The Phantom Carriage

The Phantom Carriage ★★★★★

With a truly evocative score, the gloomily beautiful, progressive silent-era masterpiece The Phantom Carriage wields a portentous and poetic screenplay, a tremendously despicable leading performance, and expressionistic direction, all done by the unbelievably talented Victor Sjöström, creating a deeply reflective, enthralling fairy-tale about life, love, death and morality.

The expressionistically mournful Victor Sjöström, who also wrote and directed this magnificent film, delivers probably the best performance I've ever seen in a silent film, only to be rivaled by Maria Falconetti's equally dramatic turn as Joan, in The Passion of Joan of Arc. It's undeniable that The Phantom Carriage's influence precedes itself, even though it's not that well-known. From its iconography of the grim reaper, its Christmas Carol-esque tale of repentance, to echoes of Jack Nicholson chopping down the door in The Shining, and story similarities with Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life aren't that far-fetched either.

If The Phantom Carriage is known for anything, it's for being Ingmar Bergman's source of inspiration for what his films would later muse upon. He would later recruit Victor Sjöström—then at the end of his life, here at the beginning—to lead one of his most acclaimed films Wild Strawberries; an equally reflective and redemptive masterpiece about someone looking back on his life. Of course, we already know how profound these concepts are nearly 100 years later and their importance is still embedded in the film, and relevant for our times.

It's fascinating to watch inventive techniques such as double-exposure portrayed on screen to such an extent, and so effectively (most notable in a stunning sequence where we see the Reaper at work for the first time collecting the body of a drowned man by driving his Carriage straight into the ocean). The atmosphere is palpable, the ideas are timeless and it oozes with endless passion from Sjöström, and just as nightmare worthy as the next year's Nosferatu. If that wasn't enough yet, its nested flashback structure is just as impressive as anything else in the film. I've always been led to believe that Citizen Kane was one of the first, if not the first, feature film to sport a flashback narrative structure, so I guess I was wrong. ☺

#41 on: [My Top 250 Favorite Films of All-Time]

On my "Movies That Made Me Cry" list

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