Some films are all about story, others use their story to discuss the ideas of the creatives behind them, and a few are made up of almost nothing but abstract concepts. The Erlprince is most definitely one of the latter. What identifiable plot there actually is involves a surly teenage physics prodigy, his fragmenting bond with his young mother, and his investigation into a theory of parallel universes, but any attempts to wrest a coherent narrative from the meandering occurrences is a waste of effort.
Most of the characterisation comes from the relationship between the Boy and the Mother, which is unhealthily co-dependant to the extent of being at times potentially incestuous (such as when he brings her breakfast holding a single rose in his mouth or fantasises about her mud-wrestling with his hot Teacher in a fissure splitting the ground open), but their interaction fails to convince as people whose lives are largely spent together. Like many gifted children he has trouble connecting with his peers, but this is more on account of his appalling personality than the intellectual gulf existing between him and any potential friends. His sullen misery seems to be indicative of what adults think all young people are like, rather than an accurate representation of having spent any time with one.
None of the characters are given names, and in the credits are merely afforded generic references such as those above, which could have indicated their being representative of familial and societal archetypes, if there were any aspects of their personalities that could be attributed to identifiable people. The film’s title references Goethe’s poem Der Erlkönig (The Erlking), implying the Boy is some youthful inheritor of the impending doom that drives the poem as well as existing in a frame of mind that sees things beyond the ken of ordinary humans. This could have justified his antisocial behaviour by portraying him as some cosmic harbinger, except there appears to be no apparent purpose to his investigation or discoveries.
The perpetual countdown to some implicit doomsday event calls to mind the expressly stated timeframe of Donnie Darko, although Richard Kelly’s feature debut discussed its existential philosophies with far greater precision and in a way that qualified as both entertaining and engaging. You can have surreal melodrama or you can have intellectual profundity but you can’t have both at the same time, and this attempt to fuse the two ends up being to the detriment of both.
Experimental and maddening, The Erlprince is driven by a frustrating unclear narrative and an overdose of pretentious twaddle. Even though the questions it puts forward about quantum worlds and subjective realities do have the potential to initiate stimulating discussion, their vague presentation relegates them to secondary considerations, while the film’s dissociative structure prevents them from being adequately explored.
THE ERLPRINCE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KUBA CZEKAJ / STARRING: STASZEK CYWKA, AGNIESZKA PODSIADLIK, SEBASTIAN LACH, BERNHARD SCHÜTZ / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10