features a wonderful performance from emil jannings. meryl’s film textbook alleges that the porter essentially gets a dose of his own medicine when he is fired and relegated to the role of a lowly bathroom attendant. in the early part of the film he receives accolades from his neighbors and a glass of water from a younger porter, but these things i see as signs of respect, and he doesn’t seem to take the treatment for granted. he doesn’t show them the same callous indifference that he is showed by bathroom goers that ignore him after his demotion. he greets his neighbors with pride, he comforts a bullied child outside his home and admonishes the other children for their poor treatment of the smaller girl. to me, the porter is the everyman – he takes pride in his work, is a decent citizen and is respected by his co-workers and neighbors. those who shun and ignore him after his demotion are the villains of the film.
the movie is wonderfully filmed – the camera moves in ways you don’t normally see in a 20s film. when it isn’t moving its static state allows a story to be told (e.g. the opening scene near the revolving door, signaling the forthcoming change). murnau has a way of making very sympathetic characters, tabu is another of his films that is successful in this way.
i wasn’t a huge a fan of the ending. if you buy the premise that he’s getting a taste of his own medicine then i suppose it makes sense on some level, but it is still an overly obvious device. i think that murnau calls attention to the author here to have his cake and eat it too. he acknowledges that the grim reality is that the porter would have nothing to live for and would be miserable for the rest of his life, but he also acknowledges the commercial realities and gives the audience what it wants – a happy ending. in doing so we are forced to ask questions about happy endings in general and why they typically satisfy our “bleeding hearts.” why do we hope for the fantasy turn of events that murnau depicts here? don’t we know it’s pure artifice? we do, and yet we still accept them. why?
a thoughtful and heartfelt film.