film review by:  Julia Seel

In Raoul Peck’s film The Young Karl Marx, Proudhon (Olivier Gourmet) cautions Marx (August Diehl) and Engels (Stefan Konarske) to be careful with their ideas, to not follow the steps of Luther who, in reforming the Catholic Church, fractured Christianity and created an equally stringent religion. Young Luther did not think through the ultimate effect of his ideas. Young Marx, however, knows and yearns for the ultimate effect of his ideas. Young Marx wants to shatter society and production as he knows it.

The Young Karl Marx is reminiscent of Luther and Amazing Grace in that it’s a film about the young, poor years of a man who raises a successful revolution while starting a family. All three films have muted colors, a montage of frantic scribbling, a fraught medical intervention, and a leading figure who lives long enough to become tired. This film differs by surrounding its leading figure with a non-religious community. Marx is propelled by his family, wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) and two children. Marx’s family make more urgent his need for money – writers weren’t rich in 1894 either – and confirm the humanness of a historical figure. Engels is the other part of Marx’s community. Engels complicates the theme of money by working for his bourgeois father and in turn paying Marx like a complicated Robin Hood.

Peck wanted The Young Karl Marx to be a film for a modern audience, just as historical events flow into the present day. The film feels most current in the last twenty minutes. The beliefs of young philosophers force radical action from abstraction; see Emma Gonzalez, Erica Garner. Mary Burns (Hanna Steele) mournfully claims a life of unromantic poverty, knowing that she cannot fight from a position of comfort; see Occupy. The supporters of Weitling (Alexander Scheer) recall neoliberalism’s cry of fraternity over violence. By the time credits roll, everyone is tired and busy.  And money runs through every scene, in costumes and dialogue and occupation.

The Communist Manifesto could not have been printed without someone’s sponsorship. Marx and family would have starved several times if not for the help of his bourgeois friends. Brussels, London, Paris, and Russia would not have been united in body or philosophy if not for industrial travel and mail systems as well as the capital to use them. The anarchist Weitling may well demand the abolition of money and Marx calls out capitalism tying the value of work to the value of a being who works, but just as Luther lived ‘already but not yet’ in the kingdom of god, the cast of The Young Karl Marx live in a world of revolutionized laborers and writers who are still valued (only) as laborers and writers. And so we live today. This is a good film to learn about political figures as people.

THE YOUNG KARL MARX opens on Friday, February 23 in New York and Los Angeles.

For nationwide theater information visit