The Mystery Of Kaspar Hauser

"Movie Magazine International" Review -- Air Date: Week Of 9/20/95

By Monica Sullivan

In 1828, a most unusual young man turned up in Nuremburg. For the next five years, he was a source of wonder and, perhaps, fear to the intelligentsia. Who was he? Where had he come from? Why had he been deprived of a normal existence his entire life? Was he descended from Royalty? His murder in 1833 only intensified the riddle. Artists and scholars continue to study Kaspar Hauser to the present day.

Possibly the most heartfelt view of the subject was provided by the Werner Herzog masterpiece, "The Mystery Of Kaspar Hauser". Under Hertzog's brilliant direction, Bruno S. attempts and succeeds at the impossible: stripping his entire personality of each and every trace of socialisation. His Kaspar is like a baby that grows from infancy to adulthood without learning a thing. His social vulnerability is the quality that attracts small children who laboriously teach him how to speak, one word at a time.

Kaspar is later exploited as a freak attraction, but he escapes and later leads a life of what appears to be non-stop education in sheltered circumstances. His questions are strong, clear and child-like, but because he is a man, they are interpreted as a threat. Or so Herzog suggests. The tenderness and compassion with which Kaspar is initially received evolves into suspicion and violence. Just when the whole world appears to be opening up for Kaspar, he is the object of two murderous attacks, the second eventually proving fatal. His efforts at socialization end and he reverts to the infant's heartrending gestures for someone, anyone, to stop the pain.

When Bruno S. is onscreen, it's impossible to tear your eyes away from his one-of-a-kind performance, but Herzog wisely gives a spare but eloquent context for "The Mystery Of Kaspar Hauser". An anatomical dissection of Kaspar Hauser is quickly carried out, revealing nothing but our eagerness to search for answers, even when they're wrong. In contrast, Herzog shows us the landscapes that surround his story, recreating the lush colour experiments of photographers of the mid-nineteenth century. Herzog's anachronistic images and Bruno S's newly-reborn eyes make more sense of the mystery than all the state-of-the-art scientific bumbling of 1833 or 1993.

Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan

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