tend to permeate Herzog's films - cultural critique, the insanity of everyday life, alienation, cruelty and power. But here, Herzog uses a true story of 19th century Europe as a vehicle, and treats his subject with an unusual compassion and straightforwardness.

Herzog's incredible casting talent also shows here, just as it does in all of his films. I do not wish to take anything away from the great performers, but really, how does one manage to choose an actor whose life experience is broadly similar to that of Kaspar Hauser's without knowing of it beforehand? This film blends somewhat disjointed artistic imagery with the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a man apart from society who has been kept in a cellar all of his life, and is suddenly expelled into the light in Nuremburg. He is adopted by a kindly old gent who attempts to socialize him in what appears to Kaspar (and perhaps to us through the film's clear vision) an insane society full of lies and contradictions. All of this is done with the believability that is so consistent in Herzog's theatricality, and the visual quality that qualifies him as a true cinematographic artist.
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Herzog's ultimate statement about the perseverance of the human spirit
Graham Greene19 June 2008
One of the most evocative and quietly moving films ever produced on the subjects of cultural displacement, exploitation and personal despair, with director Werner Herzog producing a pure work of cinema as sensitive as the character that he depicts. With this particular film, Herzog created perhaps the ultimate statement about the perseverance of the human spirit, whilst simultaneously creating a world that is deliberately abstracted in order to convey the perspective of a character out of step with society and the period that embraced him. Like many of Herzog's films from this era, such as Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) and Stroszek (1977) in particular, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1975) is essentially about looking at the world from the outside in; with all of the separate elements distorted in order to convey the world-view of this perennial outsider seeing himself for the very first time. In a manner similar to that of David Lynch's subsequent film, The Elephant Man (1980), Herzog uses elements of the real-life story behind the character simply as an excuse to ruminate on the notions of alienation, the nature of conspiracy, personal exploitation and degradation, as well as the often underhanded mechanisms of a seemingly enlightened society, in a way that goes beyond the mere superficial levels of the narrative.

The point of the film is expressed by the original German title, "Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle", or "every man for himself and God against all". In keeping with this, the nature of religion is brought up twice in the film and dismissed on both occasions by the central character, who claims to be too unfamiliar with the concept of spirituality to be able to make an informed opinion. The church argues that Kaspar should believe simply as an act of blind faith and that a leap of faith will overcome any such notions of knowledge or conception. It is a keen comment on the part of Herzog and one that ties into the idea of Kaspar as an unspoiled being; an almost childlike figure, though in the possession of a keen intelligence and a passionate creative spirit, who ultimately finds himself persecuted for reasons that neither he nor we could ever truly comprehend. In the hands of any other filmmaker, the depiction of Kaspar would have no doubt been that of the traditional outcast; desperately trying to find their own identity in the form of a triumph over adversity. However - again looking back to the subject matter of Even Dwarfs Started Small - Herzog instead gives us a representation of the sane man in the insane world; showing us how the corruption and inherent evil of self-preservation can take a gentle and contemplative spirit and crush it completely; a notion that is beautifully illustrated in a cinematic sense by the scene in which Kaspar sows his name with seeds into the flower bed, only to return one day from an outing to find that it has been trampled by an intruder.

Moments like these are characteristic of Herzog's continually fascinating style of direction from this particular period, as he approached cinema from a perspective similar to that of filmmakers like Peter Watkins, Ken Russell or Pier Paolo Pasolini by investigating the workings of a period setting from a more contemporary perspective. So, we have the authentic costumes, locations and an attempt to recreate the values and mannerisms of this particular society, all the while being abstracted by Herzog's continually probing camera that lingers and explores - often hand-held - through the various cobbled back-streets and stately homes from where the drama plays out. Herzog has often claimed that there is (or was) no real distinction between his documentary work and his more cinematic features, with both particular examples coming from the same place and attempting to convey what Herzog refers to as "the ecstatic truth". You can see this ideology clearly with the film, as the director mixes a non-actor in the shape of Bruno S. alongside professional performers like Walter Ladengast and Brigitte Mira. As a result of this, there is a heightened quality to the portrayal of Kaspar, as well as a genuine sense of dependence on the two characters that come to care for him, as the more experienced cast members take Bruno under their wing and coach him along in a manner reminiscent of the actual characters themselves.

