The classic 1962 Orson Welles’ film version of Kafka’s The Trial was remade in 1993; the difference between these two productions is mostly a matter of style. The 1993 film is much glossier, more expensive, and more visually detailed; but it lacks the remarkable artistic flair of its 1962 predecessor, which is the preferred film. Both are nonetheless of strong interest to libertarians as enduring metaphors of the very unequal citizen-state relationship.
Review of The Trial (1993)
A man is accused of a crime without ever being told the nature of the crime or the name of his accuser. [Dir: David Jones/ Anthony Hopkins, Jason Robards, Juliet Stevenson/ 120 min/ Drama/ Britain/ Law & the Individual]
Like its 1962 cinematic predecessor, this film communicates well the authoritarian citizen-state relationship.
As it begins, a man awakens to find a couple of strange policemen giving him orders. The man hasn’t been charged with a crime, they say, but he’s been arrested. For what, they don’t know. That lack of clarity pervades everything that follows. The man is constantly on the defensive, constantly consulting others on his case, constantly wondering what he should do to save himself, and never is he told what crime he is supposed to have committed.
At times, this train of events is almost Monty-Pythonesque in its absurdity. But such is the angst-filled Kafka story on which this film is based. Like its predecessor, it is not a film for ordinary tastes but those who appreciate offbeat European-style cinema may like it.
How to See It
Review of The Trial (1962)
A man is accused of a crime without ever being told the nature of the crime or the name of his accuser. [Dir: Orson Welles/ Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider/ 118 min/ Drama/ France, Italy, Germany/ Filmed in English/ Law & the Individual]
This film dramatization of the Kafka story by the same name is a metaphor for the authoritarian citizen-state relationship, in which the citizen is completely at the mercy of unintelligible rules and unappealable bureaucratic decisions. It communicates well the accused’s sense of helplessness and confusion in the face of this situation. The story begins with the accused being awakened from his sleep by a policeman. The policeman says very little, confirming only that the accused is “under arrest.” The accused is told that he may go to work, as usual, but that now and then he will be summoned for questioning. It’s not clear about what he will be questioned. He tries to get legal advice, but his lawyer is likewise murky in his responses.
And that’s pretty much how the rest of the film goes—lots of unexplained absurdities, bizarre behavior, and a general sense on the part of the accused of uncertainty, paranoia, and guilt.
Artistically, the film has all the hallmarks of Orson Welles’s sense of the dramatic. The cinematography and use of shading are particularly clever, and the ever nervous Anthony Perkins, fresh from Hitchcock’s Psycho, is first-rate in the leading role. However, watching this film is a little frustrating as the bizarre story on which it is based is a madman’s nightmare. Nonetheless, those who enjoy offbeat European-style cinema may like it.