It emerges that up until this moment, Kasper Hauser – for it is he – has been imprisoned in a cellar since birth; aside from a stranger who fed him, the villagers are the first human beings he has ever seen. He's played both movingly and clownishly by Kevin Eldon-lookalike Bruno S., who had also suffered from mental illness and - typical Herzog, this - had no acting experience at all.
Later in the film, when Kasper has been taken in by a kindly philanthropist and has learnt to speak, a self important professor turns up at the house to test his lateral thinking.
"In this village live people who tell only the truth," says the man, moving a sugar pot across the table. "Here is another village: the people who live here only tell lies."
He moves a tea cup to the other side of the table. "Two paths run from these villages to where you are standing, and you are at the crossroads. A man comes along and you want to know which village he comes from: the truthful village or the village of liars. Now, in order to solve this problem logically, there is only one question you can ask. What is that question?"
The maid, sitting between the two men, insists the problem is too difficult for Kasper, who remains silent. After some more pontificating, the professor gives the answer: "If you came from the other village, would you answer no if I were to ask you whether you came from the liar's village? By means of a double negative, the liar is forced to tell the truth… That's what I call logic via argument to truth," he concludes, with a flourish.
"Well I know another question," pipes up Kasper, emphasising each word as if it is an announcement all of its own. The professor indignantly denies that another question exists.
"I would ask the man if he was a tree frog," Kasper continues simply. "The man from the village of truth would say, "No, I'm not a tree frog," because he tells the truth. The man from the liars' village would say, "I am a tree frog," because they would lie. That's how I would know which village he was from."
Having been raised - if you can even call it that - outside society, Kaspar never fully grasps the rules - but this has also liberated from the rigid thought structures everyone is expected to adopt. He's a visionary, although, like Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo or Grizzly Man's Timothy Treadwell, one destined to be crushed by life's realities.
The nurse smiles. "What you've done is describe something, not deduce it," replies the professor angrily. "I cannot accept that question."
Interestingly, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant once posed a variation on this conundrum to that modern day idiot savant, Karl Pilkington. This alternative version had two identical angels, one truthful, guarding the door to heaven and one a liar, guarding the door to hell. What question would the bald-headed Manc ask to find his way to heaven?
After suggesting that one of the doors might be warmer because of the heat given off by hell, Karl wonders whether he might be able to take a look through one of the doors' keyholes. Gervais and Merchant disallow this.
Karl begins to get frustrated. "But would they be neighbours like this?" he says. "Would they be that close?"
After an explanation, which presumably goes right over his round, orange-shaped head, Karl concludes, "This is where you use your gut feeling, though, innit. I just think there's a lot of questions in life where you don't know the answer and you go, 'Do you know what? I don't like the look of him.'"
"They're identical," Gervais points out.
Says Karl: "Yeah, but still, with identical twins, you always get a little snidey one."
From the Goose archives
Film review: Rescue Dawn