Directed by F.W. Murnau, this silent film follows the lives of a man and his wife. A woman from the city meets the man and suggests that he drown his wife and sell his farm so they can be together. Then, the man takes his innocent wife out on the lake with evil intentions. He is about to go through with it, but ultimately cannot. The wife flees and they take a trolley to the city. The man asks for her forgiveness, and they walk through the city finally reconciled. Over the day they get their picture taken, go in a barber shop, and have fun at an amusement park. They travel back home by boat and then a massive storm hits. The man searches for his wife to no avail, and then he encounters the exuberant city woman. In his anger, he begins to choke her, but his wife is still alive! He rushes to her bedside and they kiss. This film is wonderfully complex and artistic for a film without any talking. Unlike Chaplin or Keaton this is a great dramatic silent film that does not utilize slapstick comedy, and yet it still finds ways to be funny.
I had forgotten just how funny this film is in parts, and it nicely complements the very memorable love story. Visually this film is extraordinary with its multitude of landscape and city scenes that often overlap and are superimposed on one another. In this aspect, it reminds me of the experimental visuals of Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. However, this film is very atmospheric and more emotion-filled than the other film. Furthermore, despite the lack of real dialogue, it is almost a misnomer to call this movie “silent.” It most certainly features sound, which often dominates certain sequences and also adds a great deal of feeling to the romance and cityscape. Sometimes it is the chime of bells, the honking of horns, intense background music, or just lively street chatter. Despite the general story of redemptive love that dominates Sunrise, there are also some charming asides during the visit to the city. Each and every stop has a surprise, whether it is a suitor in the barbershop, the couple posing for the camera, the slipping of a strap on a lady’s dress, or a drunken pig on the loose at the carnival. Ultimately, the film reverts back to this song of two humans, and the temptation of the city and that type of woman loses its luster in comparison to nature’s sunrise and the innocent wife. It is a wonderful allegory and Murnau skillfully develops the cinematic space in unconventional and interesting ways.