The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Germany, 1974, M, 163 min. Director: Werner Herzog. Stars: Bruno S., Walter Ladengast, Brigitte Mira.

Director Herzog is better known for his Amazon epics Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: Wrath of God, but The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is equally spell-binding and haunting. It tells the true story of a young man who in the early 1800s was found standing motionlessly in a German town square. He could not or would not speak; no one knew who he was. He was Kaspar Hauser, and as his case drew attention around the palace courts of Europe it became clear that he had been the victim of a particularly sadistic crime: confinement in a dark cell since childhood.

The tale of Kaspar's gradual refamiliarization with language and society, and his status as a celebrity and an oddity among the rich, makes this something of a forerunner of Being There (and, of course, Bad Boy Bubby), with hints of the second half of Greystoke; but this earlier film has a deeply affecting quality all its own. The actor in the title role, Bruno "S.", is amazing: his facial expression in the opening scenes, a kind of blinking fearfulness, is unlike any I've seen on a "normal" person, and perfectly suits Kaspar's mysterious other-worldliness. And a scene where Kaspar answers a riddle from a self-satisfied logician (the ol' "Man Who Always Lies and Man Who Always Tells the Truth" paradox) using his own uniquely-developed system of reasoning is one of my favourites in a lifetime of movie-watching. I can't wait to see The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser again—I hope you give it a try.


First published in a reviews booklet of the ANU Film Group.
This page: 31 January 2000; last modified 16 February 2001.

©1995, 2000 Rory Ewins