The Principles: Orson Welles (Director). Anthony Perkins. Orson Welles. Jeanne Moreau. Elsa Martinelle. Romy Schneider. Arnoldo Foa.
The Premise: At roughly 6am on some random morning, Josef K. (Perkins) is awoken by a few unannounced police inspectors who inform him that he’s under arrest but never tell him why. Ostensibly, the rest of the film is spent with Josef as he tries to figure out just what he’s been charged with and how he’s going to beat the case. But if you only chose to look at the surface the film would be maddeningly dense. No – the Devil, as they say, is in the details and it’s what’s underneath that makes this film live or die.
Is It Good: Well…what’s your definition of “good?” That’s not a snaky question – there are a lot of things going on here and what you take away from it kind of depends on both what you can put into it and what you expect out of movies in general. In a basic narrative sense, well, okay, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end…sorta. But it plods along almost tediously without any sort of attempt to explain a damn thing. And then it ends in just as confusing a manner as it started, so 100% of the heavy lifting has to be done by the audience. And that’s not a BAD thing, mind you. It’s actually a great thing if done well by the right person, and there’s no denying Welles’ worth as a filmmaker. In terms of the technical stuff, it’s extremely well done with imaginative shots and compositions and set pieces that exist, in every instance, to serve the ideas that are bubbling under the surface.
What’s really interesting about The Trial, in terms of those ideas, is that’s it’s a lot of different things all rolled up and mixed together. And again, what you pull out of it is almost completely dependant on what you bring into it. In a broad sense, it’s an examination of humanity’s ways of searching for meaning in the things it can’t understand. The legal system sort of acts like an overarching allegory for that, but in essence you could project almost anything into that. Religion, culture, social and class systems, etc. But, at the same time, it’s also a look at just how disastrous a bureaucracy can be when left to spin out of control under its own weight (and it’s particularly easy to pull that out of it with the state of our legislative branches these days).
But in an even deeper sense, the entire narrative arc could be seen as an examination of one mans own psychological breakdown. There wouldn’t be a lot of reaching required to surmise that the entire film takes place in Josef K.’s head and that everything we see is a visual metaphor for his how his psyche crumbles under the weight of his own persecution complex. The fact that every single woman in the movie throws themselves at him seems to lend a bit of support to that theory, as do other cause-and-effect scenarios that are scattered along the proceedings. Josef has a tremendous effect on the people and things around him and, when coupled with Perkins‘ REMARKABLE performance (seriously, he‘s amazing in this), you get the sense that it‘s all a result of his own over inflated sense of self-importance.
And on top of all that, it’s also a pretty full dose of “What the fuck” surrealism whose tediousness is more of a draw than a repellant.
So yeah – it can be all of those things or some of them or none of them at all. I could spend another 4,000 words dissecting every single element and layer and nook and cranny, and in a lot of ways it deserves it, but that seems excessive. How “good” it is really depends on you.
Is It Worth A Look: It’s natural to want to say “Well yeah, you ARE reading this site so this should be right up your alley.” But we have readers who apparently think The Fast & The Furious is the best film franchise of the decade. So I don’t wanna alienate those dudes. You should know what you’re getting into ahead of time. That’s CHUD – we’re lookin’ out for ya.
But for the rest of you? It‘s on Instant. You know what to do.
Random Anecdotes: A friend of mine has been pestering me to do an MOD over this movie for about 6 months now. So here, ya bastard. YOU’RE WELCOME.
Cinematc Soulmates: After Hours. Inception. Fight Club. Ikiru…kinda.