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Film / Pandora's Box

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Pandora's Box (Die Büchse der Pandora) is a 1929 German silent drama film directed by G. W. Pabst and starring Louise Brooks. It is widely regarded as one of the all-time classics of Weimar cinema, as well as the greatest role of Brooks's career.

The film centers around Lulu, a sexually uninhibited young woman who is the mistress of Dr. Ludwig Schön, a Berlin newspaper publisher. Dr. Schön comes to tell her that they must break off their affair because he has gotten engaged to Charlotte von Zarnikow, the Minister of the Interior's daughter. Lulu refuses to accept this, but when Dr. Schön meets Schigolch, an unsavory old man who appears to be her former pimp, he stalks out of her apartment.

Meanwhile Lulu has made friends with Dr. Schön's son Alwa, and Alwa's friend Countess Augusta Geschwitz, both of whom clearly have feelings for her. She's hired as a dancer in the musical revue that Alwa is staging, but refuses to go on when Dr. Schön shows up with his fiancée in tow. Schön tries to force Lulu to perform, they kiss, and Charlotte sees them kissing. Lulu, triumphant, winds up marrying Dr. Schön herself... but things do not turn out well for either of them.

Pabst had tried to borrow Brooks from Paramount, where she was under contract, but the studio had refused. Eventually Brooks broke her contract and went to Europe to make the movie. It briefly made her an international star, and Pabst immediately cast her in another silent melodrama, Diary of a Lost Girl. After she returned to Hollywood, however, Brooks's "difficult" reputation led to her becoming effectively blackballed and her career tanked in the '30s. Pandora's Box is remembered today as one of the last great silent movies, with an attitude towards sexuality that was decades ahead of its time. It's one of the oldest movies listed in Danny Peary's book Cult Movies.


  • Blackmail: In Act 7, both the Marquis Casti-Piani and Rodrigo Quast threaten to turn Lulu over to the German police if she doesn't do as they ask (in the former case, allow herself to be sold to an Egyptian brothel owner, supposedly because the police won't look for her there; in the latter case, put up 20,000 francs for a new variety show).
  • Blood from the Mouth: Dr. Schön, after he's shot with his own gun.
  • Bullet Holes and Revelations: After the Gun Struggle between Lulu and Dr. Schön, there is a gunshot and both characters remain still for an extended period. Then Schön walks away.
  • Crappy Holidays: Christmas Eve is hardly a joyous affair for Lulu and Alwa, even before Lulu gets murdered by Jack the Ripper.
  • Downer Ending: Lulu gets killed by Jack, and Alwa, unaware of her fate, descends into despair and listlessly follows a passing Salvation Army band.
  • Dying Candle: The candle goes out when Jack kills Lulu.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: The Countess is clearly in love with Lulu and allows her to flee Berlin using her passport when she needs to escape a five-year prison sentence for manslaughter. This was a very early (probably the first) depiction of lesbianism in film.
  • Fixing the Game: Alwa is getting cleaned out at the gambling table, so Schigolch gives him some cards to put up his sleeve. It works — until Alwa's caught.
  • The Flapper: Lulu, with her '20s Bob Haircut, slinky dresses, and open sexuality, is a Trope Maker.
  • Foreshadowing: Dr. Schön resigns himself to marrying Lulu, saying "It will be the death of me!" It is.
  • From Bad to Worse: The second half of the film shows Lulu's situation spiralling ever downwards.
    • In Act 4, at the reception for her wedding to Dr. Schön, he finds her with Schigolch and Quast and draws a gun on them, then orders her to kill herself; in the ensuing struggle, she kills him instead, and she is found by Alwa and arrested.
    • In Acts 5 and 6, she is convicted of manslaughter, and although Schigolch and Quast pull a false fire alarm and help her escape in the chaos, she is forced to flee the country with help from Alwa and the Countess. When their fellow train passenger, the Marquis Casti-Piani, recognises Lulu from a "Wanted!" Poster, he offers his silence if they'll accept his recommendation to hide on a floating gambling den instead of going to Paris.
    • In Act 7, Alwa is trying and failing to raise money by gambling, while the Marquis tries to sell Lulu to an Egyptian brothel owner and Quast tries to Blackmail Lulu into getting Alwa and/or the Countess to bankroll his new revue, or he'll turn her in. Schigolch tries to help Alwa with a marked deck, but he is unmasked as a cheat, and after the Countess kills Quast on Lulu's behalf, Lulu, Alwa, and Schigolch flee to London.
    • And by Act 8, Lulu has been reduced to prostitution while she, Alwa, and Schigolch live in poverty in a dirty London garret. On Christmas Eve, she entertains a client who turns out to be Jack the Ripper, and although he is entranced by her beauty and decides not to kill her, he ends up changing his mind.
  • Gun Struggle: After Dr. Schön snaps and demands Lulu kill herself, they fight over the gun, then a puff of smoke reveals that someone has pulled the trigger.
  • High-Class Glass: Dr. Schön and the prosecutor at Lulu's manslaughter trial both wear monocles to mark themselves as respectable members of the German upper class.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Things look like they could turn around at the gambling ship when Alwa starts winning at the cards. But then he gets busted, and he, Lulu, and Schigolch are forced to flee to London.
    • The Ripper is so enchanted by Lulu that he drops his knife. But as she nuzzles up against him in her little trick pad, he sees another knife on the table. So he kills her.
  • Ominous Fog: The film concludes with Lulu meeting Jack the Ripper on a foggy Christmas Eve in London.
  • Poverty Food: In London, the protagonists are shown eating dried bread as a meal. The loaf is so stale that Lulu can't even get a knife into it and has to rip it apart with her bare hands.
  • Really Gets Around: Lulu likes to sleep around, and she doesn't feel bad about it.
  • Reclining Venus: Lulu seduced Dr. Schön in this pose on the couch of his apartment.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Lulu wears one for the stage show.
  • Streetwalker: Lulu's fate after she, Alwa, and Schigolch have been reduced to poverty in a dirty London garret.
  • Title Drop: The prosecutor in her trial says that Lulu is like Pandora, luring men with her beauty but bringing evil.
  • Translation Convention: A poster, on the streets of London, in German.
  • The Unreveal: Just what is Schigolch's relationship with Lulu? Her father? (She claims this in one scene.) Her pimp? Both?
  • The Vamp: Lulu uses her sexuality to manipulate Dr. Schön into marrying her instead of breaking off their affair to marry Charlotte, Alwa into helping her flee the country after she goes on the lam, and even the Countess, whom she strongarms into seducing (and killing) Quast when he threatens to turn her in if she doesn't bankroll his new revue.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: There is a mugshot of Lulu in the papers with a reward on her head of 5,000 Mark.