Film dialogues: Jan Švankmajer’s Faust


Written by Jan Svankmajer (from Marlowe, Grabbe and Goethe). Read by Andrew Sachs.

Scene 1: An actor’s dressing room. Seated in front of a mirror, wearing a false beard, costume and make-up, protagonist reads from a script.

Faust: Alas, philosophy I have explored,
as well as medicine and law;
add to these, regrettably,
my studies in theology.
Yet here I sit, a foolish bore,
no wiser than I was before.
No dog can live like this;
knowledge gained is far from bliss.
So I resolve my soul to free
through blackest magic and dark alchemy.

Scene 2: An alchemist’s workshop.

Angel appears

Angel: Faustus, Faustus!
Turn your enquiring eye
and search in mind
away from these black arts
to theology!
Happiness and true content
are only found through the
commandments of the Lord.
Live by them
and so escape God’s wroth
and you shall reap your heavenly reward!

Angel departs; Devil appears.

Devil: Faustus, Faustus!
Reject the study of theology
and give instead
all your allegiance and loyalty
to the dark practice of my arts!
Do this, and your reward
shall be here on Earth.
The power I’ll give
shall far exceed
that of all kings and emperors!

Devil departs

Faust departs

Jester: O wretched life,
full of pain and woe!
I speak the truth,
it’s plainly so.
Here is a scholar who is famed
for unsurpassèd wisdom
(so indeed it’s claimed).
He’s known by the name of
Dr. Faust.
Wheree’er he goes,
he keeps his nose
buried in a weighty tome,
and is known to lose a book or two.
A little learning or a lot
inside this empty head I’ve got
wouldn’t hurt; and, so, let’s see
what study does for me!
What’s this? Here is a likely-looking book
already open, so I’ll take a look.
Ego christan, ego istin,
prima legura juri—
Why don’t I understand a word I’ve read?
Let’s try a simpler page instead.
Ah, that’s more like it!
This I understand:
how to transform an ugly hag
afflicted with revolting stench
into a comely cockstand wench.
Make a cauldron granny-sized
and add the following to savour
the new desired flavour:
alder leaves and rotting onions,
these will rid her of her bunions;
stinging nettles, caraway
to smooth her wrinkled skin away;
lastly, burdock root gives grace
to her secret place. Probatum estum.
There’s so much in here
that I’ll sit on it
and what my poor brain cannot comprehend
might well go in the other end.

Wagner: You miserable wretch,
how dare you sit upon this book
from which you do not have the sense to profit.
Take my advice and move your arse
before I kick you off it!

Jester: Sefe cistin, ego istin,
prima legura juri.

Wagner: What’s that, cretin?

Jester: How should I know? It’s Latin.

Scene 3: Empty attic

Faust incants Latin phrases calling upon Mephistopheles.

Faust: O God the father on high,
keep him bound!
let those fetters weigh on thee!

Mephistopheles appears

Mephistopheles: Now then, Faustus,
what wouldst thou have Mephisto do?

Faust: I charge thee, Mephisto,
wait upon me while I live
to do whatever Faustus shall command;
be it to make the moon drop
from out her sphere,
or the ocean to overwhelm the world.

Mephistopheles: I am but a humble servant
to great Lucifer,
and may not follow thee
without his leave—
no more than he commands
must we perform.

Faust: Did he not charge thee, then,
to appear to me?

Mephistopheles: No. I came hither
of mine own accord.

Faust: Thou sayest it was not the terror
of my conjuring speeches that did raise thee?

Mephistopheles: That was the cause,
but yet per accident:
for when we hear one
rack the name of God,
abjure the scripture
and his saviour, Christ,
we fly to get his glorious soul.

Faust: But leaving these vain, petty
trifles of men’s souls, tell me:
what is that Lucifer, thy lord?

Mephistopheles: Arch-regent
and commander of all spirits.

Faust: Was not that Lucifer
an angel once?

