My first experience of the German expressionist movement came from the classic films, Metropolis and M. It was a highly influential period of filmmaking that had a deep and lasting impact on the craft through various lighting techniques and camera techniques.
Released a century ago Destiny is a great example of Lang’s work. It is evidently inspired by an Indian folktale called Savitri and Satyavan and is essentially a story that questions where love can triumph and win over death? In this case, it focuses on a young couple who inadvertently pickup a “Death” who is posing as a hitchhiker, only to have the male partner taken from the female. Distraught, she pleads with Death for the return of her lover, and being the good sport that he is, Death acquiesces on the provision that she prevents one of the three candles (representations of life in balance) from being snuffed out.
The tale is told across three distinctive sections: The Story of the First Light; The Story of the Second Light; and The Story of the Third Light, all of which play out the female lovers’ attempts to save a life in the name of love. Unfortunately she fails on all three accounts.
Once again though, Death proves he’s not such a heartless bastard and give the female lover one last chance in what ends up being the most riveting and complex moments of the film. With the power to win back her lover, the young woman is conflicted about the actual charge of ending another’s life in order to do so. This age-old predicament sees the woman honing in on the elderly to see if they would be willing to end their lives in the name of love, and even at one point she contemplates murder when brough to drastic measures. When a fire breaks out in a local building, a baby becomes trapped, and in doing so becomes a potential soul that could be taken in exchange for love. But can the young woman bring about the end of such a young life for the sake of her own happiness?
It is these questions that elevates Destiny onto a higher critical plane, which is remarkably well received among its homegrown German audience. It would only be when accepted by the French film-going community, that it would become more accepted. It has since become earmarked as an early pioneer in film-making and embraced for its bold, stylised visuals. It is noted in particular for having a profound effect on both Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock respectively and evidence of this can be found in a number of their films.
It also further cements my own passion for Fritz Lang’s work and German Expressionism.
- Saul Muerte