There are no words that can explain Sunrise. Classic, love story, tragedy, fun, I don't know, list goes on.....but it was and still is arguably one of the most standout silent films in the 1920s. The film has a great standout story that fits very well for the silent and love-story genre. It is no wonder that several years later it is in the National Film Registry and on the 2007 list of AFI's Top 100 Movies of All Time.
I'll try not to give away so much in the plot, so just bear with me. For a silent movie, the one thing you MUST use is your eyes. It seems if you take your eyes off it for only a minute you're already missed what happened. The violin music is supposed to set the mood, guide and be a backdrop throughout the movie, so that helps. Not much dialogue in the captions used in the movie is utilized. Expressions and actions are heavily relied upon in this movie.
A man who lives on a farm outside the city with his wife and kid gets a strange visitor dwelling on his land. It is an attractive woman who seduces him to sell his farm and go to the city with her. But there's a huge cost: kill your wife. He sort of goes with the plan, but in his heart he knows he can't do it. The wife, on the other hand, does the right thing and runs away from him. Things do change between the two of them in a good and bad way. They eventually regain each other's trust and happily enjoy a night on the town as a lovely married couple, 1920s style. It only shows us what lovers like them what fun they are supposed to have. Even for a married couple (it doesn't say how long they were together). Another twist happens, but I'll save it for the viewer. I feel I've already told half the movie...
The movie does wake up moralistic views of life. You see someone about to commit a horrible and/or regrettable mistake, before and after-wise. I was reminded briefly of some mistakes I have made in the past. Not everyone forgives for certain mistakes, and that's always one thing to keep in mind. It is faith, religion or any kind of spiritualness that makes the person who they are.
From a technological perspective, I've noticed that some of the special effects in the film have advanced during that decade. As of this writing, I've seen fewer than a dozen movies that came out before 1930, all silents. The 'talkie' came out in 1927, and those slowly but surely took over the cinema industry. Movies have developed a long way from Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation'. More sound effects were used in movies, as well as crowd sounds (not just the music). Imaginary sequences have improved as well. The only thing I was surprised was the captions/title cards weren't anything like Chaplin's 'The Gold Rush' (which came out earlier).
Janet Gaynor, who plays the wife, won the first Best Actress Oscar at the 1929 Academy Awards ceremony. Sunrise was one of three reasons she won. You see, back then, an actor/actress was recorded for their body of work for the previous year, not just for one film like today. (Gaynor was also in Seventh Heaven and Street Angel). Unfortunately, this movie also could have claimed the title for Best Picture of that year, but at the time the Academy Awards had two major awards that went to a film: Outstanding Picture and Best Unique and Artistic Production. Sunrise won the latter. It was decided by the AA years later that Wings was the 'Best Picture' of 1928 (which won Outstanding Picture).
If you are a sucker for love stories and if you can handle silent films, devote an hour and a half of your time to this one. As a matter of fact, step back in time. You'll be glad you did.
My rating: 8 out of 10
NOTE: While this film has been re-issued on DVD and most recently, Blu-ray, you can watch and download it (legally) for free here on archive.org.