Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, directed by German master F.W. Murnau is often forgotten as one of the two original ‘best picture’ winners at the inaugural Academy Awards but has since achieved a loftier status as one of the greatest films ever made. In addition to that noble honor, Sunrise remains endlessly moving, unceasingly human, and forcefully reminding of what it feels like to fall in love. The film has all of what it takes to craft a successful romantic drama. There are moments of high tension, an epiphany where a character realizes they are hopelessly in love, clear expression of yearning, and the final climax where every plot thread comes to a head.
Sunrise doesn’t feature a complicated plot with multiple colliding stories or a nonlinear format. It’s the simple story of a country guy (George O’Brien) who is seduced by a vixen from the city (Margaret Livingston). She convinces him to kill his wife (Janet Gaynor), so they could be happy together. However, in the midst of his evil scheme, he realizes his true feelings for his wife and abandons the plot. Due to his almost going through with it, he loses the trust of his wife and he chases her through the city to regain her trust and her love. After he succeeds, and they return home, a storm hits, and the Wife becomes lost and the Man is willing to give his life until she is found.
The sheer amount of human emotion and conflict are what give the film its deep emotional resonance. There is little more human than experiencing conflicting feelings for two different people. Yet, the most human aspect of Sunrise is the romance between Man and Wife at the center of the film. Man experiences the highs of pure joy and glee mixed with the lows of depression and hopelessness, for instance when he realizes his true feelings and starts to pine after his wife. Yet, the ultimate reconciliation is moment of gleefulness that is hardly equaled in the history of cinema. It is an eruption of joy and the ending of the film leaves you with a ray of hope that good exists in the world and that humanity can make the correct decisions regarding the balance of good and evil in our lives.
I regard the romance and struggles within Sunrise as one of the most integral in the entirety of cinema. The entire human condition is comprised within the 90 minutes that make up the film and you will be hard-pressed to find another romance that broaches as many moods and emotions as Sunrise does.
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