Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Trial (1962)


I first heard about this film in a book I have dealing with the movies of David Lynch. Lynch mentions it as a film that influenced his visual style as well as his interest in creating a particular mood in his films. Orson Welles directed the film so you know it’s going to at least look good, but can you really adapt a story by Franz Kafka into a motion picture?


Josef K (Anthony Perkins) is going to have a bad day. He awakens to find himself under arrest for an unstated crime. Josef then attempts to find out what crime he’s committed, who accused him, or what the hell he’s supposed to do next. But instead of answers, he only finds more questions. Each new encounter fills him with a new level of dread. It becomes very apparent that no matter what he does, or who he talks to, his life is in danger.

Finally he meets with the famous advocate Hastler (Orson Welles) who hints that he may be able to save him, but at a price. Is this just another ruse, a new level to the unknown game, or is this Josef’s only chance at salvation. In the end The Trial may reveal that the crime Josef committed, was being ignorant of the crime in the first place.

Good Points:
  • Amazing visuals create an oppressive and disturbing atmosphere
  • Anthony Perkins does a great job in a difficult role
  • Leaves the viewer feeling like they are just missing the point

Bad Points:
  • Slowly paced and methodical in execution
  • The narrative is never clear
  • Leaves the viewer feeling like they are just missing the point


Dark, paranoid and oppressive, the film succeeds in capturing the feeling a Kafka’s work. While the film never delves into true surreal cinema, it constantly keeps the viewer from knowing exactly what is going on, or why an event happens. Much like Josef we are in a dark wonderland that refuses to let us go. Its a wonderful exercise in creating a nightmarish atmosphere. But this will intrigue some viewers and alienate others.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 3
Direction: 5
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.    


  1. I haven't seen this in many years but I was impressed by it -- considering that the source material, like all of Kafka's work, leaves the readers feeling like they are just missing the point.

    Kafka does resonate on one level though. US criminal courts often have long delays, but they are pretty clear (if sometimes bizarre) about the charges. However, anyone who has dealt with a zoning board or the DEP or some other regulatory body that for month after month (or sometimes years) never quite says what precisely will satisfy it, can empathize with Josef.

    1. I've only read "Metamorphosis" by Mr. Kafka, and it left me scratching my head. But some of his imagery stuck with me. But there were many moments that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be horrified, amused or just confused. But after seeing "The Trial" I get the feeling that I was supposed to feel all those things. There's a dark humor in the film, and while I think some of it comes from Welles direction and Perkin's acting, I'm pretty sure it was in the source material as well.

      And yes, Kafka has nailed some of the bureaucratic nightmares we face in the modern age. Just getting things done at work can take so many committees, reviews and reports that I wonder how the company manages to get anything done.