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Film / The Golem

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Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem, How He Came into the World) is a 1920 German silent horror film, co-written, co-directed, and starring Paul Wegener, about the origins of the Golem of Prague. It is one of the earliest and most influential Expressionist films and is considered a masterpiece of the German silent cinema. Wegener had produced two earlier films using the character, Der Golem (1915), a mostly lost film telling a somewhat similar story, and Der Golem und die Tänzerin (The Golem and the Dancing Girl) (1917), in which an actor (clearly Wegener playing an Expy of himself) puts on the make-up of his monster role as a prank on a dancing-girl whom he is interested in.

The film would influence later horror films profoundly, in particular James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (as, for instance, the monster's playing with an innocent little girl).

This film is in the public domain, and several versions are available on YouTube.

Not to be confused with the 2018 movie of the same name.

The Golem, How He Came Into the World provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Florian is kind of a jackass when interacting with anyone except Miriam, so no one feels particularly bad when the Golem confronts him.
  • The Apprentice: The Famulus (As You Know, 'famulus' means 'apprentice').
  • Artificial Human: Though in contrast to the source legend, the non-natural origin of the movie Golem is always obvious.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Not that the Hebrew in the film is very accurate, but it is surprisingly loyal to the kabbalistic roots of the tale. The word "Aemaet" - אמת, which is used to give the Golem life means "Truth". Once the first letter is erased, it creates a new word, "Met" - מת, which means "dead".
    • The word "Golem" itself means cocoon or pupa in Hebrew. In both contexts, the word represents an unknown potential of life.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The Ghetto is a jumbled array of artificially crooked buildings.
  • Blank Slate: The Golem.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Golem doesn't seem to be actively benign or malicious, he is simply incapable to really grasp the world around him.
  • Bowdlerise: In one English-language version of the film, presumably out of hypersensitivity over potential antisemitic interpretations, the Jewish characters are simply described in the intertitles as being members of "a mystical brotherhood".
  • Celestial Deadline: The demon Astaroth can only be summoned when a certain astronomical configuration occurs. Another configuration is supposedly the reason for the Golem rebelling.
  • Colour Wash: Most scenes are tinted, in a variety of colours. The strength of the tint varies between prints and restorations.
  • Creating Life Is Bad ... or at least dangerous: "If you have brought the dead to life through magic, beware of that life."
  • The Dandy: The foppish Knight Florian.
  • The Dark Arts: The Rabbi is an all-arounder versed in Astrology, alchemy, and various kinds of Magic.
  • Descending Ceiling: When the conjuring at the Emperor's palace goes awry.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's not too daring to assume the Golem mirrors the Jews' status as outsiders and their quest for societal acceptance.
  • Dumb Muscle: The Golem. Demonstrated nicely when the Golem breaks the massive bar of the Ghetto gate to burst it open — instead of just lifting it by the appropriate handle.
  • The Emperor: Called Ludwig in the movie, a fictitious replacement for the real-life Rudolf II. Somewhat autocratic and unpredictable, but not really evil, though.
  • The End... Or Is It?: The magical star that awakens the Golem (and, if the book text is to be believed, can be used to reanimate the dead) was last seen in the hands of a little girl, who may still have it after the end of the story.
  • Functional Magic: The Rabbi summons a demon, creates a Golem, conjures an illusion and magically stalls a fire.
  • Gentle Giant: The Golem at the end, undergoing a (seemingly) spontaneous Heel–Face Turn.
  • Golem: The main subject of the film is Mr. Prague himself!
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The fearsome demon Astaroth, whose evil will influences the Golem.
  • Language of Magic: Hebrew, apparently.
  • Literal Genie: Implied — the Golem follows orders, but little seems to grasp their sense.
  • Load-Bearing Hero: The Golem's great moment.
  • Love Triangle: Both Florian and the Famulus love — or at least covet — Miriam.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Played with. The learned Rabbi's only child, beautiful Miriam, falls promptly in a forbidden love with the Christian knight Florian. However, Florian is not exactly a hero, and the romance is cut short by Florian's death. Also, the Rabbi is neither mad nor evil, even though his creation runs out of control.
  • Mars Needs Women: The Golem appears momentarily enraptured by Miriam, but loses interest soon.
  • Mundane Utility: The Rabbi claims that the Golem's aim is to save the Jews, but the first task we see that stupendous achievement of the occult arts do is chopping wood. The second is going shopping.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Even though the Rabbi's book purports that the Golem will inevitably turn evil, at closer watch he seems not so much evil but just misunderstood, clumsy, and unable to comprehend the world around him.
  • "Open!" Says Me: The Golem breaks open both the door to Miriam's room and in the end, the Ghetto gate.
  • Pivotal Wake-up: Interestingly, the Golem does this when the Famulus wakes him (minus the coffin).
  • Prequel: As the ending is ambiguous on whether the Golem gets destroyed or not, the movie can be seen as a prequel to Wegener's first Golem film.
  • Red Herring Twist: The "romance" between Knight Florian and Miriam is more or less a deliberate misdirection of the audience's expectations.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: With his pointy hat and flowing robe, the Rabbi's appearance comes rather close to the textbook image of a wizard. He also has a different, even more magnificent hat specifically for summoning demons.
  • Rooftop Confrontation: Between the Golem and Knight Florian.
  • Shout-Out: Astaroth is Ars Goetia demon #29.
  • Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains: The Golem is a type IV — he is not actually evil, just dumb, misused, and resentful of being deactivated.
  • Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot: The Famulus unwisely reviving the Golem.
  • Speech Bubble: The magic word — AEMAET — appears as a writing hovering in the air in front of the demon's mouth.
  • The Speechless: The Golem, faithful to traditional Golem lore.
  • Standard Royal Court: Complete with Requisite Royal Regalia, a Court Jester, and Knights In Shining Armor.
  • Summoning Ritual: To conjure Astaroth. Magic Wand and Magical Gesturing required.
  • Super-Strength: The Golem is far stronger than a man.
  • Techno Babble: Some of the astrological instructions in the Rabbi's book ("When Uranus enters the house of the planets...") are nonsense (there is no "house of the planets").
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The books that teach the Rabbi how to create the Golem.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Golem does not like being deactivated.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: The Rabbi never explained how the Golem was supposed to save the Jews from The Emperor, and the Golem eventually fulfilling this task appears more like a result of random events. This leaves room for four interpretations:
  • Urban Segregation: The Ghetto. The massive gate is always closed, and anyone passing in or out of the Ghetto is a cumbersome procedure each time.
  • What a Drag: Poor Miriam is dragged through the streets by her pigtails.
  • Wizard Beard: The Rabbi has one. Also, his hair would pass as Einstein Hair, had the trope existed at the time.
  • Words of Power: AEMAET.