walter schulze-mittendorff destiny



  1. 5. The Film‘s Plot

Death manifests out of the fog as a human figure, a grim looking stranger wearing a broad-rimmed hat. He owns a garden in a dreamy little village, just beside the cemetery, separated from the outside world by an insurmountable, high wall. Nobody gets there, except through him, through Death. This humanized death will not allow dying to just happen; like a robber, he removes a human life and takes it to his kingdom inside the fenced garden.

The gloomy stranger trails a young bridal couple who stop off at a tavern on their journey through. After the bride's short absence the stranger and her groom have disappeared without a trace. In her desperate search for her beloved, the bride gets to the wall that encloses the garden of Death. Overcome by sorrow, she breaks down and has a vision of the dead people's spirits, her fiancé among them, walking through the wall.

The pharmacist finds her and takes her with him to his pharmacy. There she discovers the words from the Song of Solomon in an opened book: "For love is strong as death". She reaches for a vial, possibly containing a magic potion, that may have the power to take her back to the wall at the garden of Death. In any case she suddenly finds herself in front of the garden’s gateway which now mysteriously opens for her. It is eleven o'clock at night.

Walter Schulze-Mittendorff, right.

He plays one of the pursuers in the chapter: ‚The Story of the Second Light’, the epoch of the Italian Renaissance.

The pursuers are given the order for murder.

©: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation

Death greets her with the words:

What are you seeking here in my realm, child? I have not summoned you!

She answers him:

I want to go where my beloved is!

He takes her to a cathedral full of burning candles. Death explains to her they belong to lives that will eventually be extinguished, according to God's will, her lover's time had come:

Believe me, my task is hard! It is a curse! I am weary of seeing the sufferings of man and of earning hatred for obeying God.

Oh death“, she asks him, is there no way to revive an extinguished light?

Wearily he shakes his head. She pleads with him, asking:

Is there no way to overcome you? I believe: Love is stronger than Death!

Is your love stronger than Death? Do you want to struggle with me, who is eternal? I would truly bless you, were you able to conquer me,“ Death answers her.

Softened by her pleading, he consents:

Look at these three lights flickering out. I place in your hands the chance to save them! If you succeed, even with only one of them, I will give your loved one's life to you!

Walter Schulze-Mittendorff, Head of the Asian Deity,

a tear of blood flowing from her right eye.

Lil Dagover is the character of the beloved; the face of the deity emulates the actress's features.

©: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation

The bride now experiences herself as the beloved in three consecutive cultural episodes: the Arabian culture, the Italian Renaissance, and the Chinese culture.  These three cultures stand for the three candle-lights that are burning down. At all times the bride endeavours to save the life of her beloved and fails in doing so, each time a candle-light is extinguished. Even when in the 'Story of the Third Light' she freezes into a Chinese deity through magic powers and tries to protect the beloved in this manner, he cannot escape death. The Asian deity appears as a combination of the multi-armed Indian god Shiva and the Chinese mother goddess Kuan Yin. Here, she mourns the death of her beloved with a tear of blood, an analogy to the Christian Mother of God who weeps tears of blood. No god can save man from the mystery which is death, for death is the gate to the Kingdom of God.

The bride is given one last chance by Death, the gloomy stranger, to light the candle of her fiancé once more. If she were to find a human being, no matter how old, willing to give their life, then she would be given back the life of her beloved.

She awakens from her trance in the pharmacy, holding the bottle with the potion in her hand. It is still eleven o'clock at night. The pharmacist rushes to her side, and she recognizes in him an old man with only a short time left to live. She asks him for his life; horrified, he pushes the young woman out the door: „ Not one day – not one hour – not one breath!!“

She asks the beggar if he would wish to end his suffering, and he greedily leans towards her as if he were about to receive a treasure. But when she asks of him: „Give me your life–“ he is outraged and sets his dog on her: „Not one day – not one hour – not one breath!!“

She comes to the hospital. There she overhears a round of old people lamenting the death of a young man who just died while to them, who were not even keen on waking the next morning, death would refuse to come. Full of joy she approaches the old ones and asks them "for compassion's sake" to give her one of their lives. As if on cue all run away at once, their frailty not holding them back at all. In all the hurry a candle topples and the hospital catches fire. The occupants rush out to the street, but the helpers and rescuers forget a newborn child inside the house. When the rescued mother regains consciousness she cries out: "My baby – !!"

The beloved runs back into the burning house: This is the life she needs in exchange for that of her lover. As she takes the baby up in her arms, Death appears behind her with outstretched hands. She turns around to give him the child. Death looks at her, not reaching out to take the child but waiting until she will give it to him. At the last moment she changes her mind, she shakes her head and presses the baby close to her, and in a moment lowers it down from the window into the arms of its mother. Inside the burning house she gave her life for that of the child. Now Death takes her back with him and to the side of her beloved: „Who gives his life away shall gain it.“ The beloved rises from his deathbed and, united with Death, the bridal couple walks away.

Walter Schulze-Mittendorff, left.

The pursuers doing their foul work.

The beloved, centre, cannot escape Death.

©: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation

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