Home Year 1979 Woyzeck (1979)

Woyzeck (1979)

His career as an amateur dentist was off to a shaky start.
His career as an amateur dentist was off to a shaky start.

Twitter Plot Summary: Woyzeck, a simple man in a simple army, who simply goes off on one when he finally snaps.

Five Point Summary:

1. He’s clearly got a screw loose.
2. His wife is playing away from home.
3. Throwing a cat out of a window.
4. Embarrassed in the tavern.
5. And then he snaps.

The team-up of Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski struck gold again with Woyzeck, a film that explores the concept of being alone despite being surrounded by people most of the time, and the notion of piling pressure after pressure and humiliation on a person until they eventually snap and go off the rails. Shot in Herzog’s traditional documentary style with some long naturalistic takes, the locations are kept to a minimum which draws greater emphasis on the characters. To be fair, the standout performance is from Kinski himself as Woyzeck, although Eva Mattes is a close second as Marie, his long suffering wife.

For once Kinski’s character is inept, a man who is up against the world and doesn’t realise that they’re all laughing at him, often to his face. Even his wife, who finds herself growing ever more distant from her disinterested husband – who is absent both physically and mentally – and ends up sleeping with a dashing soldier who sweeps her off her feet. Woyzeck is another tragic figure in the same vein as Kinski’s own take on Nosferatu, and is clearly a man suffering from mental issues. Most of the time he’s almost in a trance, and for the rest of it he hears voices. Why and how this man came to be in the army is never made clear, but clearly they have quite loose policies when it comes to signing off potential candidates, especially those that clearly have mental health issues.

The doctor couldn't tell if Woyzeck's recent Nosferatu virus had worn off.
The doctor couldn’t tell if Woyzeck’s recent Nosferatu virus had worn off.

Woyzeck is surprisingly short for a Herzog film, clocking in at around the 80 minute mark, but had it run for any longer then it would have likely lost its way and introduced completely unnecessary story elements. For most of the running time Woyzeck the man is put upon, put down and downright insulted by everybody just because he appears simple and generally unaware of the majority of the world around him. Slowly but surely his defences are worn down until in the final act, he snaps. You know full well that the moment is coming, just because it’s Klaus Kinski in the central role, but it also stretches out from the behaviour of the character as well. How far do you let things go before you snap? It’s an interesting question that is raised, particularly when everyone around Woyzeck appears to be selfishly following their own agenda.

This is shown clearly in two of those who Woyzeck meets, notably the local doctor who sees Woyzeck as a perfect test specimen and wants to use him as a human test subject, and the local captain who is constantly babbling on about his own mortality and wanting to ensure he is remembered as a good man when his time finally comes. Yet despite his desires in this respect, he never seems to do anything to warrant deserving that outcome. It’s powerful stuff once again, carried by Kinski’s own underlying madness, and a slow build to its finale without compromising on character development or the occasional need to throw a cat out of a first floor window.

Score: 4/5

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