Mephistopheles: Yes, Faustus,
and most dearly loved of God.

Faust: How comes it, then,
that he be Prince of Devils?

Mephistopheles: Oh, by aspiring pride
and insolence, for which God threw him
from the face of heaven.

Faust: And what are you
that live with Lucifer?

Mephistopheles: Unhappy spirits that fell with Lucifer;
conspired against our God with Lucifer;
and are forever damned with Lucifer.

Faust: Where are you damned?

Mephistopheles: In hell.

Faust: How comes it, then,
that thou art now out of hell
with me?

Mephistopheles: Why, this is hell,
nor am I out of it;
think’st thou that I,
who saw the face of God
and tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
am not tormented with 10,000 hells
in being deprived of everlasting bliss?

Faust: Go bear these tidings
to great Lucifer:
say he surrenders up his soul,
so that he shall spare him
four and twenty years;
letting him live
in all voluptuousness,
having thee ever to attend on me
to give me whatsoever I shall ask.

Mephistopheles: I will.

Mephistopheles departs; Jester appears

Jester: This quite essential knowledge
have I added to my store
by digging through the doctor’s book-lined vault.
How to catch a bird without
the aid of glue or salt
using nothing but a single magic word
said in a magic place.
This looks promising!
Is this such a spot,
or is it not? It is.
And now it just remains
to speak the word
to catch the bird.
Spirits, hear my cry:
hear me say Piluké!

Devil appears

Devil: Brrrrrr!
Jester, why do you use this spell
to summon devils from the fires of hell?
Dare you disturb our hellish peace?

Jester: I didn’t realise
I’d released the devil!
I’m just catching birds.

Devil: Leave the refuge of that circle!

Jester: You enter it! I challenge you!

Devil: Brrrrrr! That I may not do!

Jester: I think I’ll stay in it.

Devil: Step outside it for a single minute
and I’ll turn you to a smoking cinder!

Jester: This devil isn’t very bright
to tell me that,
so I’ll sit tight.

Devil: Brrrrrr! Brrrrrr!

Jester: This silly noise is getting on my nerves.

Devil departs

Jester: Piluké!

Devil appears

Devil: Brrrrrr!

Jester: Piluké!

Second devil appears

Both devils: Brrrrrr!

Jester: Confusion! I seem to have forgot
the word that led to a conclusion!
Ah, here it is: padluké!

Both devils depart

Jester: That’s it; this is how it works!
To send them packing, I say padluké!
To summon them again: piluké!

Devil appears

Devil (feebly): Brrrrrr!

Jester: Ah, so you’ve returned—
I’ll torment you with a trick I’ve learned:

Devil departs

Jester: Piluké!

Devil appears

Devil (groaning): Jester, that’s enough… you’ve won!
Show a little mercy, please!

Jester: Padluké!

Devil departs

Jester: And while he’s in this state,
I’ll run. Why wait?

Jester departs

Scene 4: Theatre stage in front of packed audience

Dressed as Faust, protagonist sings opera in Italian. Audience applauds.

Mephistopheles appears

Faust: Now tell me:
What says Lucifer thy lord?

Mephistopheles: That I shall wait on Faustus while he lives
so he will buy my service with his soul.
But Faustus, thou must bequeath it solemnly,
and write a deed of gift with thine own blood;
for that security craves great Lucifer.
If thou deny it, I must back to hell.

Faust: Stay, Mephistopheles!
Aye, Mephistopheles:
I give it thee.

Mephistopheles takes a knife and carves into Faust’s wrist. Faust takes a quill, dips it in his arm and goes to sign, but a tiny porcelain angel takes the quill and snaps it in half.

Faust: A mystery, as you see:
my quill lies snapped in two upon the floor.

Mephistopheles: Do not prevaricate,
you’ve plenty more.
You cannot now deny what we’ve agreed;
so with your blood, come sign the deed!

Faust: Look, Mephisto, stranger still:
again you see upon the floor
a broken quill.

