Film Review: Destiny (1921)

Also known as: Der müde Tod (original German title), The Weary Death (literal English title), Between Worlds, Between Two Worlds, Beyond the Wall (alternative titles)
Release Date: October 6th, 1921 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang
Cast: Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Goetzke, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

Decla-Bioscop AG, 97 Minutes, 105 Minutes (extended), 94 Minutes (2016 restoration)

Review:

“You dread, awful cactus, you!” – Judge Maedchen

Destiny is a really intriguing motion picture. It’s also the earliest Fritz Lang movie that I’ve seen and that guy is hands down, one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived, who made masterpieces from the silent era in Germany to his film-noir work in America, a few decades later.

I don’t put this on the same level as his masterpieces like MetropolisM, Scarlet Street and The Big Heat but it’s still a superb picture for its time and it shows a guy that worked within the very expressive and surreal German Expressionist style but also had a more realistic grittiness than what was the norm.

Destiny is a story about a loving couple. They pickup a hitchhiker who is actually Death. Shortly after that, Death purchases some land nearby and builds a gigantic, ominous wall near the town’s cemetery. When the couple meets him again, in a local tavern, the man disappears. The woman, later sobbing in front of the mysterious wall is confronted by a group of ghosts that walk towards her and then disappear into the wall behind her. Putting two-and-two together, the woman confronts Death, begging for the return of her lover and thus, finds herself on a strange journey where she hopes that her love can conquer Death itself.

If the setup doesn’t sell you on the film, I don’t know what will.

However, the acting is superb and Lil Dagover, this film’s star, shines much brighter in this than she did in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from the previous year.

Additionally, Fritz Lang already showed that he possessed a great eye and an even greater understanding of mise-en-scène. It was his early work in films like this that led to his incredible style being instrumental in the look of the film-noir pictures of the 1940s and 1950s. From the lighting, the use of shadows and having a genuine understanding of contrast and how to properly exploit it on celluloid, Lang was a legitimate master.

Although, I have to give credit to his cinematographers, as well. In this film, he worked with three: Fritz Arno Wagner, Erich Nitzschmann and Hermann Saalfrank.

Wagner should be better known than he is in modern times, as the guy would move on from this movie to work on films like Nosferatu, Lang’s M (one of the best looking films ever made), Spies and well over 100 other visually stunning pictures.

This is a film where everything went right. It pulls you in, looks phenomenal and you feel for these characters. I won’t spoil the ending but it is pretty emotional after going on this journey and seeing this woman risk her own mortality to save the man she loves.

For those strangely complaining that movies don’t have strong female heroes, maybe you should start your search back in 1921.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other early Fritz Lang films, as well as other silent movies from the German Expressionist era.

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