Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (Review)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (7 out of 10)
Dir. F.W. Murnau,
1927
95 minutes

Should You See This Film?
This is another black-and-white, silent film. As it is an old film, the film quality is not that great. I know for many people this fact alone is enough to deter them from watching this film. I sympathize with that. Usually, I have to be in the mood to watch silent films and not let the “oldness” get in the way of enjoying the film. It’s as if tape plays inside my head saying, This film can’t be good because it’s old. I have to fight through the bias (at least initially) to appreciate the film. (Maybe the difficulty stems from a bias against old things—old things are boring or uninteresting, while new things are interesting and exciting.) Is the film worth the effort to get beyond these hang-ups? It was for me, and I can say that Larri enjoyed the film. That’s should say something as Larri’s has more mainstream tastes (although she doesn’t have a problem with older films).

What ultimately makes the film worth watching, imo, is the realistic and, yet, touching depiction of the life of a young married couple.

Some of the scenes are very simple. We’re not talking about deep psychoanalytic examinations of the characters and their relationship here. Nevertheless, the situations and actions of the characters are quite effective and universal. I found these moments surprisingly moving. I say surprising because sometimes characters in older films behave in ways that are foreign and hard to relate to. That’s not the case here.

There are also some really nice effects that Murnau employs in the film that are low tech by today’s standards, but very effective in the film. Someone described the film by saying it had the “beauty and fragility of a butterfly’s wing,” and I think that the film quality—brittle looking–and images created by Murnau create that effect.

If you’ve seen and enjoyed Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (a film I really love), I think you will enjoy Sunrise (although I like L’Atalante a lot more). Both films appealed to me because they both managed to depict realistic and touching aspects of married life.

Personal Reaction and Comments
(Spoilers)

The film is really about married life—about losing the spark, the mistakes and pain that can result when this happens, and the ways in which a couple deal with these mistakes. It’s about redemption and about a couple finding that spark again.

There’s a wonderful feeling that comes after making up after a fight, and I’m not talking about the physical element, although that can be a part of it. It’s that sense of making things whole; the joy, love and connection you have for each other rekindled after being momentarily blotted out. It’s funny, in a relationship, the blackest feelings towards the other person can so easily emerge and then just as quickly disappear. (Maybe this is just a guy thing.) The feelings can come about from very mundane and silly things, but when you work out these problems—yes, it’s like pushing away a dark cloud, and seeing the sun. It’s like the night ending by the rising of the sun. The change can be that dramatic.

Murnau does a wonderful job of showing this, and that’s not an easy task given the husband actually did plan to kill his wife. How could a wife actually forgive this man, trust him, let alone love him after this? Improbable as it may seem, Murnau and the actors accomplish this feat in convincing fashion. There are several ways they accomplish this:

First, I think it’s important that the husband initially reacts viciously towards the woman who suggests he his wife. He finally acquiesces, but he is conflicted up to the attempted . I liked the scene where the husband sits on his bed contemplating the . Clearly, he’s conflicted, but then we see superimposed images of the woman he’s fooling around with cuddling and cajoling him.

Next, when the wife realizes her husband wants to kill her, she reacts in . She runs away from him. Meanwhile, the husband instantly feels guilty about his actions (The early scenes make this believable) and chases after her. When he finally catches up to her, her fear of him is soon followed by a sense of sadness and despair: this is the person she married and loved, and he wanted to kill her. He tries to console her, but she is pretty torn up.

They are in the city, and the people fill the street. They move into a church where a wedding is taking place. This is one of my favorite scenes in the film. The couple forgets their situation for a moment as they watch this wedding. The man hears the wedding vows—on the screen we read the priest asking the husband if he will love, protect and take care of his wife. Given what the farmer tried to do he breaks down in remorse, and now the wife compassionately consoles him. It’s when couples get to this point where forgiveness and reconciliation take place.

Later we see the couple go into the city, and their love seems renewed. They explore different aspects of the city having a good time. I enjoyed this part as well as the tension towards the end when the wife is missing.

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