Friday, October 12, 2012

The Golem (1920)

Paul Wegener uses The Golem, a stone statue that comes to life via black magic, as an allegory on man’s greatest desires and follies. The demon represents man’s greed and power over others, as well as his gullibility towards lust and the aforementioned greed. Man is willing to sacrifice his life in order to gain power and self-worth. He will overlook the warnings of impending doom if it means immediate success.

He’ll even use this power for religious purposes. The Golem is brought to life via a rabbi. This rabbi’s intention is to save his village from exile by regaining the trust of the town. This is an honorable deed, but he slowly lets it grow out of hand. He begins to use The Golem as his personal assistant. He even tries to inject human characteristics into the inanimate object. Black magic may have made it mobile, but it’s soul is nowhere to be found. Take out his chest emblem (which my nerd psyche immediately thought of Iron Man) and he’s back to being nothing but stone.

Think of the Golem as HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The message Stanley Kubrick was getting across was that, despite all of the human characteristics instilled into HAL, it was still a machine at the end of the day. A computer programmed to take orders and nothing else. It’s eventual transformation into a monster was thanks to the hands of man. Man’s greed and desires are to blame for the inanimate’s apparent bloodlust.

The Golem is exactly that; an inanimate object. It may be more mobile than HAL, but it’s objective is the same. Man gives it a command, it follows through. When the time comes when the black magic turns the monster against man, it is not the Golem’s fault. It is only carrying out it’s prime directive. It shows no human emotion, despite the facial features it imitates.

This results in the film’s horror being of the deeper kind. Wegener doesn’t utilize jump scares or frightening imagery. That’s not to say none of that is present. The arrival of Astaroth (the creature that helps bring the Golem to life) truly frightened me. I can imagine that the special effects, which were stellar for the time, generated chills in audiences of 1920. Most of the thrills that are generated come from man’s desire and our inherent fear of our own feelings overtaking us.

The use of colors throughout is an intriguing one. The pattern seems to go as follows: Yellow represents the brightness of day; Blue represents the calm of night; Green represents peacefulness; Orange represents formality; Red represents danger/impending doom. While this is a compelling trick, there are times when the colors aren’t utilized correctly. I remember a few scenes where green was used during escalating scenarios. This can cause off-putting in the mood.

The only real issue Wegener stumbles upon is on how to end the film. The ending itself is fine. The problem is that it’s dragged out a bit too long. It felt as if Wegener was trying to drive the point home one last time before the credits rolled. This causes a slight lack of faith in the audience and some fatigue on the viewer. Considering that’s my only true complaint (as the color scheme is a minimal one), that almost acts as a compliment.

MVT: I’ll go with Wegener’s message. While the Golem itself is the star of the show, the reasoning behind it’s creation is the true selling point.

Make or Break: The arrival of Astaroth. Not just because it’s the film’s most frightening scene, but it also brings the Golem to life. This is when the film kicks into high gear.

Final Score: 9.5/10

No comments:

Post a Comment