Faust: God and Satan Like to Screw with Humans When They're Bored

We all ready for another terrifying foray into scary German silent horror?  Good, because the next film on the list is Faust, a silent film adaptation of the classic story of selling your soul to the devil.

So Dumbledore Faust is extolling the glory of man being able to choose virtue or sin for themselves.  Meanwhile, there's a flamboyantly dressed angel and a sketchy looking devil gambling for this poor guy's soul.  It's the old argument, the angel thinks man is inherently good and the devil thinks we all go around beheading puppies for fun or something.  These guys have apparently not considered the notion that humanity is neither snakes and snails and puppy dog tails nor sugar and spice and everything nice.  We're like, sugary snakes and really nice snails or something along those lines.

Anyway, Mr Angel and Mr Devil decide the do the only think angels and demons with an eternity of time to waste really can do: they sit around and make bets on the humans.  If the Devil can corrupt Faust, he gets to rule over Earth.  If Faust remains good, then...he doesn't get to rule over Earth.  And so it's on like Donkey Kong.

The Devil sends in the plague, the plan being that Faust will get so desperate for a way to save his people, that he will be willing to turn to the Dark Side.  I think the least the effeminate angel guy could have done is shoot some divine inspiration Faust's way, so he could think up a cure for the plague.  I mean...this is why people make pacts with the devil.  Say what you will about the Unholy Master, he takes initiative.

Faust tries his best to help the townspeople, he really does.  But when he sees so many people dying so quickly, he starts to lose faith, and the Devil takes advantage of his opportunity.  He offers to be Faust's servant, and to do whatever he wishes.  The Devil's even business savvy enough to include a free one day trial with a soul-back guarantee.

So Faust signs the contract, heals all the gross dying people...and is quickly shunned as a warlock or something.  He leaves with the devil, becomes all youngified, and goes on a tirade of debauchery that would make the Marquis de Sade go white and steady himself on the furniture.

Until he meets a beautiful girl who is as pure as the driven snow...and proceeds to ruin her.   He knocks her up, which leads to a shit ton of slut-shaming and her expulsion from the town.  The shots of Gretchen as she stumbles around, clutching her baby to her chest as a harsh wind blows at her cloak, are melodramatic but ultimately heartbreaking.  Nearly frozen to death, she hallucinates a cradle and puts her baby in it.  Men in uniform find the two of them covered in snow, the infant dead -- and they arrest her for killing her child.  Because let's just add to the pile of shit this poor girl is forced to go through just because she happens to be a woman.

Faust shows up at the last minute while she is burning at the stake, and they burn together.  God decides to solve the whole bet with Satan thing Huey Lewis and the News style -- through the Power of Love.

Random Musings:

  • The filmmakers make a good decision with the heavy use of fog.  When you obscure the shot that much, it makes the special effects like 35-45% less shitty looking.

  • "He seeks gold and the Philosopher's Stone!" Holy shit, so Faust is Voldemort?

  • I love the shot of the devil with his huge black wings hovering over the city so that he pretty much blocks out the sun.

  • So...all the people carting away the dead bodies of the plague victims are dressed like the KKK.  Why is this?  Are racists immune to the bubonic plague?  Further research must be done.

  • I really like how narration heavy this film is -- how much it relies on the intertitle cards to help tell the story.  It cuts out a lot of horribly emphatic gesturing and lets the director focus instead on setting up some genuinely spooky shots.

  • I am legitimately frightened by all the people with glowing eyes.  That shit horrifies me.  Well done, movie made 85 years ago.

  • I love that Satan is business savvy enough to offer a free trail with a soul back guarantee.

  • I'm sorry, young Faust is wearing way too much makeup.  It's a little ridiculous.  I mean look at this douche.

  • You have to give it to this movie, though: it's got some pretty impressive special effects.  I mean, come on, the zoom lens wasn't even invented yet.  Or slinkies.  We are talking about a pre-slinky society, yet they were able to accomplish some pretty amazing things on camera.

  • This guy is totally ripping off Aladdin!  He shows up at the palace with a huge parade of elephants, his magical assistant, and a turban.  And now my mind is blown, because that means Robin Williams is the devil.  Although some small part of me has always known that.

  • Wow...the devil just offered Faust an orgy.  I know that pre-code films, especially international ones, got up to some pretty crazy shenanigans, but it still surprises me when I see the word orgy in a silent film.

  • But why is the devil spending all his time with this one dude?  Presumably he's got other souls he needs to attend to.  And what would happen if there were two people who sold their soul to the devil, and they wished for something that conflicted with the other guy's wish.  Like, say two guys wished for the same girl.  What happens then?  Does the devil make provisions for this type of scenario?  Does he have a legal department on retained for when that kind of thing happens?  Wait...what am I saying?  He's the devil.  Of course he has a team of lawyers.

  • OK, the devil needs to get rid of that ridiculous feather in his hair.  He looks like a douchey, evil version of Liberace.  Why is he romancing the aunt anyway?  And why is everyone suddenly running around like it's an episode of Benny Hill?

  • I love that it's totally cool to tie a woman up in the town square and publicly jeer her because she had sex.  [political comment] Rick Santorum would love it there. [/political comment]

This is a really good silent film.  It has a great take on a classic German story that teaches about how God and Satan get super bored and like to screw around with humanity.  I think Faust is very innovative in terms of special effects, and Murnau does a wonderful job directing.  What I love about watching Murnau's films is that in a lot of ways he's one of the earliest auteurs.  His movies have a very specific style, and it's fun to watch how he develops as an artist over his career.

The way I see it, this film is split into three very distinct acts.  The first is Faust's story, and it's an incredibly atmospheric story about faith and corruption.  The images used when Satan starts spreading the plague are genuinely scary, and I think Faust has a believable transition from being a man of faith to an increasingly desperate and disillusioned individual.  It's so important that we buy him making a pact with the devil, and the way it's presented here is definitely reasonable.

The third act is all about Gretchen, the woman Faust falls in love with.  Her's is an intensely human, heartbreaking story, as we see her fall from grace and ultimate destruction.  She goes from virginal innocent to Jezebel to Madonna to Joan of Arc, and there's such humanity in every step of her journey.  You genuinely feel for poor Gretchen, who really doesn't deserve the tragedy that befalls her.  My favorite part of the film is her trudging along in the freezing cold, trying to find shelter for her and her tiny baby.  It's beautifully filmed and there's so much emotion present.

Definitely check this one out if you get a chance...although it's a silent film and I know a lot of people have trouble with that, it comes across as classic rather than dated.

Thanks for reading, and come back next time!

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