Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) - Rotten Tomatoes

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Boasting masterful cinematography to match its well-acted, wonderfully romantic storyline, Sunrise is perhaps the final -- and arguably definitive -- statement of the silent era.

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Movie Info

Considered by many to be the finest silent film ever made by a Hollywood studio, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise represents the art of the wordless cinema at its zenith. Based on the Hermann Sudermann novel A Trip to Tilsit, this "Song of Two Humans" takes place in a colorful farming community, where people from the city regularly take their weekend holidays. Local farmer George O'Brien, happily married to Janet Gaynor, falls under the seductive spell of Margaret Livingston, a temptress from The City. He callously ignores his wife and child and strips his farm of its wealth on behalf of Livingston, but even this fails to satisfy her. One foggy evening, O'Brien meets Livingston at their usual swampland trysting place. She bewitches him with stories about the city -- its jazz, its bright lights, its erotic excitement. Thrilled at the prospect of running off with Livingston, O'Brien stops short: "What about my wife?" Drawing ever closer to her victim, Livingston murmurs "Couldn't she just...drown?" (the subtitle bearing these words then "melts" into nothingness). In his delirium, the husband agrees. The plan is to row Gaynor to the middle of the lake, then capsize the boat. Gaynor will drown, while O'Brien will save himself with some bulrushes that he'd previously hidden in the boat; thus, the murder will look like an accident. The next day, the brooding O'Brien begins slowly rowing his unsuspecting wife across the lake. Halfway to shore, he makes his intentions clear, but is unable to go through with it. As his wife cringes in terror, O'Brien rows to the other side of lake. Once ashore, she runs away from him in terror, as he stumbles after her, trying to apologize. Gaynor boards a streetcar bound for the city, with O'Brien climbing aboard a few seconds afterward. Upon reaching the city (a renowned set design), O'Brien continues trying to make amends to his wife. They sit disconsolately at a table in a restaurant, unable to eat the plate of cake that is set before them. Slowly, Gaynor begins overcoming her fear. The couple wander into a church, where a wedding is taking place. Breaking down in sobs, O'Brien begins repeating the wedding vows, thereby convincing Gaynor that she has nothing to fear. Together again, the couple embraces in the middle of a busy street, oblivious to the honking horns and irate motorists. Anxious to prove to each other that all is well, the husband and wife spend a delightful afternoon having their pictures taken and "dolling up" in a posh barber shop. They cap their unofficial second honeymoon at a joyous festival in an outsized amusement park. More in love with each other than ever before, O'Brien and Gaynor head back across the lake in the dark of night. Suddenly, a storm arises. Pulling out the bulrushes with which he'd planned to save himself, O'Brien straps them onto Janet, telling her to swim to shore. The storm passes. Washing up on shore, the unconscious O'Brien is brought home. But Gaynor is nowhere to be found, and it is assumed that she has died in the storm. Half-insane, O'Brien strikes out at Livingston, the instigator of the murder plan. Just as he is about to throttle the treacherous temptress, he is summoned home; his wife is alive! As Livingston stumbles out of the village, O'Brien and Gaynor cling tightly to one another, watching the sun rise above their now-happy home. Together with Seventh Heaven, Sunrise earned Janet Gaynor the first-ever Best Actress Academy Award, while Charles Rosher and Karl Struss walked home with the industry's first Best Photography Oscar. The film itself was also in the Oscar race, but lost out to the more financially successful Wings.

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Cast

Janet Gaynor
as The Wife
Margaret Livingston
as The Woman from the City
J. Farrell MacDonald
as The Photographer
Jane Winton
as The Manicure Girl
Arthur Housman
as The Obtrusive Gentleman
Eddie Boland
as The Obliging Gentleman
Gibson Gowland
as Angry Motorist
Sidney Bracey
as Danchall Manager
Phillips Smalley
as Head Waiter
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Critic Reviews for Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

All Critics (48) | Top Critics (11)

Rich, strange and gorgeous, F.W. Murnau's Sunrise shows what an artist of the late silent era could accomplish cinematically, backed by an open checkbook and fueled by the highest aspirations even in the simplest of morality tales.

Full Review… | February 25, 2014
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

For his Hollywood début, in 1927, the German director F. W. Murnau brought a slender story to life with a breathtaking display of cinematic virtuosity, creating one of the masterworks of the art form.

Full Review… | February 25, 2014
New Yorker
Top Critic

F.W. Murnau's career-peak nova, the crowning film from that sacred, edge-of-the-abyss year of 1927.

Full Review… | March 31, 2010
Village Voice
Top Critic

In its artistry, dramatic power and graphic suggestion it goes a long way toward realizing the promise of this foreign director in his former works, notably Faust.

Full Review… | February 20, 2008
Variety
Top Critic

Picturesquely soporific.

Full Review… | January 22, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Released in 1927, the last year of silent film, it's a pinnacle of that lost art.

Full Review… | February 13, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

½

The ultimate silent film, released right after the talkies had already become a reality. Featuring some splendid superimpositions and impossible camera movements, this wonderful movie is not only an impressive achievement due to its masterful technique but also a beautiful and incredibly sincere story about love.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

At his mistress's command, a man takes his wife on a boat ride in order to kill her, but he decides against it, and they have a lovely afternoon together. While the cinematography is quite charming and the superimposed images were probably revolutionary and striking in their time, the story of Sunrise is streamlined and not that interesting. We know early that the man isn't going to kill his wife, so there isn't any suspense on the boat, and what follows lacks any real, compelling conflict. Overall, for its technical achievements, Sunrise has been rightly praised, but its emotional effect is pretty close to nil.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Quite simply beautiful. One of very few honest and poignant true love stories in cinema. It is very slow paced but highly worthwhile for its moments of romance, humour, tragedy and beauty. Murnau created a timeless silent film that stands up as perhaps one of the greatest films ever made.

Shauna Robinson
Shauna Robinson

Super Reviewer

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