Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Directed by F.W. Murnau
Written by Carl Mayer

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is one of those films that everybody seems to know and have seen, as far as classic silent films go anyway. I actually once sat down and watched it, though I must admit it was in a very lazy manner. So lazy in fact that I convinced myself that I had not seen it so that I would one day return to it and watch it proper. That day came today, lucky for me. I have seen one other F.W. Muranau film, Faust, which I found to be mildly entertaining and interesting, but not something I would readily return to. Though I must admit, the few silents I have seen all seem to beckon me back to them, but then again that could be because they are all great “classics”.

This “song” is about a man (George O’Brien) and his wife (Janet Gaynor). And as the first title card indicates, it is a story filled with both the bitter and the sweet. The man is a farmer and the family’s neighbor is a vacationer from the city. She quickly seduces the man into an affair and even convinces him to kill his wife and run away to the city with her. But when he is on the boat, ready to drown his wife, the man has second thoughts. He must work for her forgiveness and prove that he still loves her deeply. And the delights of the city help heal the wound which he wrongfully formed in their love. But tragedy may still loom…

The emotion of the film is what immediately pops out to me after having written that short plot summary. There is no real explanation for the affair except perhaps that the man is, well, a man. But once he must prove his love and show that he is remorseful for his actions, it is clear that he loves his wife truly, madly, and deeply. And for that reason her forgiveness is both believable and moving. The fervor with which the man seeks retribution is mirrored by the great storytelling of Murnau.

Complementing the entire story are the effects as well as the dreamy cinematography, which are both quite astounding considering the film was produced in 1927. There are some things in this film that are truly remarkable and breathtaking to witness, like the masterful overlying frames or the moonlight walk near the beginning. The German Impressionistic style is evident in the native German’s look in the film, but it lends itself so well to such a passionate and dreamy kind of “song”.

I have been doting on the film thus far and it is all deserved. However, I don’t want to make the impression that it is more than it is. It is a very well made film and a romance that is both unique and beautiful, but it is also a film that had me wandering once again, especially during the scenes in the city, particularly the circus, which were cute, yet seemed to drag on and simply pile on more of the same. That being said, I can see this film being quite memorable, and perhaps growing even more on me.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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