The juxtaposition between the two styles of documentary realism and purposeful cinematic expression can be seen in the visualisation of the film; from the naturalistic cinematography of Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein - with its emphasis on light and shadow and expressive use of landscapes - to the use of classical music (which here gives the film a yearning, almost romantic sense of melodrama to contrast against the more downbeat elements of the film). From its stark and impressionistic opening vignette - with its allusions to a dreamlike evocation somewhat removed from the rest of the film - to the beguiling fever-dream of caravans moving through a barren desert as the film reaches its close, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is an absolute masterpiece from a director here at the very top of his creative peak. It is without question unlike any other film you will ever see; one that is rich in character and a believable evocation of period detail, but one that also presents a genuinely unique and unforgettable cinematic vision. In Herzog's film, it is the world that is wrong and confused, with Kaspar becoming a sort of representation for the very greatest qualities of humanity in the face of this vile corruption. A powerful and emotive concept as passionately realised as the film itself.
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It will haunt you for many days
NFTmaniac3 September 2001
As many other viewers have commented, this movie enters my personal list of the best ever. While other Herzog's movies often reach their expression climax in only a few scenes, as in Woyzcek with the amazing murderous shot of fury and compassion, this movie is beautiful all round. It has so many intersecting layers: a compelling story, the powerful images of Kaspar's dreams, the incredible performance of Bruno S.,the shear elegance of the fuzzy photography of nature, the emotions of Pachebel and Albinoni music in a perfect match with the images. The emotional power of the movie will haunt you for days.
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clemptor17 January 2003
This movie is utterly amazing. I suggest it and recommend it to anyone and everyone. It is so brilliant I can't even begin to summerize it. However, I totally agree with ednora (<----that may be wrong name; review done on January 6th 2003). The script is written with a sublime brilliance and every point that it makes is so profound without being elitist, stoggy, or pretentious. I HATE pretentious movies, so please believe that this movie IS as wonderful as everyone says. Just see it; you will be moved by it's content forever.
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It changed me inside
zanderary18 October 2002
This movie presents Kaspar's reality in conflict with that of the "normal" world's, and gradually we come to see his as the more beautiful, mystical and human. The film is, at once, a vision of the artist vs. society, autism vs. normal, the seeker vs. a world rendered complacent by square-headed ration and unquestioning devotion to rules. Yet it is anything BUT a touchy feely movie, utterly devoid of sentimentality. I pitied the townsfolk more than I did Kaspar by the end. What is more, Bruno S., not a real actor but a man who had been in and out of mental institutions (at times claiming to be Kaspar), is brilliantly cast. You can't take your eyes off him. No "real actor" could have pulled it off.
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A Beckettian Masterpiece
vladimirestragon24 July 2000
This is a unique and beautiful film. Kaspar Hauser is a Beckettian character who cannot make sense of this strange and violent world. The film is filled with silent absurdism and a sad recognition of the futility and cruelty of living. It is more than film, it is magic.
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One of, if not the best, Herzog film
insomnia18 March 2000
A young boy is dragged from the hut where he's been imprisoned (by his father?), and then left on the streets of Nuremberg. Nobody knows where he's come from. Finally, he is taken in by a kind old gentleman who eventually wins the young boy's trust. The father (?) who watches how Kaspar 'blossoms', becomes jealous and snatches him back again. Woven between this simple plot outline, is a film that moves me to tears every time I watch it. The performance by Bruno S as Kaspar, is flawless, with just the right degree of wide-eyed innocence. Yet underneath, he knows (and we know), that it's all going to end badly. This is a stunning film, and easily Herzog's best - no mean feat when one realises he was also the director of such magnificent films as "Aguire, Wrath of God" and:"Fitzcarraldo
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Fascinating but not for all tastes
Zvi-29 August 1999
A fascinating film that I highly recommend to those who are willing to put in a bit more than passive viewing. It is visually very powerful, and it will leave you thinking about many things. Do some research about the real Kasper Hauser, it's a interesting story in its own right.
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