Taking a Bite Out of Nosferatu
12 December 2010
The first time I read Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror—because, to me, we read films just as we do books—I was perplexed by the seemingly random scenes of Professor Bulwer teaching students about carnivorous, “almost bodiless” predators, namely the venus flytrap and the polyp. The symbolism was not lost on me, obviously the venus flytrap and polyp represent Nosferatu and his murderous style (the narrative even mention, “[Aren’t these predators] like a vampire”); however, the cuts to Bulwer are completely detached from everything else in the film, or so I thought. They appeared a forced interjection that distracted me until I could make meaning of their placement.
The scene directly following Bulwer captures the maddened Knock in the asylum. While the Bulwer just revealed two predators, mentioned above, Knock points to a third, a spider, in the corner of his cell. The camera shows the spider traversing its web to close in on its prey, which, similar to Bulwer’s examples, offers a great symbol for Nosferatu.
A short time after Knock’s observation, the audience sees Nosferatu unearth himself onboard a ship to kill of its remaining crew. Upon seeing Nosferatu shoot up from his coffin, a terrified sailor jumps to his watery death. Believing the sailor was mad and attempting to avoid the same fate, the captain, who hasn’t yet seen Nosferatu, uses rope to tie himself securely to the ship. In perhaps the greatest shot of the film, the camera, positioned in a hatchway below deck, uses a low-angle to capture a towering Nosferatu slowly walking on deck, around the hatchway, and toward his unsuspecting prey. Significantly, behind Nosferatu in this shot are several thick ropes hanging from sails. The image is of a spider’s web, and Nosferatu is the spider on the move toward his tangled prey.
The scene is exactly Knock’s observation; however, Knock is a madman and nobody takes him seriously. Knock knew the entire time what’s happening in the town, in large part because he made it happen by sending Hutter in response to Count Orlok’s letter. But nobody listens to or observes Knock’s actions; they only assume is behavior is mad and lock him up. Yet, who does everybody listen to? Professor Bulwer. The professor is off the mark; the venus flytrap and polyp are good symbols, but the spider is the perfect symbol! The spider has fangs; the spider uses them to bite into his victim.
So it seems the scenes with the Bulwer add irony to the film when positioned directly before Knock’s spider scene. The professor, like all the educated, sane men of the town don’t fully see, and therefore understand what’s happening around them. The professor misses the best and most familiar example of a carnivorous predator during his lecture (the spider), just as the townspeople mistake the bloodless, neck-punctured corpses for plague victims.
It’s too bad Bulwer taught science and not literature. If he only read his students Hamlet, he would’ve known “though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”
For Your Consideration:
In the written frames the word “I” is used repeatedly, and not just in dialogue between characters. Therefore, one can argue the film is shown from someone’s perspective, some narrator who’s in the story. The camera as some omniscient character talking directly to the audience is a great concept. What do make of it? Does it add something? Is it insignificant?
Clearly, the furniture and architecture in Count Orlok’s castle are elongated to support the inhuman height of its owner. For example, the dining room chairs have long backs to draw attention to the length of Count Orlok when sitting next to Hutter. Knowing the film intelligently constructs sets/props to support things like characterization, do you see other examples of this support?
What’s with the graves at the beach where Ellen goes? Is it just creepy, or an overt foreshadowing of her death? Death in general? The amount of death Germany was grieving when Nosferatu was made?
Ever seen the remake? Thoughts?