Published in the New York Times: September 28, 1975
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Herzog's 'Every Man for Himself' Is Stunning Fable Full of Universals'


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 change that.

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.

The Cast

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

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