ByBen Frye, writer at

Even Dwarfs Started Small can be hard to parse at times. However, when taken in the context that it was made by a man that was born in the middle of World War II when Germany was controlled by the National Socialist Party, it's meaning becomes a bit less opaque. This film was made by a man who grew up in a post-war Germany where his nation was literally split down the middle. Herzog made the film after seeing a decade of protests around him and across the world. What's interesting about Even Dwarfs is that it doesn't seem to choose a side. At the beginning of the film, the inmates of a penitentiary are being interrogated about a recent uprising from within. As the closest thing to a protagonist in this film is being interrogated Herzog flashes back to the beginning of the coup. The prison guard has barricaded himself inside with one of the prisoners tied up. The rest of the prisoners are left outside to try to find a way in. Throughout the course of the day this scenario gets more and more nightmarish. Herzog has said he saw this film as a nightmare, and wrote it out very quickly over the course of a few days in a Stream of Consciousness way to further this imagery. The cast is composed entirely of little people. This isn't in an exploitative manner though. The film isn't about little people. Their size in proportion to the world around them just adds to the nightmarish quality of it all. They are portrayed as the norm, and thus the world around them is gargantuan, towering over them, imposing it's will on the actors more so than they to each other. Throughout the film the escaped prisoners indulge in whatever acts they think will bring them enjoyment and they cackle maniacally as they do so. An ode to anarchism this could be construed as. However, as the film goes on and the acts become more debased the nightmare grows in scale. Whereas at first they merely take down a telephone pole, and play jokes on their blind fellow inmates, later the debauchery grows to setting various items on fire, murdering animals, and active destruction of the world around them. Inside his office, the guard struggles with his newly found imprisonment and expresses his internal strife with his sole remaining prisoner. This man is portrayed in an apologetic light. He is the only actor who shows any aching throughout the film. The rest are shown with a constant cackle. He tries to explain to his prisoner why it is important that they remain prisoners, that if left to their own devices they would surely destroy each other. This is ironic because at the end of the film the only character that is injured is the prisoner he is telling this to, and that damage was at the hands of his captor. That isn't to say that by the end of the film they haven't nearly killed themselves in their destructive nature. Hombré is shown at the end of the film laughing himself nearly to death as he gasps for air between bouts of laughter. Throughout Even Dwarfs, Herzog contrasts the actions of the prisoners with various shots of chickens cannibalizing each other. This is how he views them. They are hurting themselves.

This film appears to be made by someone who is upset by the scenario his nation is in. He doesn't hate the government. He doesn't hate the anarchists. He hates the situation that causes them to fight. He understands the need for order. Otherwise, these anarchists would burn the whole of society down. Herzog also understands though that excessive fascism enstills a desire to rebel and is simply impossible to do effectively. It's a bit like trying to hold onto a room of chickens at once. Just when you've got two or three under control you see a fourth you need to grab, but no free hands to grab the chicken. This futility in control is a part of Herzog's nightmare, punctuated by the escaped warden trying to command an unmoving tree to stop pointing at him. This film comes out of a fear of excessive anarchism. In the end we know that of course the inmates are put back into their captive state. We know this because the film is told as a flashback from an interrogation. Herzog seems to fear that this wanton destructive nature of his fellow countrymen could make it easier for someone like the Nazis to rise again. After all, when we see the carnage that is brought by these "free" prisoners, we understand to a bit the warden's view towards them. In the end though, Herzog has made a nightmare out of the position that his country was in at the time. The film is never truly sentimental to either side. Even Dwarfs seems to wish for a middle ground where none of this was possible. One in which we are no longer small.


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