The title character, an aspiring painter, has become the favorite model of a great artist named Claude Zoret, a.k.a. "the Master." For a few years, they share a, ahem, close relationship. But all that changes when Countess Lucia Zamikow asks for Zoret to paint her portrait. Before long, the bisexual Michael falls for the charms of the Countess, leaving Zoret alone and broken.
The film was based on the 1902 novel Mikaël by Herman Bang. The story was previously adapted as a film under the title The Wings in 1916.
This film has the examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: This being a film of the 1920s, it's never spelled out that Zoret and Michael's relationship is homosexual in nature.
- Impoverished Patrician: The Countess is said to be one.
- Last-Name Basis: Michael is the titular character's last name. It's only at the very end of the film that it's revealed that his first name is Eugene.
- Like a Son to Me: This is totally the nature of Zoret's relationship with Michael. After all, that's what they tell us.
- Love Triangle: The film centers around the love triangle of Zoret, Michael, and the Countess.
- Magnum Opus: After being abandoned by Michael, Zoret creates his masterpiece. It's a painting of an old man who has lost everything. Subtle.
- The Muse: Michael is one for Zoret. And more.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Claude Zoret has often been interpreted as a fictionalized Auguste Rodin or perhaps Claude Monet.
- Show Within a Show: Michael takes the Countess to see a production of Swan Lake.