March 8, 2011

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

We watched this movie nearly two weeks ago, and I've just not had a spare moment to sit down and write my review.  But I have some time now, so I say better late than never.

Now I just have to try to remember what my original thoughts/impressions were.  :D

If you're like me, you probably assume that a movie with this kind of title must be a religious Adam and Eve sort of tale.  And if that's what you think, then you're wrong.  Haha.  Robin told me I was wrong but I didn't believe him.  So I was surprised when the movie started and sure enough, it's got nothing to do with Adam, Eve, or the Bible.  Thankfully.

What it's actually about is a man and his wife, Swedish immigrants (most likely - I don't think this is ever clearly stated but that's the obvious impression given based on the way they look and the setting being Minnesota.)  Anyway, this man, who has no name, is having an affair with a brunette slattern who smokes and dresses provocatively.  But he won't leave his wife for her, so she comes up with the "brilliant" plan to murder the innocent wife and make it look like an accident.  Yeah, there's a charmer.

Shockingly, the husband appears to go along with it, at least at first.  But at the last minute he finds that he cannot go through with it and attempts to make amends with his wife, who understandably is now terrified of him and wants nothing more than to get away.

I don't want to do much summarizing here because the movie was actually pretty enjoyable and I think most people would enjoy watching it.  I think this is another that could be remade today with modern actors and a slightly updated storyline and have it still work remarkably well.

The filming was interesting, and I'm sure Robin will go into this more in his review, but I have to admit that interesting as it was I didn't actually notice it all that much.  What I mean is, except for it being black and white and a silent film, it looked very much like movies I watch today.  Similar camera angles and movements, zooms, pans, etc.  It's all stuff that looks very normal to me.  Of course, for the time this movie was made it wasn't normal - nobody had ever seen camera work like this before.  So I'm a little sad that I'm too jaded by modern standards to really appreciate how stunning this film must have been for the original audience.

The movie is a bit melodramatic too.  Not quite as bad as The Thief of Bagdad, but enough so that all of us watching kept heckling and interjecting jokes and comments.  We were our own version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which kept all of us laughing and entertained, but on the other hand the movie obviously didn't set out to be mocked.  It took itself seriously...which is perhaps why we felt the need to joke about it.  It was a little confused...almost like it couldn't quite make up its mind as to what kind of movie it wanted to be.  There were elements of drama and mystery, elements of comedy, elements of tender romance, and elements of redemption and forgiveness.  There were just too many elements in my opinion.  Near the end there's a part where we predicted what would happen next, perhaps based on our modern viewpoint or expectations.  Our theory would have made for an excellent twist in the plot and would have kept the story fresh and exciting, but it's not what happened.

I was actually a bit disappointed with the ending because it felt a little rushed, a little unfinished, and a little too "and they lived happily ever after", which just didn't seem to fit the rest of the movie.  I felt like they were trying to tell a morality tale but then at the very end there's no moral to the story.  It just ends, and it feels like the completely wrong ending.  They should have ended it with the husband learning a really tough lesson (again I can't really expound on this without ruining the whole plot and the ending they chose.)  Tell you guys what - if you really want to know my thoughts and the plot twist we thought up, go rent the movie.  After you've watched it, come back here and leave a comment on this post, and then we can discuss and debate.  :D


  1. Mandie is shy about spoiling the ending. I'm not. I assume anyone following this blog has either already seen the movie, or won't be watching it with the plot much in mind.

    Our idea, as we watched Sunrise, was that the plot might take the same twist as a curious foreign short that I remembered seeing long ago. That short was La rivière du hibou, a French film directed by Robert Enrico, produced by Marcel Ichac and Paul de Roubaix, and released in 1963. It was based on a short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce. As the film begins the main character is about to be hanged from a bridge. Miraculously, the rope breaks, he falls into the river and...escapes! The rest of the film follows his frantic flight, his return to freedom, etc. But, the end of the film returns us to the bridge, where, as it turns out, the miraculous breaking of the rope was merely wishful thinking during the last few seconds of the character's life. It was a powerful film. We should find a copy to watch as a "bonus film" in this series.

    In any case, there came a moment in Sunrise when we thought that, perhaps, the husband REALLY DID kill his wife, and that the whole going to town and falling back in love was just in his imagination. The sequence certainly had all the markings of overly-romanticized imaginary happenings, and it would have made the whole implausible I-forgive-you-for-trying-to-kill-me thing much more plausible. But...well, that wasn't the story that Murnau wanted to tell.

    Filmed in black and white, it later went on to win the award for best short subject at the 1962 Cannes film festival and 1963 Academy Awards.[1] In 1964 La rivière du hibou aired on American television as an episode of the anthology series The Twilight Zone.

  2. We agree that would have been a great way to do it. It fits nicely with the return boating trip, which mirrors the originally intended events so well. Murnau used that for the ironic inversion of it, but it could then become the transition point back to reality. Perhaps it could be uncertain whether or not it was a dream - his side of the story is all there is to go on, and maybe it's true, or maybe he's lying, or maybe he wants the lie so badly he himself believes it to be true.

    Btw, that "it was all a dream" device IS used almost exactly as you describe for the finale of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.