There is something very powerful about a silent film. Destiny was no exception. The story follows a woman who loses her husband to Death. After stopping at an inn, she wakes up to find that he has vanished. On the outskirts of the city is a large stone wall encroaching an area that seems unreachable. It is this moment when the woman sees her husband’s spirit, accompanied with many other spirits, pass through the wall.
The woman meets Death, a meloncholy, gray haired man who resembles a tired, gentle grandpa. He reveals he can’t reunite the lovers since he be violating God’s laws. He shows her a room of candles, the candles of each person’s life, and says that each person only has so much time before their candle blows out. This is the point of the movie I started noticing contemporary symbolism, motifs, and even camera shots and angles that we see everyday in film. It made me think that really, these ideas were first originated at some point, and have been used ever since. How interesting it is to find out many of the modern styles and modes of film were created almost a century ago, and are still utilized today.
Death says that if the woman can save any of three lives about to blow out, then she can have her love back. Then the film presents three separate vignettes each containing a love story that ends in a lover’s death. One is set in the Middle East with the Turks, another in Italy, and the final in China. Each story presents a powerful dictator who eventually kills one of the lovers.
The woman cannot save any of the people, and Death makes her one final offer: in exchange for her lover’s life, she must find another to take his place. She asks the old man who took her in for his life, as he is old. The beggar, for he is useless. The old hags, for they yearn for death. They all recoil from the woman. Finally, in a hospital fire, she has the opportunity to give a small infant to Death, but chooses not to. Death takes her to her love, since her time is up now anyway.
More than the film, I enjoyed a discussion with a couple classmates about how the film relates to Modernism afterward. Form was a critical element of Modernism. The use of special effects was a way of reinterpreting film and photography during the Modern period. The use of lithiography or writing on top of the film, magical element of fading in and out characters as spirits, the flying carpet of the Chinese Magician, these were all types of special effects which were utilized because of Modernism, which tried to oppose old ways of thinking and art.
The actual material also demonstrated Modernist Motifs. The portrayal of Death was seen not as an evil skeleton wanting to steal lives, but as an objective man abiding by a law. Science had emerged in Medicine during the late 19th century with Germ theory, anesthesia, and morbid anatomy. There was a transition from viewing life and death as polar opposites, where death stole life, to both acting as corollary or together. It was more viewed as death just being a part of life. Therefore, death was reinterpreted not as a bad thing, but as objective and universal.
In addition, there was much talk of God, but not necessarily a Christian God. In fact, several different cultures had different takes on God during the film, such as the Muslims and Allah. At the end of the film, one fountain even had a statue that looked like and Indian God to me. This was a way of reinterpreting a single, true religion as being a universal truth that existed with different views (chinese, Turkish, Italian, etc).
The film also reinterpreted the belief that love can conquer all. In the end, love didn’t conquer death. I think Romantics viewed love, and emotional love as a powerful solution, or a way to overcome difficulty, even death. Modernism reconsiders this view, which follows logical suit since the horrors of World War I influenced people so heavily. Even though the film ends with a somewhat happy ending where both lovers are reunited in spirit, we still see that Death won. Maybe it’s not just about love being subverted, but also the idea that good triumphs over evil. Death isn’t even considered evil here, so maybe the movie is saying that there is no good and evil.
Another comment would be that there was no central setting to the film. It took place all over the world in separate and distinct countries. Modernism could be described as an ideology that has no center, or that has no central structure that supports everything else. This is embodied in the setting choices.
Modernism can be quite hard, at least for me, to articulate or conceptualize. One classmate commented that Modernist thinkers usually picked out a single element, and subverted it alone, keeping every other aspect about an ideology the same. For instance, in Art with the emergence of photography, we would see a man painted descending a staircase as a frozen microstate: in other words, he would be portrayed taking a step frozen in time. Photography could be used to show the same man walking down the entire staircase as a blur, since the light exposure could be allowed a greater capture time causing a blurred subject passing down all the stairs. Modernists would say this is the reality of the subject, not the freeze-frame. Thus, art began to be portrayed not as still life, but as cuboidal, or began merging 2D and 3D (Picasso does this).
This is the conclusion of the movie, not my conclusion. I am just trying to illustrate this new interpretation on life because of Modernism. It was bleak, probably because it was post World War I.