Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Erlprince

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Film

The Erlprince

Article excerpt

The Erlprince (2016), dir. Kuba Czekaj

Goethe's poem, The Erl-King, tells the story of a father frantically riding with his son who sees and hears a spectral figure, the Erl-King, threatening to take him away. While the father tries to reassure his son that it is only his imagination, by the end of the ride the child is dead. Czekaj has taken this evocative story and recast it in modern mode, as the tale of a 15 year old boy who has his own visions of death and alternate realities.

The boy is a genius at physics, and his mother is pushing him to win a prestigious competition that will give them a great deal of money. He doubts whether she wants this for him or for herself, and his anger at her comes out repeatedly. She does not seem mature enough to be a proper mother to him; she gets drunk in a bar and is arrested, and when he tries to intervene, he is arrested as well. He hates the elite school to which she sends him, acting out by drawing obscene cartoons of his attractive female teacher. There also seems to be a sexual attraction between mother and son that makes their relationship problematic and inappropriate, adding to the anger and frustrations each feels with the other.

In response, the boy works on a theory of parallel universes, the alleged subject of the presentation he must give to win the competition. His mentor in his research gives him the analogy of a fish who cannot imagine a world outside the water, even though it exists; the boy tries to create a link to the other worlds he cannot see, through an experiment with light that fails. He has a new challenge when his father returns to his life, to his mother's consternation, bringing with him a dog as a gift for the boy. The boy's reality fragments further as he imagines his father killing a deer and eating its heart alongside fierce wolves with whom he shares his prey; the father takes him from the light he seeks into dark woods, much like the father in Goethe's poem. It is not clear whether the father or mother are like the threatening Erl-King, taking him further from the light he seeks-although in one of his visions, he swims beneath the water with his father to discover a world of light, although they cannot break through to it. …

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