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Love and Distrust

by Robin Killian

In F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a man has become bored with his wife and enamored with a city woman who has convinced him to drown his wife and run away with her. In this footage, the husband and wife are in a canoe on a lake. The man cannot summon up the courage to drown her. Meanwhile, the woman’s gaze speaks volumes about her inner being. At the beginning of the canoe ride, she is excited to be spending time with her husband on the lake, and looks at him adoringly. Her eyes show joy. As the viewer, we can sense that the man is hiding something by his body language. Soon, she senses it too. The husband can’t make eye contact with his wife. He feels shame about the pain he is about to cause, and perhaps even shame connected to his affair. This later becomes fuel and inspires our narrative, which is approached as the wife’s response to nature (innate personal desire) and nurture (the unsatisfactory/unhealthy relationship, or what is really going on). This scene affirms that light and darkness exist within each of us. We all are living dualities, including the husband and wife in this scene: he in his affair and resulting inner turmoil, and she in her reaction to the affair. The woman is already strong here, but her strength is affirmed in the coming scenes. We suggest that she goes on to the world of Doms and Subs, BDSM, etc. In a few moments she becomes suspicious of her husband. She is able to ascertain the meaning of his body language. She glares at him as if she can hear his inner thoughts. We see her insides altering. Something changes within her as she realizes what he is planning to do. The wife can sense that something is off as her husband avoids her gaze and appears lost in his own thoughts. In this moment of the film, we see the concretization of the plot the wife has laid out for herself following a moment of distrust. The viewer is able to assign thoughts to the woman and can only imagine what direction she will go in following uncovering her husband’s plan. Instead, she emerges ready to take the situation into her own hands. It is important for the viewer to experience the cause and effect of the woman’s behavior yet not label it as either “good” or “bad.” The wife hasn’t done anything wrong. It really isn’t for the audience to judge! The husband daydreams about his mistress, utilizing visions of her to gather the strength to drown his wife. Although she is only a vision or a memory here, the other woman possesses extraordinary power over the man in determining his and his wife’s futures. We can connect her power to her sexuality, which is separate from the body. After the imagined moment with his mistress, hard footage suggests a memory during which the city woman cheats with the married man. The man is at the hands of the woman, and women become his center of confusion and internal chaos. It is here that we first experience the power of the woman, and see how she can affect any man.


This footage represents a man’s struggle against the draw of a beautiful and seductive woman. He may fight it, but if she is persistent and he is truly willing from within he stands no chance against her efforts. In this footage, the woman is behind the steering wheel as she has been throughout the piece.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans - and the Human Condition

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The dynamic between lovers is explored. Nearly 100 years after this film's creation, its lessons are still relevant today.

from Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Creator: F.W. Murnau
Distributor: Fox Film
Posted by Robin Killian