director Werner Herzog
How do you solve an enigma like Kaspar Hauser? Werner Herzog’s interpretation of the real life story of the roughly 16 year old foundling is to hew as closely to the “facts” as possible. Those facts have been in question since the very discovery of the German boy in 1828. Herzog ignores the haters and follows Hauser’s claim to have been held captive in a close cellar chained to the floor with little or no human interaction until a somewhat sudden release. Entering the world for the first time with very few words and limited knowledge, Hauser is for Herzog a human blank slate.
Bruno S., the mentally ill street musician that Herzog discovered from a television documentary, plays the teen despite the fact that he is a middle-aged man. Bruno S.’s unique performance is exactly what Herzog intended, as is the cognitive dissonance of trying to interpret man as child, or man as man-child?
Herzog disputes none of Hauser’s claims, plays them as they were known, and turns Hauser into the figure of the individual, placed into even the reasonable arms of society, is somewhat a bird in a cage (many surround him in his own prison home) somewhat a fish out of water. Though one might think him a fish for whom no water exists.
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser might be an apt name for a typical biographical narrative about the boy, but Herzog’s original German title, Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle, Every Man for Himself and God Against All is both more apt and far more Herzogian.