“From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” – Franz Kafka

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For those who don’t know, Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and is regarded as one of the most influential Western writers. His short stories and books bring readers to a dark and complicated part of the human subconscious, by pushing the protagonist into a world filled with surrealism, existentialism, paranoia and irrationality Kafka forces the reader to look at the cruelty of human nature. His style has been so influential it spawned its own term – ‘Kafkaesque’. Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape a labyrinthine situation where bureaucracies overpower people, often in a surreal, nightmarish environment that evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness.

As you can imagine, these intriguing stories inspired many filmmakers to translate Kafka’s message to the big screen. In honor of Kafka’s influential works, DMG Entertainment highlights our picks for the top Kafkaesque films. So get ready to question everything.

TOP FIVE KAFKAESQUE FILMS

THE TRIAL (1962)

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Director: Orson Welles

Starring: Anthony Perkins, Arnoldo Foa, Jess Hahn

Summary: Josef K (Perkins), an assistant department manager, wakes up one morning to find several policemen have placed him under arrest. The police inform Josef that he is on trial, but they do not disclose the charges. Although he is not taken into custody, he must take trips to an interrogation center while living his day-to-day life. As the interrogations become more and more intense, Josef must look for a way to get out of this judicial nightmare before the police can determine his guilt or innocence.

Most Kafkaesque Dialogue

Titorelli – You see, in definite acquittal, all the documents are annulled. But with ostensible acquittal, your whole dossier continues to circulate. Up to the higher courts, down to the lower ones, up again, down. These oscillations and peregrinations, you just can’t figure ‘em.

Joseph K. – No use in trying either, I suppose.

Titorelli – Not a hope. Why, I’ve known cases of an acquitted man coming home from the court and finding the cops waiting there to arrest him all over again. But then, of course, theoretically it’s always possible to get another ostensible acquittal.

Joseph K. – The second acquittal wouldn’t be final either.

Titorelli – It’s automatically followed by the third arrest. The third acquittal, by the fourth arrest. The fourth…

Fun Fact: Director Orson Welles personally dubbed eleven voices in THE TRIAL.

 

EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Tod Field

Summary: New York doctor William Harford (Cruise) and his art curator wife, Alice (Kidman), enjoy a high-class life until Alice admits to William of her adulterous sexual fantasies. Alice’s confessions triggers William to go out on a night of sexual exploration. After a friend mentions a secret sex congregation to William, he decides to crash the party. However, William quickly realizes he is in over his head and finds his family threatened by a dangerous secret society.

Most Kafkaesque Dialogue

Red Cloak – Please, step forwards. May I have the password?

Harford -Fidelio.

Red Cloak – That’s right, sir! That is the password… for admittance. But may I ask, what is the password… for the house?

Harford – The password for the house?

Red Cloak – Yes?

Harford – I’m sorry… I seem to… have forgotten it.

Red Cloak – That’s unfortunate! Because here, it makes no difference whether you have forgotten it… or if you never knew it. Kindly remove your mask.

Red Cloak – Now, get undressed.

Harford – Get… undressed?

Red Cloak – Remove your clothes.

Harford – Uh… gentlemen, please…

Red Cloak – Remove your clothes! Or would you like us to do it for you?

Fun Fact: Despite showing no health complications, Stanley Kubrick died four days after presenting the EYES WIDE SHUT’s final cut to Warner Bros.

 

AFTER HOURS (1985)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Tommy Chong

Summary: Word-processing consultant Paul Hackett (Dunne) struggles to cope with his mundane life until he meets Marcy Franklin (Arquette) at a café. However, when Marcy asks Paul to meet her in SoHo, Paul finds himself trapped in a string of nightmarish circumstances.

Most Kafkaesque Dialogue

Bouncer – Got any money?

Hackett – Yes I got money. Is that what this is all about, you want money? Why didn’t you ask for that in the first place man. Here, it’s all I got. [gives the Bouncer a quarter]

Bouncer – I’ll take your money ‘cos I don’t want you to feel you left anything untried. Now, you keep the quarter… [gives Paul his quarter back] …but you still have to wait a few minutes.

Fun Fact: Martin Scorsese instructed Griffin Dunne’s to abstain from sex and sleep to make her character’s paranoia and hysteria appear realistic.

 

BRAZIL (1985)

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Director: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Ian Holm

Summary: In an advanced dystopian state, civil servant Sam Lowry (Pryce) finds himself buried underneath inefficient bureaucracy until he notices a mistake in paperwork passing through his office. As Lowey investigates the error, he realizes the mistake resulted in the arrest of an innocent man. Although Lowry attempts to correct the error, he finds himself pursued by the heavy hand of Big Brother.

Most Kafkaesque Dialogue

Lowry – Excuse me, Dawson, can you put me through to Mr. Helpmann’s office?

Dawson – I’m afraid I can’t sir. You have to go through the proper channels.

Lowry – And you can’t tell me what the proper channels are, because that’s classified information?

Dawson – I’m glad to see the Ministry’s continuing its tradition of recruiting the brightest and best, sir.

Lowry – Thank you, Dawson.

Fun Fact: Robert De Niro’s obsession for perfection rubbed Gilliam’s crew the wrong way. While most actors only need several takes, Robert De Niro wanted over twenty takes for his scenes. For this reason and more, Gilliam stated he “wanted to strangle him.”

 

THE TENANT (1976)

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Director: Roman Polanski

Starring: Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Melvyn Douglas, Jo Van Fleet.

Summary: Trelkovsky (Polanski), a shy and inconspicuous bureaucrat, moves into an old apartment where a previous tenant tried to committed suicide. Unfriendly neighbors and tough landlords greet Trelkovsky, both eager change his behavior. After Trelkovsky visits the previous tenant, Trelkovsky believes his neighbors are plotting to make him commit suicide as well.

Most Kafkaesque Dialogue

Trelkovsky – These days, relationships with neighbors can be… quite complicated. You know, little things that get blown up out of all proportion? You know what I mean?

Friend – No, no I don’t. I mind my own business.

Fun Fact: THE TENANT, along with REPULSION (1965) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968), is a part of a Roman Polanski trilogy dealing with the horrors of apartment life.

 

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