Monday, January 28, 2008
If we decide to pass a judgement on Woyzeck ( that is if we have a right to ), we can only do so from an external point of view, from the outside, for he is not accessible, even to his doctor, who thinks he is too philosophical. Either Woyzeck is sane and his experiences quite normal, though slightly out of the ordinary, may be mystical or else he is deranged, with a fixed idea, suffering as his doctor is quite sure with "aberratio partialis mentalis" and thus foreign to us. The case of Woyzeck is a curious one, the movie is quite brilliant and the play by Buchner simply one of the best in any language permitted.
Woyzeck, a soldier and husband, father and a crazed man is aloof, estranged and at a distance from everyone. His officer observes that Woyzeck has a "hunted look" always and advises him to "pace" life. But Woyzeck is a troubled man, given in to visions, hearing voices, having premonitions and harbouring strange ideas. He is thus being treated, with a diet of peas only, to be followed by mutton. And when Woyzeck is told of his wife's infidelity, and he spies and sees her with a Superior officer, Woyzeck hears voices again, commanding him to commit the ultimate offence, to kill his wife. That he does and ends with blood on his hands, throwing the knife into a pool of water, mad with rage and grief.
Woyzeck is a strange man but is he actually mad? Should we be sympathetic towards him for we know that his wife is unfaithful to him? However that is not enough for him to kill someone, even if it is a crime of passion, even if such crimes are prepared in inaccessible regions of the heart. Woyzeck is betrayed but isn't he already at a distance from his wife, from his surroundings? Isn't Woyzeck not fit to be in the company of drum-majors and pseudo-scientists, on a treatment regime of peas? Should not Woyzeck be called a misfit if not a real philosopher, isn't he a thinking man and thus condemned?
Woyzeck's visions and reflections are unintelligible, his language allusive and his actions cryptic. He claims that "flames are raging through the heavens" and he can hear "a distant roar like mighty trumpets", he talks of nature and claims that "when the sun is high up, the world is bursting into flames and that it is all in the mushrooms". And he is in hell, he feels it, a hell that we don't know of. "Everything is going round in circles", he says. In short, he "feels hot". Thus Woyzeck and his experiences can be understood only if we make an effort but in the end the murder, the act of passion creates a wedge. He is quick to recognize that, shouting at the people who might think so, calling them murderers too, questioning their hypocrisy.
Is he an existential hero or a plain murderer, a rejected lover or a deceived man, a poet, a philosopher or is he only ill, hiding behind the moon and poetic expressions, an interesting psychological case, one who would interest modern forensic experts? I cannot decide.
Woyzeck, the play by Buchner is fragmentary but in whatever shape it is, it is a stroke of genius, written in a language that suits theatre adaptation admirably and thus makes it such a drama. And the movie, another collaboration between Kinski and Herzog is Kinski's tour de force, a performance that elevates acting to sublime arts. Herzog thinks that any English translation is at best watery but it will do for us. Kinski and the absolute fidelity between the play and the movie makes it a sincere adaptation and shows Herzog's admiration towards Buchner. In whatever order Woyzeck is watched or read, it remains a piece of art that defies time and space.Since I read the play last year and watched the movie only recently, I must admit that I thought I was reading it again. A great movie and a great play.