golem 1980GOLEM (1980) – This science fiction film set in a post-World War Three dictatorship was made in Poland by director Piotr Szulkin and starred Marek Walczewski & Krystyna Janda. It uses the concept of a Golem as an allegory for the creation of artificial humans and examines the motives of those who would do the creating.

Golem is a challenging movie that plays like Eraserhead crossed with the Patrick McGoohan series The Prisoner or even Kafka. The main character is Pernat (Walczewski), a meek and not too bright man among the struggling lower class in the oppressive dictatorship that has emerged following the nuclear war.

The low budget limits the film’s depiction of this post-apocalypse dystopia to a claustrophobic ghetto environment rather than sweeping vistas of ruined buildings or vast wastelands. Most of the story is set in Pernat’s apartment slums or at the local police station.

PernatWhen we first meet Pernat, who has a kind of “Phil Collins in Buster” look, he is being interrogated about a murder committed in his apartment block. We observe how easily subdued and fairly lacking in intelligence he is, but ultimately the authorities release him because they don’t have enough evidence and he is just one of the suspects.

While timidly taking his leave of the police station, he notices a dead body being wheeled to the morgue and gets enough of a fleeting glimpse to realize the corpse looks just like him. Not even forceful enough to inquire about this, Pernat tries to claim his jacket and hat from the police property room but is mistaken for another person (hinting that there is yet another person who looks like him and was brought in by the police in an unrelated matter).

Our protagonist is browbeaten into settling for the jacket and hat which he knows are not his and goes home, where he works at copper carving in his dingy, run-down apartment. We meet Pernat’s sister Rozyna (Janda), who works as a prostitute to make ends meet. All of the neighbors in the apartment block are eccentric or disturbed to various degrees.

One of the people that Pernat interacts with is either very perceptive or possesses the shrewdness brought on by madness. He has seen through what is going on in this tightly-controlled world, and in two separate scenes pours out a handful of seeds to demonstrate to Pernat that the dozens of identical, featureless seeds represent what people are to the powers that be.

scientistsThe movie frequently shows us scenes involving scientists and government authorities discussing an experiment in genetic engineering to create a population of “better” citizens. Pernat (and his copies) are part of that ongoing experiment, prompting the viewer to reflect on a certain distinction – what totalitarians would consider to be “better” or “improved” citizens is certainly not what any free people would define that way.  

As the film rolls along, Pernat spots what look like a few more “hims”, this time in a marching band that performs in the street. The murderer, meanwhile, is still at large and builds their body count as each resident of the building seems crazy enough to be the guilty party.

I found the glimpses we get of life under the oppressive regime to be well done, albeit a bit derivative of other, similar works. Bureaucracy suffocates the simplest undertakings. Electricity is tightly rationed for the people, but not the rulers. Citizens are encouraged to inform on any “suspicious” behavior displayed by others. The “peasants” must take government mandated tranquilizers on a regular basis and are reminded to do so via cheerful commercials. 

Those commercials are broadcast at movie theaters, where porn is readily available as an outlet for any unbecoming “urges” that the citizens might feel. Celebrities, like a pop music singer that Rozyna is obsessed with, are discovered by Pernat to be purely creations of the media.

singer performing for no oneFor instance, Rozyna’s favorite singer is on television performing before what seems to be a packed arena full of screaming fans, but is really just performing solo on a soundstage, with green screens and other visual tricks from government broadcasters providing the illusion of mass public adoration of the singer.

Much of what we see in Golem is revealed through symbolism like when several floors worth of automatic window shutters malfunction and start opening and closing on their own, they are all removed. Not repaired. Just removed. All of them. Row by endless row of them. 

Playing into the main theme of people creating artificial humans, one of Pernat and Rozyna’s neighbors is obsessed with the little created humanoid figures called dolls. Plus there’s a pretty unappetizing scene featuring an artificial person emerging from a blobbish cocoon of fleshy tissues and we see enough of the face to realize it is yet another copy of Pernat. 

golem posterGolem is a film that requires your full attention, but in my opinion it is well done. Some critics disagree and call it pretentious and boring, but that’s always the risk a filmmaker takes with a production like this. Like I said above, think of Eraserhead, The Prisoner and similar pieces.

I can’t examine more without spoiling the ending, and there are several different interpretations of the finale, so I don’t want to prejudice new viewers about what it all means. Just be sure to watch all the way through to the mid-credits scene.




Filed under Bad and weird movies, opinion

4 responses to “ERASERHEAD MEETS “THE PRISONER” – GOLEM (1980)

  1. This definitely caught my attention. Anita

  2. Pingback: ERASERHEAD MEETS «THE PRISONER» – GOLEM (1980) – El Noticiero de Alvarez Galloso

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