Mephistopheles: Faustus, you try my patience sorely!
Take another quill and sign the deed;
my acolytes stand ready,
and this time you’ll succeed!

Faust signs

Faust: Show me what mysteries the universe doth hold,
even to the vaulted heavens;
show me all the suns,
shimmering like snowy flakes;
all the secrets that comprise creation
in infinite space and time.

Mephistopheles: Oh Faustus, are you afraid?

Faust: Never, Lucifer;
but there’s throbbing here
within my heart.
Now, take me down to hell
and after that, to the glories up on high.

Audience applauds

Scene 5: The dressing room

Mephistopheles: Do I intrude upon thy rest?
Or would you care to talk?

Faust: What I’ve learned through your instruction
re-asserts again that big and small are only
the two sides to the one coin;
and that the elephant—for all his mighty strength—
is no different, basically, to the tiny flea.
So still I seek the force, the reason,
governing life’s flow,
and not just its external show.

Mephistopheles: The governing force? The reason?
Some things can’t be known;
they are beyond your reach even when shown.

Faust: Why should that be so?

Mephistopheles: They lie outside the boundaries
that words can address;
and man can only grasp those thoughts
which language can express.

Faust: What? Do you mean that words
are greater yet than man?

Mephistopheles: Indeed they are.

Faust: Then what of longing or affection;
pain or grief?
I can’t describe these,
yet I know they’re in my breast!
What are they?

Mephistopheles: Without substance, as mist is.

Faust: In that case, man is only air as well!
Er… [Pauses to look at script]
What has made me thirst, then,
To be instructed in those things
that are more than speech allows?

Mephistopheles: Your thirst is artificial,
fostered by the arrogance in you;
so look no further
than all your human brothers do:
sleep, eat, drink, and let that be sufficient.

Faust: Liar and foul traitor!
Where are the pulse and core of nature
you promised to reveal? Where?

Mephistopheles: Faustus, you lack the wit to see them
in every blade of grass.

Faust: Vile phantom! Lying fiend!

Mephistopheles: Faustus-worm!
Dare you rain curses down on me?
Now, spite and venom deeper than the sea
I’ll vent on you.

Faust: I’m learning
the Devil knows no more
than we poor fools.

Mephistopheles: The man who gives his soul
to Satan for instruction—
I would agree with you:
he is a poor fool.

Faust: As a guide to higher truths,
I really cannot recommend you.
And yet, says my contract,
signed in blood,
you still remain
constrained to serve me!
Serve me, then.
I will make use of your deceptive guile
and your Satanic anger.

Mephistopheles: Both will I put at your disposal.

Scene 6: The Stage

Faust: Royal Portugal’s declared a holiday, I hear,
to mark the coming of his 50th year.
Mephisto! Mephisto!
Transport me to the royal court of Portugal
to let his Royal Majesty admire
the skills I’ve required.

Mephistopheles: As you desire, Faustus:
let us fly!

Faust and Mephistopheles depart

Jester appears

Jester: Dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear dear,
I definitely detect a smell of sulphur here!

Devil appears

Devil: Brrrrrr!

Jester: Dear dear dear dear!

Devil: Prepare yourself, Jester:
we’ll follow Faust, gone
to demonstrate his skill
to the King of Portugal.

Jester: I shall eat, dance,
and try not to fart;
now, let us start!

Scene 7: Public park

King: Loyal subjects,
hear my royal voice:
today is my birthday;
therefore, it is fitting
that we all rejoice
and raise our glasses to my health.

Jester (above): Devil, stop tossing me around—
you’ll throw me to the ground!

Subjects: Long live our noble king.

Jester: Aaaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh!

Jester falls on the ground in front of royal party

King: Can I believe
what I see with my eyes?
Who is this petitioner
who prostrate on the ground
before me lies?
Whate’er you may ask is granted!

Jester: E-pe, e-pe, e-pe.

King: Always assuming
that I can understand it!

