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Interpreting Kafka’s Metamorphosis

Kafka’s Metamorphosis is one of my favorite stories of all time because of the absurdity and the tragedy it portrays and if I were to make a film of Metamorphosis, it is imperative for me to express and interpret those two, to effectively convey Gregor’s horror and ultimately demise.

To be able to capture that sense of absurdity and tragedy I would be employing different techniques and elements including using low-key and high-key lighting to show contrast between characters, the use of sound – scoring to convey mood (probably strings as Gregor’s sister played the violin) and sound effects to emphasize Gregor’s change, handheld camera to use on Gregor to mimic his confusion and instability with his new body until he learns to adjust, editing would be swift in Gregor’s opening sense of panic having fast cuts and then have continuous panning shots, lingering at the family to show their pace as they go about their daily routine.

As much as possible I would like to express the characters’ familiarity so that viewers can relate to them by showing that their actions are all too human, to establish a distinct sense of time’s passage, and to set up the parallelism between the metaphorical and actual metamorphosis, in Gregor and in his family. The story has a classic opening and I would like to preserve it, as I believe that this opening is what sets the tone of the whole story – the absurdity of the whole situation begins without warning and that is what I would like to achieve.

I would open with the title card Metamorphosis, cut to black, then cut to a bird’s eye view of Gregor sleeping in bed, twisting and turning, only the Gregor that we see is a giant bug. In the frame there is only the bed and Gregor in it. Close up to Gregor the sleeping bug’s eyes, they suddenly fly open – Gregor wakes. Cut to Gregor’s point of view of the ceiling as he wakes up. He looks around – still his POV – and he focuses on his alarm clock, beside it is a framed photograph of Gregor and his family, we see in the photograph that they are happy, they are proud of Gregor it was taken when he got his job and they were celebrating. This is part of the mise en scene – to establish Gregor’s domestic life and ambition early on, and more importantly what Gregor looks like before the metamorphosis.

I would be using a number of POV shots as an attempt to make the viewers feel the disconcertion that Gregor is feeling, and to put the viewer in his shoes. Close up to the clock’s hands, the second hand passes 12, the minute hand moves, the time is 6:40; Gregor is late for the train. It is very important to establish the element of time in the film as it was important in the story – at the beginning of the story Gregor was concerned about the time because time was money – he could not afford to be late because he had to catch the train for his work, and he has to stay with his work that he does not really like because they had to pay their debts and he wanted to send his sister to a music conservatory so she would not need end up like him and do something she really enjoys instead.

The speed of time in the story, and the film, would change too – at the beginning Gregor was very conscious of the time, but as he spent more and more of his time in his room he was no longer as concerned about every hour, minute and second, but focused on the transition of night and day, and then with the passage of days, and then eventually his own passing from a healthy state into slow death, wherein he became aware of the precious little time he had left as a concept. It is dark in Gregor’s room but we know it is day because of a sliver of light streaming from a side of the window uncovered by curtains. This is also to establish the lighting treatment all throughout the film.

Where there is Gregor I would use low key lighting to reflect his descend in form from human to bug, to convey his shame and confusion; whereas I would use high key lighting on the rest of the family, to show the stark contrast by which they view themselves from Gregor, and their condescension and disgust with Gregor. Thus the opening sequence would be with Gregor, it would be dark and solitary and frantic. The final sequence would have, in sharp contrast to the opening, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa and their daughter getting on the electric tram into the open air of the city away from their apartment, sitting by themselves engulfed by warm sunshine, the daughter’s cheeks glowing like rose.

The lighting would serve to depict the seemingly good and bad values in the story – which as the story goes will reveal that the family with the light on them literally are not so humane as they left Gregor to die and rot by himself when he was in his own dark solitary world dreaming only of providing for them. Additionally, this lighting scheme could convey, alternatively, that Gregor was the force that kept the family in lethargy as he spoiled them by providing for them that is why they were not able to find use for their time, and when he was gone from their lives they saw new light. For general purposes, I would like to play with the light and dark values and play with the high contrast as I see Gregor and his family to be in extremes of each other.

I imagine the part where the whole family was trying to coax Gregor out of his room because the Manager, his boss, was looking for him was there, and Gregor was trying so hard to get out of his room and open his door – the scene would be in the lobby outside his bedroom, and the family would be standing by the stairs and outside his room, waiting for him, bathed in light (for, after all, it is early morning and all the other windows in the house are wide open), and then Gregor’s door slowly opens and we glimpse nothing at first but darkness, and then something moves as he creeps into the open and everyone sees what he has turned into.

