Wednesday, June 12, 2013

M (1931)


     In my International Cinema class last semester, I learned about a German filmmaker named Fritz Lang. He is most known for his 1927 silent science-fiction epic “Metropolis”, which surely influenced many of the American sci-fi films of the last fifty or more years. But his first film with sound was a thriller called “M”, casting in the main role (if you can call it that) a German actor named Peter Lorre, who was thus propelled onto the world stage, starring in films like Alfred Hitchcock’s original “The Man Who Knew Too Much” and even Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca.”

     The film is actually pretty simple to explain. In a quiet German city, there runs amok a murderer of children, whom no one can identify. The police are getting nowhere, the citizens argue amongst themselves about who it could be, and parents of young children are getting more and more worried. Some people in the city are even going so far as to accuse each other of being the murderer, and the whole situation is ruining the town.

     What makes the whole movie even more mysterious, though, is that we hardly ever see the murderer (Lorre). There are brief scenes in the first ten minutes where we clearly see him, but for most of the first and second acts, we don’t see him. Then one night, someone spots him, suspects him, and pats him on the shoulder as he passes him on the street. The murderer looks in a mirror suspiciously and realizes that the man who passed him left a letter “M” written in chalk on his shoulder. When he realizes he will be caught, the murderer takes off and eventually finds himself caught by a gang of other criminals, who have in the meantime gathered together to catch the murderer themselves.

     And this is where the movie gets really profound for me. For as the murderer faces this court of criminals, there is a battle of words between them. I’ll post some of this dialogue for you:

MURDERER: I can’t help what I do! I can’t help it, I can’t…

CRIMINAL: The old story! We never can help it in court!

MURDERER: What do you know about it? Who are you anyway? Who are you? Criminals! …You wouldn’t need to do all that if you’d learn a proper trade or if you’d work… But I… I can’t help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside me, the fire, the voices, the torment!

“JUDGE”: The accused has said that he cannot help himself—that is to say, he has to murder. As this is the case, he has pronounced his own death sentence. Someone who admits to being a compulsive murderer should be snuffed out like a candle!

“LAWYER”: I wish to speak! Our very honorable president, who is, I believe, wanted by the police for three murders—

“JUDGE”: That’s got nothing to do with it.

“LAWYER”: --Claims that because my client acts under an irresistible impulse, he is condemned to death. He is mistaken! Because it is that very fact that clears him. It is this very obsession which makes my client not responsible, and nobody can be punished for something he can’t help.

     The argument goes on like this until suddenly, a door opens, and light shines on the “court”. The police have entered, and every single person in that room slowly raises their hands above their head. And that, believe it or not, is pretty much how the film ends. Maybe this sounds like a strange ending, but to me, it is very profound. It is a perfect metaphor for what we all are as humans on Earth.

     You see, we are all born into a sinful world, and we are all surely guilty of at least a little sin in our lives. Romans 3:23 reads, “…For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” But those who believe in Christ know that there is more to life than just this sinful world, and so we try to live for Him, but we are all surely guilty of messing up once in a while. The apostle Paul writes later in Romans 7:19, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

     But there is still good news! For as Paul writes in Romans 5:20b-21, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Does this mean that if we keep sinning, it’s okay because God will forgive us? “By no means!” Paul writes again in Romans 6:2: “We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” The book of Romans is an excellent source of figuring out the relationship between sin and grace. Maybe we are tempted to sin like the murderer in “M”, but we can be saved from sinning by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, if we accept God’s truth and His grace. I pray that you would be able to do that today!

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