Sunday, June 8, 2014

Silent Sundays: Faust (1926)

“The portals of darkness are open and the shadows of the dead hunt over the earth…”

            The battle between Good and Evil have existed since time began. It is a subject that all the great stories have told and that all movies explore. I think it is amazing to see how people can be so tempted by evil. I think we all want to believe we could never be tempted to do terrible things to others. But in the end when we want something to happen so desperately we turn to temptation. Humans are impulsive and we want results and things to happen right away no matter the cost. We cannot wait for what may happen weeks or months from now. We see the concrete not the abstract.
            In the usual story of Good vs. Evil a good person is tempted by Satan or they make a deal with Satan in order to help someone. In the story of Faust a man partners with Satan’s helper at first to help the people of his town who are dying from the plague. Then he is given youth and falls prey to youth’s temptations and impulses.
            The story opens with Satan sending down Plague, Death, and Famine to a small town in Italy. An angel appears before the town telling Satan to go back to where he came from. Satan asks the angel if he knows a man named Faust who lives in the town and who preaches good but practices evil. Satan makes a wager that he can destroy Faust’s soul, that no man can resist temptation.
            Satan sends the plague down upon the town. Half the town is dead within days. To find a cure Faust prays to God. The villagers live in constant fear of death. The people turn to Faust for help but he cannot help them as they need to be helped. He goes into a room full of old dusty crumbling books. In frustration he throws some books onto a fire. One book opens to a page that gives instructions on how to stop death. In order to do so a person must summon a dark one. Faust follows the instructions on the books and summons a person called Mephisto. When he returns to his room Mephisto is there waiting for him. Mephisto holds up a contract for Faust to sign that says that he renounces God and that he wants all the power in the world. Faust is disgusted with what Mephisto has put before him. All he wants is one day where he can have the power to heal the people of his town. Mephisto has Faust sign the contract that only lasts for a day so he can heal the sick and hungry. Mephisto also tells Faust that he will be his own personal servant and grant what whatever wish he wants done. Faust heals a sick person but he cannot look upon a cross.
            Mephisto shows Faust a vision of what his youth can look like if they were to sign a pact together. Faust asks the evil servant to grant him youth. Faust is given youth. When he awakens he sees an apparition of a young woman. He has Mephisto, as his servant, take him to the girl. Mephisto has Faust stand on his cape and the two of them fly off to where a duchess, the most beautiful woman in Parma, is celebrating her wedding. Mephisto brings a wedding present that when open gives off a bright light that blinds everyone except for the duchess. She lays eyes on Faust and runs away with him. Mephisto kills the duchess’s new husband.
            The day runs out, Faust has to go back to being an old man. He begs Mephisto to stay a young man. Their pact is now for eternity. Sometime later Faust has indulged in everything he could ever want but he is not satisfied. When Mephisto asks him what he wants most Faust replies that he wants to return to his home. In the town Mephisto scares Gretchen, a young girl, making her drop whatever was in her hands. Faust helps Gretchen pick up what she has dropped and falls immediately in love with her. Mephisto tells Faust to leave her alone she is young and innocent and was on her way to church she is not for him there are other girls that will be obliging to his needs. Faust only wants Gretchen. Mephisto gives Faust a golden chain to give to Gretchen that will make her feel his (Faust’s) power.
            Gretchen’s brother has returned home. She is at first excited to see him and then is all the sudden unhappy and runs to another room and opens a window. Outside the window Faust is standing there. Gretchen sees the necklace. Soon she is deeply in love with Faust and he with her. Mephisto sees Gretchen’s brother at an inn. He tells the brother that his sister is not as pure and innocent as he thinks she is. The brother goes to the house and fights with Faust over his sister’s purity. The brother is killed by Mephisto but the townspeople, and even Faust himself, believe he is a murderer. Mephisto drags Faust away from the town where he cannot be found. Before the brother dies he tells everyone around him to say a mass for him and to put his sister on the stocks for all to look at the harlot.
            In the winter Gretchen has a child. She tries as hard as she can to keep the child safe and warm. She goes to houses begging for people to have mercy on her child but when they see who she is they turn her away. Gretchen sinks into the snow and in a delirious state believes a snow drift is a cradle and places the baby in it. A group of soldiers find Gretchen and the dead child. They think Gretchen has purposely killed her child and send her to be burned at the stake.
            Faust can see what is happening to Gretchen. He is furious with Mephisto he had been told nothing bad would happen to Gretchen. He has Mephisto race down to earth to try to save Gretchen. Much to Mephisto’s anger, Faust ignores him and runs towards Gretchen at the stake. In revenge Mephisto turns Faust back into an old man. Faust’s love for Gretchen is so strong that he would rather die with her than be without her on earth.
            Satan believes he has won his wager with the angel. The angel tells Satan to be gone that Faust’s love for Gretchen has redeemed him.

            Faust is a very interesting story. I liked the idea that at first Faust made a deal with the devil to help his town to be a good man and save people but then he was tempted by youth into impulsiveness and lust and then in the end his love and compassion for Gretchen saved him. F.W. Muranu’s direction made the film visually stunning. The acting along with Murnau’s direction make you feel so sympathetic for Faust and Gretchen. You feel their desires, lust, love, and desperation. Faust is a very good silent film. My only complaint is that is ran much more longer than it should have but other than that I have no complaints. 

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