The Trial

Objective Review: I believe that one of the key scenes of the film The Trial is when Mr. K is wandering around the legal building after meeting security guard. In this scene the inside of building appears to be a large and convoluted maze filled with countless people “the accused” all waiting for something and endless amounts of shelves, bookcases, and other office related furniture. By the time Mr. K manages to make his way outside he appears to be tired and exhausted almost to the point of seeming seriously ill. All of the other (presumably accused) men who are waiting at various places in the building inexplicably stand whenever Mr. K passes by them. This together with the maze-like qualities of the building represent the entirety of the film in that it is confusing, twisted, and has many events that occur that make little to no sense as to either why they happened or what exactly it was that did happen.

Reaction: My personal reaction to the film was bemusement and irritation. Right from the start things are unexplained and confusing and many parts of the film were rather hard to follow. That contributed mostly to my confusion but also slightly to my irritation. What really irritated me though was the lack of information given about what was happening at any given time along with the way that Mr. K acted for most of it. For most of the beginning he acts so nervous it’s as though he actually was guilty of whatever unnamed crime he committed and after he calms down a bit he never forces any issue or tries to really understand the situation. Instead he becomes focused on little details that are occurring and are irrelevant to what is actually happening to him. He does similar things through most of the film.

Interpretation: Of the many different ways that I’m sure exist to interpret this film I am going to focus on a specific aspect of structuralism and post-structuralism that is presented at the end of page 2 and page 3 in the Sarup intro reading, that of the signifier and signified, introduced in the Sarup reading as the Critique of Meaning. My understanding of signifier and signified from Sarup’s work is that, to follow Sarup’s example, saying the word apple is the signifier of an apple while the concept of the itself is the signified, that which was called into attention by the pesence of the signifier. In my understanding, structuralism places importance on the signified object over the signifier, with the signifier only having meaning due to it’s common usage as a signifier. Take for example calling something an apple to a person who does not speak English: verbally signifying the object of an apple would be meaningless to somebody who knows it as, say, a pomme and does not understand the English word apple. While the signified object is still an apple regardless the signifier is an irrelevant as is holds no meaning to somebody who does not recognize it even though they will recognize the apple and understand what about it is important. Post-structuralism however places emphasis on the signifier as being that which gives intrinsic meaning to the signified; the concept of an apple is unimportant until attention is brought to its existence. It is the signifying that gives the signified meaning. A person is not going to think of the apple unless another signifies it, thus drawing attention and giving meaning to the fact that it is there. A basic explanation of these points is available at


In The Trial the idea of the signifier and signified is less obvious than having a man point out “this movie is confusing” (and breaking the fourth wall by doing so). Instead the signifier in the movie is presented in subtle and metaphorical ways. The legal building with it’s labyrinthine interior is a signifier as to the convoluted story of the film; hard to follow as there is so much and no signs to help in understanding where you’re at. The home of the Advocate is a similar signifier, in the words of a movie review “The Advocate’s home reaches out in all directions, like a loft, factory and junk shop…” ( The signifier here is that there are many disjointed areas all right next to each other, which draws attention to the signified of the movies scenes that are similarly disjointed with “Water towers open into file rooms, a woman does laundry while through the door a trial is under way.”

Looking at the film from a critique of meaning viewpoint I’d argue that the film is done from a structuralist point; the signified of the confusion and disjointedness of the film is plenty apparent on it’s own but the signifier of places within the film itself further compounding the sense of it’s disjointed and confusing setting. If these places were presented outside the context of the rest of the movie, such as if a person who has never seen the film (or presumable read the book) saw a clip of either of these places, they would likely be a bit confused and disoriented but they wouldn’t have an understanding of why these building are arranged in such a way. The signifier of these settings is only meaningful by those who have encountered the larger existence of the signified, such as a person who has no experience with apples given the signifier of an apple. They would hear the word but have no reference for what it actually means. Signify a computer to an ancient Roman and they would understand it’s meaning for existing no better than a person with no knowledge of The Trial would understand the meaning behind the Advocates house or the legal building.


3 thoughts on “The Trial

  1. I also wrote my blog on the signifier and signified aspect of the movie. To further argue the points that you have already shared, the beginning scene of the film is a great example. The intruding detectives come across an oddly colored shape on the main characters floor while interrogating him. One officer refers to the shape as ovaly. Even though the other characters know that ovaly is not a real word, they still are able to decipher what the detective is referring to. Their past experiences with the word oval and the literal shape has allowed them to accept ovaly as a viable word.
    There is still a clear difference on the signified, the shape on the floor, and the signifier, which is the word ovaly, but if the signified were to shift to the word oval and the signifier were the word ovaly, then the physical shape and the word have a closer relationship. Non-objectivity is the enemy of this philosophy, if one cannot expand on past experiences then, future context cannot be established.
    I have typically been thinking of the signifier/signified relationship in terms of word association, but your blog post has helped me further understand it in more abstract forms.


  2. I also had found the film to have more of a structuralist notion. The systematic levels of confusion, on both the geographical locations of the film along with the confusion that Josef has during the entire process seemed to have a sense of purpose and order behind it. The judicial system in the film seemed to be very confusing for a reason. The reason being unbeknownst to the viewer, and obviously Josef and almost the “necessity” of this confusion for a greater purpose; furthermore, the systematic confusion actually gave me a sense of Mill and his utilitarian ideology. Mill does not necessarily believe there must be structure for every aspect of a society as long as the lack of structure is more beneficial to the populace as a whole than the few that would suffer from the lack of structure.


  3. Again I had found the structuralist notion in the film “The Trial”. The scene that keeps pointing out to me is the fact that the detectives interrogating Josef K. in the beginning were very intrusive and acting radically. Changing words in the dialogue to confuse Josef was a tactic to throw him off and make him lose his composure. This tactic works a little bit as you can watch Josef get a little frustrated. When the officers use the word “ovular” to describe the shape of something Josef gets frustrated and reacts abruptly exclaiming that ovular is not a word.


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