Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

dir. F.W. Murnau

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

dir. F.W. Murnau

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

Skip to schedule and film credits
F.W. Murnau's visionary tale of love imperilled and rekindled is considered the pinnacle of silent film art.
Considered the pinnacle of silent film art, Sunrise landed at the #5 position in Sight & Sound's recent poll. (Going its British counterpart several steps better, Cahiers du cinéma once pronounced Sunrise the greatest film ever made.) Subtitled A Song of Two Humans, Sunrise is indeed musical in its orchestration of light and shadow, night and fog, movement and stillness. A triumphant wedding of naturalism and abstraction, of European style with American narrative, Sunrise lavishes visual invention on a simple plot: a temptress from the city enters the rural Eden of a young couple and convinces the husband (George O'Brien) to drown his wife (the luminous Janet Gaynor, who won the very first Academy Award® for Best Actress). Murnau and his team drew on the influences of German Expressionism and French Impressionism for the film's stylized sets, balletic camera work, and shimmering mise en scène; among the many famous sequences are O'Brien's trek through a swamp to rendezvous with the city woman, a restaurant dinner that is a study in silhouettes, and two trolley rides that, as so many things in the film do, mirror each other. "Sunrise is a great film; a landmark in the use of a moving camera; and of crucial importance in showing how genre cinema may be complemented by the gravity of a true artist's feelings. Sunrise is a world of art made out of a novelette" (David Thomson).