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Young Torless (The Criterion Collection)

4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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(Mar 15, 2005)
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The Criterion Collection
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Editorial Reviews

At an Austrian boys’ boarding school in the early 1900s, shy, intelligent Törless observes the sadistic behavior of his fellow students, doing nothing to help a victimized classmate—until the torture goes too far.

Special Features

  • 2004 video interview with writer-director Volker Schlondorff
  • Rare presentation of the original score by acclaimed composer Hans Werner Henze, with a video introduction by Volker Schlondorff
  • Original theatrical trailer

Product Details

  • Actors: Mathieu Carrière, Marian Seidowsky, Bernd Tischer, Fred Dietz, Lotte Ledl
  • Directors: Volker Schlöndorff
  • Writers: Herbert Asmodi, Volker Schlöndorff, Robert Musil
  • Producers: Franz Seitz, Louis Malle
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: German (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 15, 2005
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0007989Z2
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #95,013 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Young Torless (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
Robert Musil's "Confusions of Young Törless" was published in 1906, the twilight of 19th century certainties (Freud published "Studies in Hysteria" in 1895, "Interpretation of Dreams" in 1900; Franz Wedekind's "Spring Awakening" was published in 1890, first produced in 1906, and banned in 1908; Einstein's General Theory was less than a decade away), in Austria-Hungary, a semi-faux empire taking too long to rot away. The greatness of Musil's work lies in its distillation of the zeitgeist into a relatively simple narrative about an incident of abuse in a boys' academy. Once on paper, the novel (at times a meditation) transcends time and place, and makes a statement about adults and children dealing with passion, knowledge, order and justice, while trying to grasp within themselves that which in themselves they can neither control nor fully understand (ergo the metaphoric use of discussions about imaginary numbers) finally resorting to rationalization, dogma and discipline. Törless, his companions, his teachers and the school chaplain struggle in darkness, deluding themselves as having been truly enlightened in some fashion by experience, whereas each in their own way, seeks only to quiet internal turmoil and restore comprehensible order. Whatever else, the work is extremely ironic, nowhere more than in its title, as "Confusions" are not limited to Young Törless but to the whole world around him. Musil was 26 when it was published.

Schlendorf's film captures all of this. With one important caveat, it is an extremely faithful rendering of the novel and its spirit. The austere black and white photography, the faithfully sparse setting, the economical dialogue, strip the film to bare essentials: nothing distracts from its core. It is excellently acted. The caveat is sex.
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Format: DVD
This mid-1960s film was one of the first German movies to explore a touchy topic: why Germans so widely acquiesced in the savagery of the Nazi regime. The film is based on Robert Musil's 1906 novel about a young man at an Austrian military academy before the First World War. The novel was extraordinarily prescient in diagnosing some deep and ultimately tragic flaws in Austrian and German society. The film follows the novel fairly closely.

The story is simple: two cadets institute a gradually escalating campaign of humiliation and torture directed against another boy (Bassini, incidentally played by a Jewish actor), while Tőrless looks on, repulsed and yet on some level intrigued. The violence is real but not especially graphic (at least by contemporary standards). The real theme is Tőrless's incapacity to understand the torture on other than an abstract intellectual level -- like the mathematical imaginary numbers that are one of the movie's few strong metaphors.

This story became far more powerful after the Second World War. Volker Schlöndorff's black-and-white widescreen filming is extraordinarily bleak; the academy sits on an essentially featureless plain. The Criterion restoration is excellent; even the original score has been recovered.

Not everyone will respond to this film, I admit. But those who do are likely to find it impossible to forget.
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Notions of the origin of evil have caused many philosophers to ponder the dilemma about its whereabouts. Some suggest that evil is taught as children are born with minds that bring to mind blank slates. Despite the thoughts that children are blank slates at birth, children can accomplish great evil without any formal training. All that has to be present is a situation that allows the child to express their unkind cruelty. Thus, evil could be found in the moments when a child lets their imagination run amok. Maybe, imagination is the source to evil, especially when boredom sets in. In any case, Young Törless visualizes the moment when evil arises within a group of teenagers at a military academy in a dreary countryside to which only the finest families send their sons.

The film opens at the Neudorf railway station where the parents of the young teenager Törless request that his peers will take good care of him. The parents' pleading for safety of their son becomes slightly overwhelming, yet it depicts how much they love their son. It is essential to understand how sheltered Törless has been while his parents have raised him. This illustrates how innocent Törless is to the cruelty of the world into which he soon is about to be initiated.

The group of teenagers that waived to Törless' parent returns to the small town, which gives further depiction of the teenager's socioeconomic standing in the society. They walk whereever they want without a care in the world, as if they owned the world. The teenagers visit a local inn where they buy wine and gamble without much consideration for the aftermath. Nothing seems to affect them, as they proceed to the military academy where they attend school to become people of high ranking in society.
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Format: DVD
Shot in crisply elegant black and white, this 1966 film is a parable about good and evil, guilt and innocence, set in a remote Austro-Hungarian boys school at the turn of the last century. Its message recalls another story, "Lord of the Flies," in which morality disappears as its young characters are free to yield to their baser instincts. This 2005 re-release on DVD includes an informative interview with director Volker Schl�ndorff who tells of his decision to film the story as a bridge to pre-Nazi era cinema (Pabst, Lang, Wilder) and as a way to explore cinematically the lapse of morality that brought Hitler to power. Observed up close, he says, the borderline between good and evil disappears, and this is the lesson that the young student T�rless learns.

The DVD includes Schl�ndorff's discussion of composer Hans Werner Henze's film score. Using primitive instruments, it provides a stark and melancholy counterpoint to the scenes and images, and the DVD reproduces it as a single intact suite, which you can listen to separate from the film. In wide screen with easy-to-read English subtitles, it's a thoughtfully disturbing reminder of the deeply affecting films produced in Europe in the decades following WWII.
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Young Torless (The Criterion Collection)
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