in the New York Times: September 28, 1975
here to read on the New York Times website
'THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER' MORE ON 'THE ENIGMA OF KASPAR HAUSER'
Herzog's 'Every Man for Himself' Is Stunning Fable Full of Universals'
By RICHARD EDER
The early tenor aria from "The Magic Flute" arches in a high
arrow's trajectory over the opening shots: a boat moves on a blue river,
a washerwoman on the bank looks up and regards us solemnly, and wind pushes
the marsh grass in heavy waves.
It is impossible to know why these things move us, or why they prepare
us for an experience out of the ordinary. Throughout "Every Man for
Himself and God Against All" there are moments when we drift a bit
outside of ourselves, in a kind of detached gratefulness that the person
occupying our seat is being given so much.
Werner Herzog is a young German director with a rapidly growing reputation
in Europe and, as yet, not much of a name here. "Every Man for Himself,"
which won this year's Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, should
Mr. Herzog does not deal with small corners of reality; he riddles with
universals. Like Ingmar Bergman, his concerns are more mtaphysical than
social, and again like Mr. Bergman, he explores them in ways that keep
engaging our imagination, our intellect and our emotions.
His pictures are populated with freaks and deformities or people in freakish
or deformed circumstances. Not, at least in his latest films, in order
to dwell on these extremes—he is in no way exotic—but to focus
on the main human condition, as a man might climb to the foothills at
the edge of a city to see the city better.
"Every Man" is set on a real historical incident. In the early
19th-century a man appeared in a square in Nuremberg. He could not speak,
he could barely stand, he had apparently been kept in some kind of dungeon.
His identity was a mystery—the only clue was a paper he carried
that gave his name as Kasper Hauser and asked that he be taken into service
as a soldier.
He was taken in, taught to speak, to read and write, and then, in a fashion
as mysterious as his first appearance, he was murdered.
This is Mr. Herzog's fable, allowing both a concrete and a philosophical
exercise of the questions: Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where
do we go?
A sound fable is not enough for a sound movie: "Every Man" is
a superb movie because Mr. Herzog has managed to treat the fable in stunning
human and dramatic terms. He has done so, in large part, through his use
of a man identified only as Bruno S.—he is not a professional actor,
and he has spent some time in mental institutions—as Kasper.
There is more than acting; there is a total, magical immersion of Bruno
in the man who arrives in the world as a stranger, takes it in, tries
to grasp it, judges it and is removed from it.
Kasper is seen first in his dungeon, grunting and playing with his only
possession, a wooden horse. His keeper, a man in black—Mr. Herzog
conceives God as a secret policeman — appears, jams boots on his
legs, which are as soft and white as maggots, and carries him to the town
square at dawn.
The world discovers Kasper and Kasper discovers the world. Nothing very
dramatic happens until the end: The film is mostly a gentle, meditative
and poignant discourse. The authorities send a tiny owl of a notary around
after Kasper to record his actions and pronouncements, beautifully played
by Walter Ladengast.
Kasper's extraordinary face, his eyes strained wide to see better, his
whole posture suggesting a man trying to swallow, trying to grasp a world
of strangeness, is the film's central image.
As he learns to speak, he learns to think. He wants to accept society
but he cannot. "Every man is a wolf to me," he tells the professor,
haltingly. His only struggle is to search for his own meaning: He has
no ego. "Nothing lives less in me than my life," he says.
Scholars come to question him: he baffles and holds them off. He is trying
to understand life, not the rules of life. He strains and strains; he
dreams the beginning of a dream that may have the meaning he is looking
for, but he can't manage to dream an ending.
The man in black reappears—"Wait here for me," he had
instructed Kasper when he left him on the square—and strikes him
down. Kasper dies, recounting the first half of his dream, an autopsy
finds that his brain is deformed.
The notary society's representative, emerges, writing in his book. "We
have found an explanation for this strange man; we cannot find a better
one," he says with deep satisfaction. As he walks up the street and
this beautiful cryptic and satisfying movie ends, we see that he is limping:
He too is deformed.
JEDER FUR SICH UND GOTT GEGEN ALLE (Every Man for Himself and God Against
All), directed by Werner Herzog, screenplay (German with English subtitles)
by Mr. Herzog, photography, Jorq Schmidt-Reitwein, editor, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus;
music, Bachelbel, Orlando di Lasso, Albinoni and Mozart; production, Werner
Herzog Filmproduktion. At the New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall,
Lincoln Center. Running time: 110 minutes.
Kaspar . . . . . Bruno S.
Daimer . . . . . Walter Ladengast
Kathe . . . . . Brigitte Mira
Unknown man . . . . . Hans Musaus
Circus director . . . . . Willy Semmelrogge
Lord Stanhope . . . . . Michael Kroecher
Captain . . . . . Henry van Lyck
© The New York Times Company