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Film / Faust

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Faust (Faust – Eine deutsche Volkssage—"Faust, a German Folk Tale") is a 1926 film directed by F.W. Murnau, starring Emil Jannings.

It is an adaptation of the story of Faust, taking some clues from Goethe's play Faust: First Part of the Tragedy but (as the subtitle indicates) is not actually an adaptation of it. An archangel and the demon Mephisto (played by Jannings) argue about whether mankind is naturally good or evil. The angel offers as an example of man's goodness one Faust, an elderly alchemist and scientist who thirsts for knowledge. Mephisto then points to Faust's greed, and his efforts to turn lead into gold. They then make a wager, in which Mephisto bets that he can turn Faust away from God, with Mephisto getting dominion over the earth if he wins.

Mephisto brings plague to Faust's town. Faust, in desperation after he can't save the townspeople from death, calls on the devil to help him. Mephisto appears and offers Faust the power to heal the sick in return for his soul. However, the townspeople chase Faust away after figuring out where his power comes from, and Faust abandons good works, instead asking Mephisto for eternal youth and engaging on a series of hedonistic adventures. Eventually, Faust's appetites focus in on Gretchen (Camilla Horn), a particularly beautiful, innocent maiden.

Murnau's last film before he came to America and made Sunrise. Leni Riefenstahl, who would later become infamous for Triumph of the Will, wanted the part of Gretchen. Lillian Gish was approached to play Gretchen but declined.


  • Artifact Domination: Mephisto leaves a magic necklace in Gretchen's room, which brings her under the power of the devil. She then falls in love with and has sex with Faust.
  • As You Know: Gretchen greets her brother Valentin with "Valentin, my brother!"
  • At the Crossroads: Appropriately enough, the rather serious choice to summon the Devil must take place at a crossroads.
  • The Bet: Between the archangel and Mephisto over whether Faust can be turned to the dark side.
  • Big Bad: Mephisto, who tempts Faust into giving up his soul on a bet with an angel.
  • Black Magic: Mephisto helps Faust heal the sick—but Faust can't help one particular plague victim who is clutching a crucifix.
  • Blood Oath: Mephisto insists on using Faust's blood to sign the contract.
  • Broken Aesop: That The Power of Love ending with Faust and Gretchen ascending to heaven is rather undercut when one considers that Faust's selfishness and lust lead to the deaths of Gretchen and her mother and brother.
  • Deal with the Devil: After healing plague victims doesn't work out, Faust makes a new deal with the devil in which he regains his youth and engages in sensual delights.
  • Death of a Child: Gretchen's baby freezes to death after she hallucinates a cradle and sets it down in the snow.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Surprisingly, Mephisto tries to talk Faust out of seducing Gretchen, suggesting that he go for some of the sluttier "wenches" in town.
  • Evil Plan: Mephisto seeks to drive Faust into depravity to win a bet with an angel.
  • Fanservice: The topless woman, later revealed to be the Duchess of Parma, that Mephisto tempts Faust with.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mephisto acts very cordial and hepful towards Faust offering all his services, but he's actually manipulating him into corrupting his soul.
  • Fountain of Youth: What Faust insists on, and gets, after his original goal of saving the townspeople from plague turns bad.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: When Mephisto first appears to Faust, his eyes are bright shining lights.
  • God-Karting with Beelzebub: Apparently angels and demons like to chat.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Mephisto and the nameless archangel. This film does not have the good angel and bad angel appealing to Faust as they do in the play by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Greed: Mephisto cites this as Faust's flaw, showing how he tries to turn lead into gold.
  • Heroic BSoD: Gretchen suffers through this after her mother and brother die as a result of her sex with Faust.
  • Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Depicted as being brought by Mephisto to Earth in the beginning—although, oddly, Murnau shows only three, War, Plague, and Famine. Death must have been busy.
  • The Ingenue: Innocent, pure Gretchen, first seen by Faust as she's on her way to church.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Faust's sex with Gretchen is interrupted when her mother barges in, and promptly dies of a heart attack from the shock.
  • In the Back: Mephisto makes sure that Valentin loses his duel with Faust by stabbing Valentin in the back.
  • Jackass Genie:
    • Mephisto, having arranged things so Faust finally gets to have sex with Gretchen, arranges for her mother to catch them in the act, and also tells Valentin what's happening.
    • Faust has a serious Be Careful What You Wish For moment towards the end, saying "Damn the delusion of youth!" Mephisto takes this as license to turn Faust into an old man again.
  • Kubrick Stare: Mephisto is given to these, like when he's setting up the one-day trial contract for Faust's soul.
  • Large Ham: Mephisto apparently is very fond of theatrics given his slapstick expressions.
  • Magic Carpet: Faust and Mephisto travel in style.
  • The Matchmaker: A pretty sick example with Mephisto matching Faust up with the Duchess of Parma and with Gretchen—Faust actually calls him a "damned matchmaker."
  • Mood Whiplash: The broad slapstick comedy scenes that occur when Gretchen's aunt drinks her own love potion and falls for Mephisto don't match up well with the rest of the movie.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: The townspeople look to Faust the alchemist to save them from plague. Probably would have happened in Real Life.
  • One-Night-Stand Pregnancy: Gretchen has sex with Faust one time, and gets pregnant.
  • One-Winged Angel: The most dramatic shot occurs early in the film, when the giant form of Mephisto appears as a huge figure towering over Faust's little town. Mephisto then releases a cloud of plague.
  • The Plague: Brought by Mephisto to the town, as shown by a literal black cloud. Faust's inability to stop the death toll is what leads him to call on Satan.
  • The Power of Love: Mephisto thinks that he has won the bet and will rule over Earth. The archangel tells him otherwise, that a single word has defeated him, broken his contract with Faust, and won the bet for the angel. The film ends with a zoom on the word "LIEBE", as Faust's love for Gretchen has saved him.
  • Satan: Or close enough in the form of Mephisto, a high-ranking demon.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Gretchen, formerly innocent and pure and clothed in white, is seen clad in black after she's been deflowered by Faust and her mother and brother have died as a result.
  • Snow Means Death: It certainly does when Gretchen and her illegitimate child, now outcasts from the town, are wandering around in a blizzard starving and freezing to death.
  • Summoning Ritual: In which Faust—having noticed a particular book of spells that Mephisto drew his attention to—goes to a crossroads and conducts the summoning ritual to bring Mephisto to Earth.
  • Together in Death: Gretchen is being burned at the stake when Faust steps onto the pyre with her. They kiss, and are burned together.
  • Winged Soul Flies Off at Death: The souls of Faust and Gretchen are seen ascending to Heaven after their deaths.