Das Schloss, ein film von Michael Haneke (a quick analysis)

This is quasi-Alice related, but I'll get to that later. I would really like to talk about this film, and how I find it a)thoroughly more enjoyable than the book and b)irresistable to rewatch over and over again. I have not done too much research on this movie, there is very little information about its production. All that I know is that it was made for television. I have a theory that Haneke simply made it for the money to make ends meet on his production of "Funny Games", which was also completed in the same year (1997) and with some of the same actors. But I could be (and should be) wrong. It seems like a much "lesser" Haneke film, but it's become one of my favourites for many reasons as I will discuss. So from an un-researched viewpoint, I will not be able to draw on too many facts other than comparisons to the book and comparisons to other Haneke films. This will be a pure analysis based on what is presented on the screen.

The book was written by Franz Kafka (translation: "The Castle") back in 1926. I was interested in reading this book because Kafka's name was dropped in another book I was reading called "Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy" - a nice book about philosophy but a terrible book about interpritations of the Alice stories - there was one chapter about the art of nonsense in literature. The chapter, written by Charles Taliaferro and Elizabeth Olson argues that nonsense is a wonderful literary device if there is a grounded protagonist who gives the perspective of sanity, and through their eyes the nonsense remains alien and/or humourous. Then they argue the dangers of absurdity, such as Kafka, Nikolai Gogol or Eugene Ionesco, where "these works tread deeper and deeper into senseless strife and violence... life and death itself become almost meaningless." I thought this was pretty cool, so I went out and bought a copy of "The Castle", translated by J. A. Underwood (who I later discovered is more of a "Kafka-purist", in terms of style that means he translated the original untainted manuscripts and left the lengthy paragraphs unbroken) and started reading right away. One thing to note on Kafka's book, in fact on his three only novel attempts, is that they were never completed before he died. "The Castle" even breaks off at mid-sentence, which plays to great emphasis in Haneke's adaptation.

There are two ways I can relay the story, the normal way in which I simply explain the entire event and give exposition in an orderly structured fashion, or relay the events and exposition as they are chronicled in the story, so as not to spoil the experience of the way it presents itself. Alternatively, I could not relay the story at all, which is what I'm going to do. For those who know the story, it would just be a tedious exercise in revising what you know already. For those who don't know the story, I would hate to spoil the joy of having it unravel in the way it should be experienced. This goes for either reading the book or watching the film by Haneke (I have not seen any other adaptations). Haneke has managed to follow the events of the book exactly as they are ordered, easily deceiving the audience in thinking it is a faithful adaptation. I don't think it is all that faithful, not in the sense of its compression of the events and dialogues, but in its stylistic display it is more of a Haneke experience than Kafkaesque.

In adapting the book to film I have noticed Haneke making considerable changes, each with a variety of reasons which I can only assume, however I will discuss each type of change with an example. They are:

There are events and, most notably, dialogue which are hugely compressed. This is the key reason for my enjoyment of the film over the book. Kafka was able to explore the extremes of novel-writing when he was able to give each character their own 10-page monologue about this and that, except not to say it's this, but as it is that then this will lead to that, not because of this but because of that. It's bad enough to stop the story dead within a book, since reading is a whole different psychology to watching, but to do that in a film will virtually stop the world turning - birds will fall out of the sky and anyone with a pacemaker will die instantly. One moment of extremely clever compression I noticed was the dialogue between K. and the landlady of the village inn, the next morning after Frieda had decided to leave her position at the Herrenhof. K. decides that he wants to talk to Klamm, but the landlady argues it is impossible. Haneke's reduction of this dialogue is beautiful, for the film there was no need for backstories, over-exposition or "this and that", K. just wanted to get out and find answers. It is a joy for me to watch this scene (all framed in a single shot) inversely proportional to how much it was a pain to read it in the book.

There are two other big compressions, one I would deem an omission, so that makes one other compression, which I couldn't help noticing. The conversation between Olga and K. at Barnabas' house, which takes up several chapters in the book, was reduced to a very small conversation. This was a part of the book I did enjoy reading, there were a lot of revelations discussed about the beaurocratic nature of village and its castle, and a whole history of the downfall of the Barnabas family. While it was all fascinating, the compression here was also necessary to Haneke. The beaurocratic nature is already discussed two other times (which I will including in the "keeping" section), and there is also Haneke's sense to leave explanations open - and this is what greatly intrigued me about the film - which has this strange incompatibility with Kafka's writing yet still makes for a compelling story.

There was one particularly large omission I couldn't help but notice. Well, make that two, except the other would be better off under "changing". And then there are another two I can think of, one of which I mentioned before under the "compression" section. Firstly, I will discuss the scene when K. talks with Erlanger at the Herrenhof Inn, then Erlanger leaves. In the book there is a giant display of chaos involving messengers and the gentlemen from the castle. Doors are flying open and slamming shut, messengers are taking letters and giving letters, then fighting or playing mind games with gentlemen in order to get messages from them or deliver messages to them. Then one gentleman in particular starts yelling and making a whole lot of noise and rings his bell, to which all the other gentlemen respond by joining in, then the landlord and the landlady walk in and grab K. by his arms and drag him out of the scene. K. only then learns that he was the reason there was so much noise and trouble, that he should have left immediately after Erlanger gave him his message. K. then has some absurd discussion with the landlady about the clothes she wears. All of this is completely gone in Haneke's adaptation. There was one important detail in this whole scene, as soon as the chaos dies down one of the messengers still has a single note left undelivered. K. wants to see what it is, but before he gets a chance the messenger rips up the note and puts it in his pocket. Such an action gives confirmation to the Mayor's long speech about how such gross miscommunication can come about and result in a mistake such as K.'s arrival to the village. There are two reasons why I can think this scene was ommited entirely. First is the budget would probably have no room for it, and considering Haneke's demand for absolute technical precision, such a thing would be out of the question. Second is that it has already been explained by the Mayor (see the "keeping" section), and thus is my argument for this film being more Hanekesque than Kafkaesque. It's almost like a mathematical elegance, to cut down the fat and give you the absolute essential information. The rest of the information around it is all there, but you don't need to be told explecitely what it is, like Kafka would tell you, but rather it's all the things you can assume on your own.



(more to come)

1 comment:

  1. Hey if someone can get me a better screencap of K. walking in the snow then please let me use it!!