Saturday, July 28, 2007
There are two basic types of Werner Herzog characters: the megalomaniacs who try to bend nature to their wills and fail (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Timothy Treadwell) and the innocents who find themselves coping with a strange and chaotic universe (Kaspar Hauser, Juliane Sturze, Dieter Dengler). Bruno Stroszek is one of the latter, as Herzog transplants Bruno S., Kaspar Hauser from Every Man for Himself and God Against All, out of the 19th century into contemporary Germany. Just as Bruno had played Kaspar as a confused innocent stuck in a bizarre world he never made, so now are the contrasts even higher: Stroszek (like Bruno S. himself) has been institutionalized for most of his life and has only rudimentary adult skills; when confronted by two thugs who force themselves into his grungy apartment, his response is total submission, like a dog.
After realizing how incapable he is of dealing with this existence, he tries, with a pair of friends - a prostitute and an old guy - to build a new life in Wisconsin. Here, the expression about not being able to get away from yourself comes firmly into play, as Eva the prostitute goes back to doing tricks for extra cash, and Stroszek has no idea how to make enough money to pay for his mobile home or color TV. All of this is played out not in clammy, decrepit West Germany, but in a land that promises a brighter future for anyone, yet is full of its own share of weirdness. After dealing with an unctuous banker and a jabberjaw auctioneer, Stroszek makes his final stand against the cold rationality of the world in an arcade, where you can make a rabbit ride a tiny firetruck or a chicken dance by plugging in a few cents.
The experience of watching a film like this is essentially heartbreaking, and illustrative of the whole scope of human life, from the unstoppable survival instincts of the tiny babies Stroszek views in the premature ward of the hospital, to the late-in-life rebelliousness of Mr. Scheitz, who holds up a barbershop with a shotgun out of disgust at the failures of the system, and is promptly arrested across the street buying groceries.
Through all of this, Bruno S. watches and tries to cope, until he can take it no longer and has one of those wonderful movie flameouts that we only really saw in the '70s. Everything that felt distanced in Herzog's Kaspar Hauser - the pastoral tone, the historical setting - is gone here, and the movie slaps you around with the essential tragedy of life.
I also notice from IMDB that this movie was apparently released on my birthday in 1977, which is funny.