The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) (1921)

dir. Victor Sjöström. A very spooky often disturbing Swedish silent film about a “drunkard” who is forced to examine his life after encountering the grim reaper. The story is told through flashbacks within flashbacks, as learn of his abusive relationships with his friends and family. The flashback technique would prove to be influential on the films of Ingmar Bergman. There are some very impressive special effects, using double exposure (with hand cranked cameras) to create the illusion of the grim reaper moving through walls and collecting his souls. A very early example of the cinematic trope of a transparent body escaping from an opaque one, to signify death. Usually, we see a ghostly figure emerging under its own agency to discover they are dead, but in this film, we have the unsettling vision of the grim reaper dragging an incorporeal corpse and flinging it unceremoniously in the back of his cart. The structure of the story likely shares some DNA with Dicken’s novella, ‘A Christmas Carol’, and its many film adaptations. There is some wisdom in the repeated moral of the film, “Lord, please let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped.”, the inverse of Saint Augustine’s “Lord, make me chaste—but not yet”

By Nicholas Hudson-Ellis

Co-Founder & Film Programs Manager of Bangkok Screening Room.

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