• James Rutherford

'Kafka': A Beguiling Mystery-Thriller Crafted in Ode to the Bohemian Master of the Macabre


Movie poster for the film Kafka starring Jeremy Irons

“Kafka” (1991) is a beguiling and alluring mystery film that delivers a fictional depiction of famed Czech writer Franz Kafka (Jeremy Irons) as a young insurance clerk in Prague circa 1919. After the brutal murder of his co-worker Eduard, Kafka finds himself immersed in the mystery surrounding his colleague’s stunning demise.


Depicted as an unassuming introvert, Kafka whiles away his personal time writing short stories akin to Franz Kafka’s real-life tales including “The Trial” and “The Castle”. Only after Eduard’s death is he drawn to the outside world, his inquisitive nature leading him to a clandestine revolutionary group at war with a secretive organization in control of the entire city of Prague. Ostensibly shot in moody black-and-white by cinematographer Walt Lloyd, the film ultimately erupts dramatically into kaleidoscopic color once Kafka enters Prague Castle in climactic confrontation with the city’s ominous overlords.


Written by Lem Dobbs and directed by a young Steven Soderbergh (“Sex, Lies, and Videotape”, “Traffic”), “Kafka” is a thoroughly transfixing ode to the Bohemian master of the macabre. Dobbs and Soderbergh have amalgamated many of Kafka’s tropes and thematic elements into this wry pastiche of influence, delivering an enticing tale of paranoia and oppression. An elegant, unnerving creation replete with shades of black humor and bristling unease, it serves as a fascinating early entry into the remarkable oeuvre of one of the finest filmmakers of the past 30 years.