April 5, 2012
By HAL9000 PLATINUM, Springfield, Massachusetts
HAL9000 PLATINUM, Springfield, Massachusetts
23 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Evil lurks in all the shadows of the Earth, and its grasp is inescapable. I believe this to be one of the central themes of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Terror. The story of Nosferatu is simple enough, but it takes on an especially chilling nature in the hands of F.W. Murnau. In the film, a real estate agent named Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) makes his way out to the notorious Count Orlok’s castle and ends up getting more than he bargained for. The film explores the power of darkness and desire in effective ways, displaying the all-consuming spirit of these things through parallel symbols and events.

Hutter, the main character of the tale, is a childlike buffoon of a man and this characterization is played to the extreme by Gustav von Wangenheim. While I truly think that his character was meant to be a little over-the-top, it is apparent that Wangenheim played it to a near-cartoonish level. At the same time, I think Murnau may have meant for the character to be like this in order to accentuate the blissful ignorance that society often displays, even when danger is staring it in the face. The question of whether this was his actual intention is open to debate, but I certainly feel that it is a possibility. Murnau was no fool, and even though over-acting was fairly commonplace (And at times, necessary) in the silent era, I think he had Wangenheim do this for a reason. You notice that Greta Schroder (Ellen) and Max Schreck (Count Orlok) are really the only ones not particularly prone to overacting in the film, as their characters were separate from society in their mannerisms and feelings. Thus, their representations differ from those of the majority of characters in the film.

This brings me to the message of the film. It is undeniable that evil plays a very big part of the story, as it appears to be everywhere. It is present in the city, where Count Orlok’s minion, Knock (Alexander Granach) works unsuspectingly in the real estate business until his true nature is discovered. It is present in the countryside, where an elusive werewolf terrorizes horses in the fields. And, it is most palpable in the domain of the widely-feared Count Orlok. As Hutter approaches the Count’s castle, the film experiences a tonal shift. With the appearance of a ghostly carriage and its bony horses comes a strong sense of foreboding. The fact that the man helming the carriage bears a strong resemblance to Count Orlok makes the scene when we first meet the Count all the creepier. It is Schreck’s frighteningly gaunt character that ultimately drives the “terror” which the film claims to be a symphony of. He is a reclusive, yet unabashedly sinister person and just the image of him emerging from a dim tunnel in the castle sent shivers through this viewer.

After Hutter is bitten by the Count, there is a subtle implication that something has transferred from Orlok to Hutter. It is around this time that Hutter’s wife, Ellen begins to have visions of Hutter and Nosferatu and rises in the night to sleepwalk on the balcony. The effects of the Count’s evil doings begin to spread and later on, the fear of the plague heightens back in the city. This is another example of Murnau expressing evil beings present in different forms in all places. Like the plague, Nosferatu has a mystique about him and when he is witnessed, he is a shocking sight to behold. But, there is also something more to his character. He possesses a desire to drink the blood of a woman, and it is shown that through Hutter, Nosferatu may have found a way to get to his (Hutter’s) wife.
However, it is around this point in the story that Murnau decides to step aside for a moment to further express the idea of malevolence in nature. There is a scene or two in the film in which scientists are studying various plants/animals/organisms in nature that have seemingly sinister characteristics. This is where the film began to lose me. The presence of wickedness in nature is made clear many times throughout the film, and the inclusion of those scenes felt heavy-handed. Murnau completely steps away from the story to address something that is, in fact, in line with the film’s themes, and this is usually acceptable, but here, it feels out of place and just more of the same. There is also the confusion of the scene in which Hutter escapes out the window of his bedroom directly after a scene in which he is seen walking freely about the castle in daytime. The former scene implies that he was locked in the room, but the preceding scene renders that assumption false. Hutter’s fall injures him which causes him to lie in bed for a few days before returning home. I think this is a fairly important plot point, but the juxtaposition of scenes provides much confusion as to why he had to go through the window in the first place. It could just be me nit-picking, but I feel that that was important to point out. These are not huge detractions, but these scenes in particular stick out to me as being unneeded, excessive, or mishandled.

In the end, Nosferatu reaches the city by boat and kills all onboard. Once there, the rats (Again, there is the recurring theme of wickedness existing prevalently in nature) begin to spread disease and there is much chaos. Knock escapes from his jail cell and the townspeople direct their plague-caused paranoia on the hideous escapee- who is the nearest source of malevolence. In one of the final scenes, Nosferatu approaches Ellen who senses his arrival. Perhaps the best shot of the entire film comes when only the shadow of Nosferatu is seen against a wall as he creeps up the stairs towards Ellen’s room. Eventually he enters the room and bites her. He later rises from the bed and fades away as he is hit by the morning sun shining through the window. It might have been the realization of his sinister goal that distracted Nosferatu from seeing the open window, but no matter what it was that caused him to proceed without caution, it is stated that with the Count’s disappearance, people ceased to die from the sickness and the vampire’s stifling shadow was no longer felt. Soon after Nosferatu’s death, Hutter finds his beloved dead and the film concludes with a shot of Nosferatu’s desolate castle. Murnau brings the rapid buildup of startling events to an abrupt close with this ending, but he certainly gets his point across in the process. I could likely go on for another two pages in exploration of this intriguing film, but this feels as good a time as any to stop. In conclusion, I will say that Nosferatu is a haunting film with captivating direction and masterful camerawork which continues to influence horror today.
4.5 out of 5 stars

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