Steven Soderbergh’s Kafka is a mysterious sort. It’s as though the director has attempted to embody various aspects of the writer’s essence in his film – rather than adapt one of his novels, or form a biopic which deals exclusively with what is known of his life. In this film, Franz Kafka himself, portrayed curiously (and purposefully so) by Jeremy Irons, is the central character, while the events that he finds himself dealing with have been influenced by the events in his novels – notably “The Castle”.
And much like Kafka’s literary protagonists, he has been placed within the cripplingly circular and hopeless system that he seemed to battle with until his dying day. However, Soderbergh’s Kafka — though working for a mind-numbing insurance company during the day — locks himself away at night, finding an escape through his solitude, an obscure love affair, and the writing process in all of its burning aspirations.
A series of mystifying events and the discovery of an enigmatic underground society lead Kafka to uncover a world of awful and terrifying suppressive ends, a pre-destined nightmare within what is termed “the castle”. The nightmarish atmosphere that fuels the film — and becomes so appropriate when capturing the Kafkaesque world of the writer’s imagination — is effectively conjured up with help from Soderbergh’s filmmaking techniques. A predominately monochrome film, it is interspersed with brief moments of colour; creating a fantastic contrast between the strange “reality” of Kafka and the world of the castle.
The noir feel of the film, the classic filmmaking visible in abundance, perhaps works to distance the viewer even further from the safety and comfort of the real world, forcing a near-immersion into the subjective reality of all that is Kafka. And where there seem to be brief hopes and grounded ideas, the filmmaker strips his audience bare. One might think back to the horrifying abnormality of Burgel, the creepy messenger.
The filmmaker’s merging of a very loose portrayal of Franz Kafka with the events in his novels cleverly create a scenario whereby the novelist confronts the very occurrences that he writes about – a strange idea which results in an interminably strange and strangely affecting film.