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Film / The Land Beyond the Sunset

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Where he lived happily ever after.
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The Land Beyond The Sunset is a 1912 film from Thomas Edison's studio that feels decades ahead of its time. Joe is a young boy living in the depths of poverty in New York, eking out an existence selling newspapers, going home to a filthy little apartment and a grandmother that beats him. One day, a well-dressed lady on the streets gives Joe a ticket to an outing organized by the Fresh Air Fund, a real-life charity which still exists, which takes inner-city poor kids on trips to the countryside.

Joe and the other kids go on an outing to the country, where they have a picnic. They listen to a fairy tale (acted out onscreen) in which some kind fairies save a boy from beatings by an evil witch, and put him in a boat which they sail to "the Land Beyond the Sunset". Joe, remembering how his grandmother beats him, hides and stays behind as the other kids leave. He makes his way down to the beach, where he sees a boat. Inspired, Joe gets in the boat and drifts away.

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This moving, heartbreaking film was inducted into the National Film Registry.


Tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Joe's grandmother beats him, and takes all his newspaper money, probably spending it on liquor.
  • The Alcoholic: Grandma is shown clutching a bottle.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Namely, a place with such terrible poverty that a charity exists to give the ragged children in the slums a chance to get the hell out of town for an afternoon.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The first shot is of Joe on a bare stage, hawking his newspapers. He offers one right to the camera, before the film cuts to a more realistic scene of Joe selling his papers on the streets. Later, in the fairy tale sequence, the fairies look into the camera after they send the little boy away on the boat.
  • Broken Aesop: The Fresh Air Fund collaborated with Edison's studio in producing a film that was supposed to be an advertisement for the good that outings to the country could do for poor urban kids. Hopefully in Real Life they did a head count when taking the kids back, rather than leaving one behind to drift off to his death.
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  • Children Are Innocent: Poor Joe. Poor, poor Joe.
  • Crapsack World: The slums of 1912 New York.
  • Downer Ending / Gainax Ending / No Ending: If one takes the ending literally, the boy has cast himself adrift into what looks like the open ocean, with nothing to eat or drink, without even an oar, almost certainly to his death. This ending is so sad and tragic that it's tempting to view it as symbolic or allegorical.
  • Riding into the Sunset: Sailing. And it's either incredibly depressing or uplifting, depending on how one takes the ending. The final shot is beautiful.
  • The Runaway: Joe sails away.
  • Suicide by Sea: An ambiguous example, depending on whether one interprets the ending to mean that 1) Joe sails away to his death and 2) he did it deliberately.
  • Title Drop: In the fairy tale, when the fairies send the boy out on the water:
    "...his little fairy friends were guiding the boat out to sea.... to the Land Beyond the Sunset, where he lived happily ever after."
    • And the last title card:
    "and he drifted to the land beyond the sunset."
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