Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trial

The most substantial scene of this film is the scene where the main character, Joseph K, goes to the Titorelli the Painter for help. Titorelli is the painter that the judges use to have their portraits done. Joseph goes to him in hopes that Titorelli can use his influence with the highly inaccessible judges to sway the decision in his favor. However, Joseph is saddened to learn from Titorelli that even if he can sway the judge's opinion there are additional courts that the case could go to. The high court is inaccessible even to Titorelli. It becomes apparent that even if Joseph is found innocent by one court he can still be immediately arrested again by the order of another court. This scene finally gives Joseph some of the clarity and understanding of his predicament that he has been after. This scene was also probably the first in the film that gives the viewer any understanding of what is happening.
As the film develops it seems to be more of a theoretical nightmare than a realistic depiction of the criminal justice system. With that said, it does give a feeling of a highly structured but still dysfunctional and nightmarish world. An extremely intrusive and overbearing police force violates his privacy in the first scene of the movie which invokes a sense of unacceptable oppression. From there the film seems to unveil a system whose dysfunction seems intentional. It becomes clear that the depicted justice system is designed to keep the accused in an oppressed and controlled position by creating requirements that cannot be adequately satisfied. A specific example is when the inspector gives Joseph notice to appear in court but does not specify the room number. This results in Joseph being over an hour late as he searched the large building for the correct room. As Joseph mentions several times during the film he feels guilty but does not know why he feels that way. It seems clear that the depicted system is designed to ensure that the accused will constantly feel that sense of confused guilt. This sense of confused guilt and hopelessness gives the film a feeling of anxiety as the guilt cannot be remedied. Toward the end of the film, however, Joseph adopts a careless and apathetic attitude toward his predicament as he realizes how ridiculous it is. Joseph’s shifted attitude does little to alleviate the sense of anxiety as it seems like a coping mechanism for the obvious hopelessness of his situation.
With Post-Structuralism having formed from criticisms of structuralism, The Trial seems to relate with its own critical perspective on the criminal justice system structure that is depicted in the film. While that justice system was intended to be used to interpret and carry out the law it is failing to do so as it was probably intended. This is likely the result of the misinterpretation of the legal structure that post-structuralists would focus on. While the courts, judges, and law enforcement exist they are being interpreted in a different way than many would expect and therefore the actual function of that system is very different from what would be expected. A specific example from the film of the justice system’s deviance from the law could be found in the scene where Joseph is in the courtroom while it is empty after his hearing. He finds some old books on a shelf that he is warned not to touch. These dusty neglected books are found to be containing The Law. The film makes it apparent that the books that one would assume would be deferred to very frequently in a court room are instead forgotten. Therefore the point is made that the structure of the justice system is being used in a way that deviates from what its architects probably intended and instead use that system to expand and protect the power and influence of the individuals operating the system.

Despite the sense of helplessness that the viewer may feel and that the characters must feel in The Law, they are not all that powerless. The characters are consensually making decisions and facing the outcomes as opposed to being enslaved by the system they find themselves in. They consent to various employment, commercial, and sexual transactions (Harvard Law Review). They are also maintaining the power of the criminal justice structure by recognizing that system as the authority and consenting to its authority. When Joseph stops fearing the system and no longer takes it seriously he undermines the power and legitimacy of that system. This can also tie into post-structuralism in that “Poststructuralism is consistent with activism, but not with utopian states” ( Joseph’s refusal to be suppressed and forced into submission is certainly a form of activism. That activism was along the lines of what someone would expect who is living in a different reality than the world depicted in The Trial but in the context of that world Joseph’s behavior was somewhat deviant. He did not surrender to that system and become a bootlicker to the officials in that system. Instead he was an outsider and provided an outsider’s perspective in a form of Schizoanalysis. Joseph saw things from a different perspective that led him in the end to react differently to his accusation that was probably the norm in his society. He saw that justice system as corrupt and disconnected so when that system forced him into a position of deviancy, instead of attempting to return to his previous position of good standing Joseph accepted that his deviancy could not be rectified.

West, R. (1985). Authority, Autonomy, and Choice: The Role of Consent in the Moral and Political Visions of Franz Kafka and Richard Posner. Harvard Law Review, 99(2), 384. doi:10.2307/1341128

1 comment:

  1. I liked your comment that " the depicted system is designed to ensure that the accused will constantly feel that sense of confused guilt." To take a guess at a look ahead, capitalism itself seems designed to create that sense of confused guilt. If we do not keep up with prescribed capitalist norms, we experience societally-imposed guilt, even if we cannot figure out where we did wrong!

    I'm wondering what you think about the extent to which the ills of modernism (and capitalism by extension) fall on individual complicity vs. structural reality. Clearly, enough of us must participate in order for such a system to carry on, but can the marginalized be blamed for their experience because they contribute as well in some (small?) way?

    Or, does it matter whose fault this is? I imagine post-structuralism would suggest that is a modernist question; maybe seeking out blame isn't any different than the war-machines Holland references. Maybe the innovations found within postmodernism transcend fault-finding and instead focus on the limits of such explicit thinking.