Jester: I am Doctor Faustus’ servant!

King: You mean—the Doctor Faustus!?

Jester: Is there another?

King: At my mother’s knee,
I heard of his unrivalled erudition.
Bring your master here.

Jester: He is already near!

Jester departs

Subjects: Long live our noble king.

Faust arrives

Faust: Immortal Majesty:
your humble servant,
Doctor Faust.

Subjects: Huh.

Faust: Your Majesty has but to say
how my art
can celebrate this day.

King: O gracious Doctor Faust, arise;
the task I set you is but light
and will not overtax your gifts unduly.
Let David stand upon your left;
Goliath on your right.

Faust: Sire, this simple service
I can do for you.
Mephisto! Mephisto!

Mephistopheles (hiding behind pillar): What is your command?

Faust: A simple one:
His Majesty demands to see
the shepherd David
confront his mighty enemy Goliath.

Mephistopheles: How boring!

Subjects: Long live our noble king.

Faust: ‘Tis done: a gift from me
to Your Majesty.

Subjects: Long live our noble king.

King: What’s this?
Concealed behind that statue
stands a devil—even two!
Leave my kingdom, charlatan,
never to return again!
This is Satan’s work, I know;
take your devilish tricks and go!
Come, subjects, let us flee from here—
or your immortal king may die of fear!

King and subjects depart

Faust: I do not take these royal insults lightly
and will revenge myself!
Mephisto! Mephisto!

Mephistopheles: Now what is it, Faust?

Faust: Mephisto, you will douse this land with floods;
then I shall walk upon the waves,
playing skittles with supreme contempt
upon their watery graves.

All of Portugal drowns; Faust plays skittles on the water with supreme contempt

Faust: No more pleasure
in chasing pleasure.

Scene 8: Dressing room

Faust: When I behold the heavens,
then I repent
and curse thee, wicked Mephistopheles,
because thou hast deprived me of those joys.

Mephistopheles: Thinkest heaven is such a glorious thing?
I tell thee it is not half as fair
as thou or any man that breathes.

Faust: How prov’st thou that?

Mephistopheles: ‘Twas made for man;
therefore is man by far more excellent.

Faust: If it were so made, for man,
’twas made for me!
I will renounce the magic and repent!

Mephistopheles departs; angel appears

Angel: Faustus, Faustus!
Repent, and merciful God in heaven
will forgive thee!

Angel departs

Mephistopheles: Romino! Take on the guise
of lovely Helen.
We shall deceive him one more time!

Devil (disguised as Helen of Troy) appears

Devil-Helen: Oh Faustus, Faustus!
Your fame has drawn me
to your country from afar.
I find you on your knees in solemn prayer—
come and explore my country;
explore my eyes,
my breasts, my hair.

Faust: There’s never been a fairer woman.
She deserves the ecstasy of love.
Amor Vincit Omnia!

Faust pursues Helen to a hole in the ground, where they have sex—to his horror, Faust realises that he has been misled

Faust returns to confront Mephistopheles

Faust: Devil, you are the cause of my humiliation!

Mephistopheles: If you wish to catch a bird,
do not throw a stone at it;
you’ll frighten it away!
Faustus, tonight, when midnight strikes,
I will collect what is my due!

Faust: So soon?
Have four and twenty years already gone?

Mephistopheles: You counted your waking time
to total twelve; but, in reality,
we served you day and night!
Two times twelve is twenty-four;
and therefore, at the midnight hour,
your body and your soul are mine!

Mephistopheles departs

Faust: Ah, Faustus,
but one short hour remains:
one hour to live
until you must go damned eternally to hell.
(reads from script) Oh it strikes, it strikes—
now body turn to air,
or Lucifer will bear thee
quick to his damnation.
My god, my god:
look not so fierce on me.
Adders and serpents,
let me breathe a while.
O ugly hell,
gape not;
come not, Lucifer.
I’ll burn my books,
o Mephistopheles.


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