24 March 1999 | MrsRainbow
If you're an actual fan of Kafka, I would recommend steering clear of this one. If you're not, then I would say that this is the kind of film that people watch and say, "Wow, that's the kind of movie that makes you think," which is one of the dumbest things I think that can be said about a film. Such films, I have found, tend to bring up rather crude and elementary ideas and toss them out as something profound. (If a film really does make you think, you don't say so, because you probably watch films like that all the time anyway. So a movie which doesn't have the soundtrack running every 30 seconds is not new to you). If you think that Orwell's 1984 is a profound book, then you'll think this movie is enjoyable. If you know better, then you probably won't.
I didn't find Kafka (the film) very engaging at all. It did not make many attempts at subtle references to his works, which would have been fun at least. The closest we get is two assistants working for him in his office (The Castle), and Irons at one point is asked what he's working on and says a book about a man who wakes up to find himself turned into an insect. Of course there's the castle in the movie, etc.., but these are so obvious that they're dull. Small references to his life are also made, such as his asking Brod to destroy his works, he starts coughing up blood at the end, etc..
Kafka the film is like a decent landscape painter's works, you look at them, say oh that's nice, and move on to the next one. They lack the profound melancholy of a Friedrich, or the tempestuous battle of the elements, as in a Turner. Something within the soul of the artist which infuses his work with a meaning deeper than a mere reproduction of nature or his social environment.
What's missing in Kafka the film is what makes Kafka the author appealing. His books are not simple lessons about the dangers of totalitarianism or any such easily conjured up enemy. It's the existential torment of the protagonist which is so captivating. Whether Kafka is struggling with God, or authority, or bureaucracy, or modernity, is fun to bat around, but not the essential point.
The film is sophomoric, because rather than focus on or depict this struggle, it turns Kafka into some sort of prophet waging war against ideological biology and the democratization of mankind's soul. Can you read that into him? Perhaps. But don't turn an incredibly unique and profound author into a neo-Marxist political science major writing for the college newspaper.
What disturbed me the most about the film was that they had the gall to go into the castle and explain to you what was inside. The whole point of Kafka's work is that we DIDN'T KNOW what was going on there. So we get ushered into the castle and given an 8th grade ethics class. Pathetic.