Echoing footsteps. Dark and shadowy corridors. Never-ending rows of file cabinets, meticulously labeled in alphabetical order. It feels like you have been wandering these hallways for hours, yet without encountering a single other person. With every step forward you find yourself deeper within the moloch’s veins. Hundreds of drawers at your side seem to contain information about friends and family, past and current colleagues – literally everyone you have ever spent time with. At first, they were inscribed with names of long-forgotten acquaintances, but now – as you are approaching the heart of the complex – the names become stiflingly familiar. You try to open a cubicle – but it is locked. You feel a pressure on your chest. Your heart beats faster. ‘Walk faster,’ you think, ‘but don’t run – they would know.’
You might experience something similar to this if you will ever have the chance to walk through the corridors of Apple’s cloud servers. However, this is actually meant to illustrate a typical kafkaesque setting.
The term kafkaesque is used to describe an uncertain feeling characterized by surreal distortion and a sense of impending danger. It is often marked by a senseless, disorienting, and menacing complexity referring to the writings of one Europe’s greatest authors, Franz Kafka (1883 – 1924). If you want to reduce Franz Kafka’s brilliant work to a single leitmotif, then it is this vague feeling of being haunted while desperately bogging down deeper and deeper into what is ultimately inevitable.
Arguably, Kafka’s most important but also most kafkaesque work is his short story The Metamorphosis. So perhaps it’s no wonder that independent filmmakers Isotropic Films have announced their plans to adapt Metamorphosis into a film, starring Nick Searcy. “We are making a film with a very direct social message,” director David Yohe said. “It’s a metaphor for being different, change, and most importantly how fear can make us do harmful things to others and to ourselves.”
The story about a man who wakes up from troubled dreams and finds himself transformed into a horrible vermin can very well be perceived as the core of Kafka’s oeuvre. Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez said that reading this story gave his life a new direction – as soon as he had read the first line.
In film, you can easily identify Metamorphosis’ influence on the works of surrealistic filmmakers like David Cronenberg and David Lynch. Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch,” an adaption of William S. Burroughs’ unsettling novel, is a perfect example of a kafkaesque setting full of absurdity, horrors, and fatalism.
As for direct adaptations, acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke recently took on Kafka’s fragment “Das Schloss” [the castle], starring Academy Award-winner Ulrich Mühe.
The best-known Kafka adaption, however, is Steven Soderbergh’s “Kafka.” Shot entirely in b/w, a brilliant Jeremy Irons plays Franz Kafka himself – a young insurance worker who gets embroiled with a menacing organization that secretly controls major events in society.
What strikes our minds about the upcoming adaptation of Metamorphosis by Isotropic Films is that the protagonist Gregor Samsa is not a conscientious salesman anymore, but a seventeen-year-old teenager. What do you think about this approach? Would you rather have filmmakers stick to the original as Haneke did or are you excited to see how this fresh and modern appeal will evoke a truly kafkaesque atmosphere?