Murneau's version of the Faust tale is a bit of a strange one. The story is actually a combination of Faust and the book of Job, where someones fidelity to the holy spirit is the tested at the expense of hundreds of lives and countless amounts of suffering. The only major difference being that Faust is dealing with the temptation to bed a bunch of hot princesses, and Job is dealing with the temptation to not suffer. Other than that though, its all pretty standard.

I've never been as big a fan of the Faust tale as many people are. It deals with some of the dullest aspects of Christian mythology and its concept of sin is horribly abstract. This film has it even worse because the concept of redemption is just as abstract, and seems to come straight out of a D.W. Griffith film (I mean that in a bad way, I like D.W. Griffith films, but he was more than a bit naive).

What I mean is that, the Faust myth, and especially this version of it, deals with acknowledging yourself as weak, corrupt, and small, and argues that you have to put yourself below another (God) in order to give yourself meaning. This is the bit of Christian morality that Nietzsche referred to as "slave morality," anything having to do with redemption really... In this version of the myth there is a second way to "redeem oneself," through the embodiment of a god-like metaphysical concept - love. Whatever the hell that means.

If you read any of my other postings about love, I make the point regularly that the "what is love" question is much more interesting then the "value of love" question. This film kind of takes for granted some rather generic answers to the question. In this film, and a number of other films from around this time (especially Griffith films), love is self-sacrifice, especially as it exists in relation to family (I work 50 hours a week for you kids, and what appreciation do I get?!). There is none of the metaphysical wonder that arises from the perception of beauty, that uncontrollable excitement from seeing someone and hearing someone. There is only a kid of hopeless pleasure in someone else's happiness.

The real pleasure of this film is watching Murneau's cinematography and Emil Jannings' acting. It is no wonder that Jannings played played Mephisto in this film. In this film, only evil is supposed to give a feeling of awe.

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