Analysis of F.w. Murnau's "nosferatu"

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     What attracts spectators` attention while watching “Nosferatu” by F.W. Murnau is that the narrative consists of three simultaneously developing storylines. The main story is the aventure of young Hutter in Transylvania in the castle of Orlok, and the two other storylines represent the sufferings of Ellen and Knock`s insane deeds. However, despite the fact that the characters are act separately from each other, we can understand that the connection between the four is never broken: Knock is a servant of the vampire, and the relationship is clearly seen in the moment of Orlok`s death which also strikes the servant at the same time. The love of Ellen towards Hutter protects the unfortunate hero from the vampire`s attacks, when she awakes in the middle of the night calling for her husband. This link between the different actions is shown through a number of cross-cuts.

     I think that the communicativeness of the narrative is on a high level in “Nosferatu”, since the subtitles, the proper use of montage techniques and the emotional acting properly convey the messages which the story bears. In this case the communicativeness is evident due to the genre of the movie: it seems to be a rare case when a horror movie conveys any other message than the idea of struggle between good and evil, real and imaginary. Furthermore, the main idea of horror movies is to bring fear and terror into the minds of viewers, not to evoke philosophical questions.

    The hermeneutic line of the narrative is present in the beginning of the movie, until the moment when Hutter arrives at the castle of Orlok. It can be found in:

1.      Knock`s behavior (we can see him reading magic signs, and mysteriously grinning in the sequence where he gives Hutter the errand)

2.      Ellen`s distress when Hutter tells her about the forthcoming journey to Transylvania

3.      The terror which strikes the villagers when they reveal the aim of Hutter`s journey.

4.      Probably the plague which strikes the city can also be understood as a part of hermeneutic line, since the reason for the plague is not straightforwardly revealed; however, it doesn’t take much for the spectator to understand the cause of it, since the plague sequence is simultaneously developing with Orlok`s arrival sequence.

These moments carry an implied message about the terror which awaits the hero in Transylvania as well as his beloved Ellen.

     The presence of defamiliarization is quite evident in the movie; it can be seen even from the title “Nosferatu”, which means “vampire” in medieval Slavonic language. An unrealistic mood of the story is maintained by the use of magic signs in Knock`s writings, in his manners and behaviour (eating insects), also by the presentation of Orlok (his malicious appearance) and his domain (some elements of production like the clock with a miniature of a skeleton or the covers on the horses of the vampire`s carriage

     Defamiliarization is raised to its highest point since the moment the spectators see the vampire until the very end. He is definitely not the person one would meet in everyday life. Coming out of darkness to meet Hutter, the creature instantly receives a dose the viewer`s enmity: big pointed ears, bushy eyebrows, wide open eyes that never blink and slow hunched walk – nothing in the manners and the appearance of the vampire evokes our respect. Orlok spends daytime in his coffin, not a casual bed, and what grabs our attention is a sequence where we see him walking around Bremen with the coffin in his hands.

     Speaking about the bound motifs represented in the movie, we must first of all recall Hutter`s journey, which appears to be the main bound motif in the narrative: his adventure in Transylvania is the main reason for the vampire to appear in Bremen. It is Hutter who goes to the castle despite the warnings of the peasants and it is also he who accidentally shows the picture of his beloved one to Orlok. However, when he escapes from the castle, most of his actions turn into free ones, since they do not influence the further development of the story: all his attempts to save Ellen from the vampire prove to be in vain. The motifs of Knock`s actions also change as the narrative develops: he persuades the hero to undertake the dangerous journey, but as soon as Hutter is on the way to Transylvania, his actions turn into a different story of an obsessed man whose place is nowhere but in mental house.

     There are not many specific devices to maintain the unrealistic mood except a number of sequences representing Orlok. When the vampire arrives to meet Hutter in the forest, we can see his figure shot from low-angle, which is meant to express Orlok`s power over Hutter. The travelling in Orlok`s carriage is fast forwarded and shown through negative; these techniques express the magical atmosphere of Orlok`s world. The vampire passing through doorways in Bremen is shown with image dissolve (carrying his coffin into the abandoned house) and a number of jump cuts (coming out of the house to attack Ellen).

     The camera is static in most of the shots. The only movement is present in the shot with the mountain landscape, which obviously stresses the vastness of Transylvanian mountains.

     The acting in “Nosferatu” is highly emotional and the emotions are explicit and clear, which helps us understand each character`s state of mind. Speaking about the 17 – 18th century English Gothic novel genre, which very much influenced the original Bram Stocker`s story, it is necessary to mention that most of the characters (as well as some other elements of the narrative) in the movie are typical for the genre (see underlined titles in the appendix).

1.      Ellen`s acting represents a typical heroine of Gothic genre: innocent, weak and sentimental young lady, suffering throughout the story from various misfortunes, including the danger coming from a “powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male(Orlok in “Nosferatu”).

2.      Hutter is a type of hero that is constantly present in the genre: he is a little frivolous, clumsy in serious, helpless in dangerous circumstances, and never fortunate in his attempts to secure his beloved one (even constantly being by Ellen`s side by the end of the movie, he falls asleep when the vampire is about to attack Ellen)

3.      Orlok is a representative of the powerful male – cold and cruel, whose only goal is to reach Ellen and taste her young blood. The only difference between the typical Gothic tyrant and “Nosferatu`s” Orlok is that the chase of young woman`s love is replaced with the hunger for blood, which creates even more defamiliarizing effect.

4.      Knock`s character is not that conventional for the Genre, he is only a servant to his master, therefore his evil intentions lead him not to the ultimate supernatural state of existence, but to seclusion in a mad house. However, his acting clearly expresses Knock`s cruelty and indifference towards the feelings of others.

I think “Nosferatu” is one of the examples of how filmmakers were able to achieve stunning results already at the dawn of cinema, when there were no technical means were are used to nowadays.

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest films of all times, worth watching at least once in life, even if one is not a horror movie fan.


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