Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (also known as Sunrise) is an American film from 1927 directed by F. W. Murnau. The story was adapted by Carl Mayer from the short story Die Reise nach Tilsit by Hermann Sudermann. Sunrise won an Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first ever Oscar ceremony in 1929. In 1989, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry. In a 2002 critics' poll for the British Film Institute, Sunrise was named the seventh-best film in the history of motion pictures; in 2007, the film was chosen #82 on the 10th anniversary update of the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list of great films. This film is one of the first with a soundtrack of music and sound effects recorded in then-new Fox Movietone sound-on-film system.


The film tells a fable of a married farmer, The Man (George O'Brien) who gives up dinner with The Wife (Janet Gaynor) to continue an affair with The Woman From The City (Margaret Livingston).

The Woman convinces The Man that he should drown The Wife and move with her to The City. They decide he should take her out on a boat trip, commit the crime, and say it was an accident. The Wife agrees to go on the trip, yearning for any bit of time and affection from her husband, but soon grows suspicious of his behavior.

The two go out on a boat to the City. Halfway across the Man stands up and makes ready to throw the Wife overboard. Looking into her eyes he realizes he can't do it. He sits back down heavily and begins frantically rowing for the shore. When the boat lands, the Wife flees. The Man follows her.

Eventually the two end up in the City. The Man, desperate to apologize and make things right, ends up following the Wife throughout the City until they reach a church. Going inside, they find a wedding in progress. As the couple marrying swear their vows, the Man begins to cry and remembers why he fell in love with the Wife to begin with. Arm-in-arm they leave the church.

Much of the rest of the film simply follows them on their adventure through the City, which includes having their picture taken, going to an amusement park and chasing a drunk pig. Finally they head back to the boat and begin to row home.

During the trip back, however, a storm blows up. The Man rows as fast as he can, but in the end the boat begins to sink. His last act on the boat is to secure the Wife to a bundle of reeds brought aboard originally to help in the planned murder. Now he hopes they will act as a liferaft for the Wife.

The boat goes under, and the Man eventually ends up on shore. Of the Wife, there is no sign....

Stricken with grief, the man is returned to his home by the local villagers. Later his mistress calls out to him, but his despair and loneliness turn to rage and he chases after the mistress in a blind fury. He eventually catches her and begins to strangle her, but before he can, there arises a commotion from the villagers who claim they found his wife. He releases his ex-mistress and goes to see his wife who is indeed alive, and the film fades to black as they embrace while the sun rises.


Sunrise was made by F. W. Murnau, a German director who was one of the leading figures in German Expressionism, a style that uses distorted art design for symbolic effect. Murnau was invited by William Fox to make an Expressionist film in Hollywood.

The resulting film features enormous stylized sets that create an exaggerated, fairy-tale-like world. Murnau manages to use a subtle technique of animal and plant imagery as an important tool to indicate the mood or tone in a particular scene and accent the deconstruction of generic dichotomies.

Titles are used sparingly in the movie. Previously, in Germany, Murnau had made a film called The Last Laugh which told its story with only one title card (to explain the ending). In Sunrise, there are long sequences without titles, and the bulk of the story is told through images in a similar style.



Academy Award Wins (1929)

Academy Award Nominations (1929)

Other Awards

  • Kinema Junpo Awards: Kinema Junpo Award; Best Foreign Language Film F.W. Murnau; 1929.

Other distinguishments


20th Century Fox has released Sunrise on DVD, but only as a special, limited edition available only by mailing in proofs-of-purchase for other DVD titles in their 20th Century Fox Studio Classics line, or as part of the box set Studio Classics: The 'Best Picture' Collection. Individual copies of the Sunrise DVD can frequently be found on Ebay.

The DVD includes commentary, a copy of the film's trailer, details about Murnau's lost film Four Devils, outtakes and a great many more features. Sunrise has also been released on DVD as part of the Masters of Cinema series.


  • Much of the exterior shooting was done at Lake Arrowhead in California.
  • Murnau makes extensive use of forced perspective throughout the film. Of special note is a shot of the City where you see normal-sized people and sets in the foreground and little people in the background along with much smaller sets.


External links

Search another word or see proofs-of-purchaseon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature