2 January 2002 | Snow Leopard
An Artistic Masterpiece & Also A Joy To Watch
This is one of the few movies that fully deserves all the raves that it gets. Some movies are artistic masterpieces more to be admired than enjoyed, leaving the viewer feeling a little distant; other movies can be enjoyable and satisfying to watch, but with obvious artistic defects. "Sunrise" is a nearly perfect movie that is impressive in every detail, and it is also a joy to watch, offering moments of suspense and tension and other moments of humor and humanity.
The story provides a very thoughtful look at the importance and the fragile nature of human relationships. Janet Gaynor is wonderful as the wife - she is always believable, endearing, and completely sympathetic. George O'Brien is also good as the husband, and both of their performances are enhanced by director Murnau's use of their body language. There are also many minor touches in the settings and action that help guide the story and the mood, and it is all complemented by some fine camera work. The first time you watch the film, your attention is fixed on the leading couple, as you hope against hope that things will work out all right for them. Repeated viewings reveal many of the other fine details that make everything work so well.
The movie also has plenty of variety and a masterful structure. The first part and the last part are tense and full of suspense, but they sandwich a very enjoyable series of lighter vignettes in the middle, which make a perfect complement both to the story and to the tone of the movie.
It is very difficult these days to track down this movie, which is a real shame, and even when you do find it you generally have to make do with a rather fuzzy or defective print. But it is well worth the trouble, and "Sunrise" is highly recommended to any silent film fan or to anyone who can appreciate a movie made the way that movies ought to be made. It is not only one of the great masterpieces of the silent era, but is as good a film as any made since.