The Phantom Carriage

The Phantom Carriage ★★★★★

Collecting the last soul to die at the climax of each year, Death's chariot finds it's new driver just before the clock strikes midnight in this powerful depiction of this famous Swedish legend. The aforementioned final soul to die happens to be an abusive, alcoholic wreck of a man who, as Sjostrom makes his case, is presented to us as an audience to judge. The Phantom Carriage is an extraordinarily rich and technically impressive silent gem with strong shades of Dickensian storytelling, culminating in a deeply moving morality tale that broke several technical barriers as well.

The proposed ideas here are fascinating; far more complex and layered than I've seen in films of this sort. It's a film that strives for inward realism, a Faustian tale with alcoholism as the chosen evil. Strong shades of Darwinism and Christianity clash; sort of asserting that god helps those who help themselves. The core figure, the drunkard, is one presented with a profound ambiguity. He's violent, brutish and worthless as far as a human being's value is measured, but this is merely a side to a rounded man. We see he loved and treasured his children once, and was a loving husband to his now suffering wife. That's why the film is so profoundly sad, there's a good man trapped inside the bad. By all accounts, we should feel no pity for this figure. He's had his chance, and decided to turn his back on any chance at happiness in pursuit of a hazy contentment. Death has came to him. While The Phantom Carriage is often obsessed with the emptiness of death, it is undeniably one that in the end affirms the importance of life.

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