Friday, September 10, 2010

The Trial

Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

You and I were never meant to read The Trial. Franz Kafka died with the intention of having it and many other works destroyed. But his friend and executor, Max Brod, disregarded his wishes and published them. Now, Kafka's world is a source of debate, wonder, horror, and the unfathomable. Once you step in, there is no getting out...until the story ends.

The Plot:

Life is going pretty well for Joseph K. He is rising in his job at the bank, he has a nice room with a nice landlady, and he is never in want of female companionship. But his life is suddenly turned upside down. He is woken up one morning by two men who are there to arrest him. What they are arresting him for they do not say, but arrest him they must. K. must appear before the court to plea his case. Slowly, this trial begins to consume K.'s life, ruining relationships and slowing his promotion chances. How can he defend himself if he has no idea what he has done?

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I could give a really cheap review and simply define The Trial as "Kafkaesque" and be done with it, but that is hardly a worthy review for this piece of fiction. One of the reasons this novel is so hard to review is that it is unfinished and lacks the coherence and polish of a traditional novel. But this also adds to the charm and the feel of the novel and does not hinder us from enjoying the story.

In actuality, it is not so much the story that sucks us in but the world that Kafka creates. It looks like our world and for the most part operates like our world, but at the same time it is off balance, twisted, and distorted. To me, this is what makes this work so haunting. It is a place that we recognize and yet we do not understand.

Readers and scholars have been debating the point of The Trial ever since its publication, but the one thing they agree on is its view of the bureaucratic side of the law. Think Dickens having a nightmare. Like Bleak House (and to a lesser extent Little Dorrit), the courts are depicted as unfathomable and unending processes that care not for those who are caught in their wheels. The part where K. is wandering through the winding and suffocating halls of the court offices is perhaps the best picture of Kafka's version of the law.

I wish I could go into a lot more detail about this novel, but Kafka is someone that you really have to read for yourself. I don't think there is really any way to effectively sum up his creation. I can only say that it is haunting, mesmerizing, horrifying, thought-provoking....and I want more!

The Movie:

Perhaps the most famous version of this story is the 1962 version directed by Orson Welles and starring Anthony Perkins. You know that any film combining the director who freaked America out by reading War of the Worlds and the actor who freaked America out by killing Janet Leigh in Psycho has to be pretty unnerving.

There is also a more recent 1993 version starring Kyle MacLachlan and Anthony Hopkins.

No comments: