NUMBER TWO IN A SERIES OF TWO
THE TRIAL – 1993 – movie - based upon a novel by Franz Kafka – screenplay by Harold Pinter - directed by David Jones – players are: Joseph K. (Kyle MacLachlan), The Priest (Anthony Hopkins), Doctor Huld (Jason Robards), Fraulein Burstner (Juliet Stevenson), Leni (Polly Walker), Titorelli (Alfred Molina), Franz (David Thewlis),
Block (Michael Kitchen), camera work - Phil Meheux, edited by John Stothart.
The novel was written during 1914-1915, while Kafka was an official in the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia.This isn’t the first time I’ve had to go back to the book after screening a director’s film version.
And… taking it one step further I also watched the 1962 Orson Welles production, which I’ve reviewed in a previous blog post.
Absorbing all this in a back-to-back fashion leaves me feeling a
little discombobulated. For a period of time now Kafka has occupied a big part of my thinking. I find him running through my head while I’m waiting for the light to change at an intersection. Actors and directors must have a heck of a time decompressing after working on a project like this for several weeks.
Our universal guilt is the driving force behind Kafka’s engrossing tale… we’re all guilty of something. And, when faced with the inevitability and weight of THE LAW, even if we are convinced of our innocence, we are powerless when caught in its grip. This is not a fantasy…you… can be a victim, today. I recommend Harvey Silverglate, a lawyer who wrote “Three Felonies A Day – How the Feds Target the Innocent.” Perfect for those of you who are certain that they are out to get you.
In reality THE LAW is a fiction, conceived in the mind of man, to serve man, and to enforce the imagined order we’ve imposed on our daily lives. However, the roles have been dramatically reversed… it is now “we” who are subservient to “the law”; check out Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd”.
Mr. Pinter and David Jones wanted to make Kafka’s tale of man’s unequal relationship with the law, more understandable to a larger audience. There are aspects of their production what have worked for them; some of the dialogue is much less vague and it also helps move the plot forward in a timely manner.
They’ve shortened and discarded some of the confusing scenes and re-ordered their appearance in the film. A lot of their work was worthwhile. However, I don’t think that the bold, square-jawed Kyle MacLachlan was the best choice for the hapless Joseph K.
The ever twitchy Tony Perkins (who just finished with “Psycho”) had to be the
guy Kafka foresaw back 1917 when he wrote the novel. Welles got that part right.
Unfortunately the abundance of explanatory dialogue and the beauty of Prague’s rose-colored architecture in Pinter’s version failed to convey the absurdity of the position that Joseph K. finds himself in.
What they did get right was Josef K.’s willing acceptance of death as the only escape from his father’s brutal judgment. Welles took this scene off-camera and totally screwed it up with the inexplicable dynamite gimmick.
Throughout his existence, Kafka’s father reinforced his degrading viewpoint that his son led a pointless life and that his job as a lawyer at an insurance company was merely an easy means of putting bread on the table. Kafka
assigned K. to shoulder the mantle of the willing victim, and to assume the verdict of guilt that Kafka accepted as his father’s judgement.
Kafka repeatedly stated in his own diaries that suicide was a defensible way out. Although,
in his mind he could not escape his father’s judgement, his body decided for him and gave him his final release. Kafka died of tuberculosis at age 40… his father died 7 years later.