At one side of the frame are Gregor and his dark door and shadows, on the other side is the healthy glow of his family, shocked at what they were witnessing. Further, I would like to highlight how Gregor’s family was in many ways behave like animals themselves foreshadowing their insensitivity and inhumanity to Gregor, and to draw parallelism between their supposed being human to Gregor’s being an insect. During the times when the family are talking about Gregor’s condition, they would be lighted differently – the sister will have a halo of light about her, but the parents who share their disgust and disappointment will be in the shadows.

Later when they gossip about Gregor and only the maid bothers to look after him they would all be in shadows, but as they change their topic to their plans to move and find new work they will be in the light again to symbolize that they act normal like everyone else but are capable of cold-heartedness also. I would do this by having them turn on the lights as they cease whispering about Gregor, or have the maid open the curtains and the light falls on them from the outside looking in. Returning to the opening sequence – it poses a challenge because it begins with Gregor’s thoughts and concerns – his what if’s, his imaginings and what he should be doing next since he was late for work, etc.

To express his concerns, anxieties, and thoughts at this part which is important because it functions in the story as establishing of Gregor’s character – what he considers important, what he does for a living, who he was at some extent – Gregor’s thoughts would be expressed in voice over so the viewers will know too that he is still human and there is some humanity in him no matter what he looks like. However, on scenes with Gregor talking or attempting to talk with other people, all they would hear are bug sounds, to further illustrate how they saw him different and could not understand him because he could not speak, and used this as an excuse so as to get away from him.

Gregor’s sister tried to communicate and understand Gregor in that touching part of the story when she looks after him and tries to understand his needs even when he could not tell her exactly what he wants. The voice over would also serve as some form of narration and give a sense of activity instead of simply having a CG bug or a costumed bug act.

To illustrate where his concerns lie at the beginning – as he was more concerned about his job which was about financial survival than his transformation which is about biological survival – I would insert sequences that are supported by the voice over. The inserts will be treated differently, graded or treated with a blue filter to make it distinct in the diegetic time. When Gregor Samsa woke up, his first concern was the time – he was late for the train. He then considers catching the train but decides against it because the train leaves at 7 a. m. and his clock registered 6:40. I will insert an image showing the train schedule at the station and highlight the train’s departure at 7:00, and then return to Gregor. He then remembers that the errand boy had been waiting for him at 5:00 a. m.

, insert of an errand boy at the train station looking at his watch, insert shot of the time at his watch it reads 5:01, and the boy looks impatient. This will be followed by another insert sequence supported by his voice over – Gregor imagines his boss at his office, the phone in his hand listening to Gregor explain that he is sick, the boss is suspicious and tells him he will send a health insurance doctor, and then Gregor imagines a doctor knocking on his door asking him to open it so he can check on Gregor. The inserts are short – perhaps about 5 seconds each, to reflect Gregor’s anxiety. Gregor looks again the alarm clock by his side, and now it reads a quarter to seven. Cue in Gregor’s mother calling him for work, off-screen sound.

Gregor replies and he is caught surprised by the sound of his voice – he, at least his new body, is making some sort of weird sounds and he is caught surprised. I will be use a handheld camera on Gregor to put across the shakiness and his awkwardness with his new body. This will be intercutting with the scene outside Gregor’s room, in the family room where his parents and sister hear his muffled noise and become aware that he is still at home and start pressuring him to go to work. Already we become aware that they were not really paying attention to what and how Gregor was doing because they asked if shouldn’t he be going yet did not care if they understood his answer.

Nonetheless they are in the family room having breakfast and bathed in sunlight to draw sharp contrast with Gregor’s state of utter panic as he is literally and figuratively in the dark. Generally that will be how the direction and treatment will go, the lighting will play a big part in portraying the characters’ emotional positions, and the camera direction would be deliberately different for Gregor and the other characters to show their altered states.

The treatment will rely heavily on interpreting the emotions the story wants to evoke – as the film is my interpretation of this classic and more than anything I want to retain that sense of absurdity by treating Gregor’s metamorphosis as just another unexpected bump in the road that eventually Gregor dies from, as the story treated it the same way.

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