The Golem (1967)

Posted: November 27, 2022 in Uncategorized

I first ran across mention of The Golem from 1967 back in 1980. It has an entry in Jean-Pierre Andrevon and Alain Schlockoff’s Cent monstres du cinéma fantastique (“100 Monsters of Fantastic Cinema”). The entry says litle about the story of this French made-for-TV film, but praises its expressionist beauty, and says that it is faithful to the source novel: a 1915 work by Gustav Meyrink (the book was apparently a favourite of Lovecraft’s).

I’ve read almost nothing about The Golem since then, but I have finally seen the film itself. Andrevon and Schlockoff are not wrong: director Jean Kerchbron’s movie is a thing of spectacular beauty. Every shot is breathtaking, and the sets are as gloriously expressionist as those of the 1920 Golem. However, the film and the book it adapts are not versions of the same story as the Paul Wegener film. This Golem has much more in common, in tone and story, with Eyes Wide Shut.

A man accidentally takes the wrong hat. Putting it on, he relives the owner’s experiences from more than 30 years earlier. His interactions with the lives around him produce a tangle mirrored by the architecture that traps them all, the narrative unfolding in a series of dreamlike encounters full of enigmatic dialogue. The titular Golem only shows up for one scene (and its face covers the protagonist’s in an earlier one). “Nothing is real,” explains an oracular character at the midway point, “but symbols of reality are running though the streets.” And that rather succinctly sums up the nature of the Golem, an embodied metaphor, a psychogeographical spirit only glimpsed but pervasively felt.

The line also acts as the film’s thesis. This is a narrative where the line between symbol and reality has been erased. The viewer can but move through the maze in a somnambulistic trance, a state not far removed from that of the protagonist.

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