“This won’t bring back our children. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children.”
M is considered by many to be the defining film of the thriller genre, and as a piece of film noir it’s a masterpiece. Directed by Fritz Lang, this German classic is a terrifying look at a child-murderer who holds a city captive with fear. Peter Lorre delivers a chilling and unforgettable performance as Hans Beckert, a conflicted psychopath. While his friendly demeanor entices vulnerable children in the bustling city, his mannerisms scream madness and portend horrific acts which we gratefully never witness. The murders are more unsettling because they are hidden from us, our minds left to fret out the details.
As the city plunges into greater and greater terror, the widening net of the hyper-vigilant populace and frustrated police create uncomfortable pressure on the criminal underworld. Wild accusations see undeserving suspects at the mercy of uncontrolled mobs. Angry crime lords gather in a desperate summit, and devise means to monitor all of the children in the city with beggars. When a blind peddler recognizes the whistled tune of the murderer, it ignites a city-wide chase of Hans.
I was overjoyed to see such potent themes of justice in this film noir. When Hans is at the mercy of the criminal underworld, their mock trial asks uncomfortable questions. As they struggle to determine a fitting punishment for such a fiend, they’re torn because of his insanity. The courts would see such a man institutionalized, but they want blood for his crimes. In his defense, he points to the sins of his persecuting peers, many of them murderers themselves and forces them to consider the question, “what makes you different from me?”
His concluding monologue is one of the best performances I’ve seen. The moment when he describes the ‘beast’ that comes upon him, the change that craves the killing, and his eyes roll up in his head and his claw-like hands grasp for the phantoms of the slain sent shock-waves through me. The bleak ending screams noir, and Fritz Lang’s foresight in leaving the audience to cast judgement on this pitiful man was brilliant. We don’t know whether Hans was sent to the gallows or the padded room, and we’re not sure he deserves either.
8 responses to “Film Noir | M (1931)”
I really loved this film. Peter Lorre was magnificent and I appreciated how open ended the film was.
I was surprised at how well it deconstructed the irrational hate against pedophiles, when even today most people will readily dismiss a pedophile as some inhuman bastard, and don’t really see the problem in just executing them.
Sorrows, don’t assume the film is representative of all paedophiles.
Additionally, how is a mothers hatred for the murderer of her child irrational?
I wasn’t talking about murderers. “Pedophile” refers to someone who is more sexually attracted to prepubescence children over adults. So a pedophile isn’t necessarily a molester or murderer.
What I meant was that most people seem to forget that pedophiles, even though some of them do atrocious things, are still people and deserve the same legal rights that everyone else has; instead of forming a mob and harassing the offender, you should just let the court do it’s job and send them to jail.
A growing number of psychologists are also starting to accept that pedophilia could count as a sexual orientation. That doesn’t justify child molestation or anything, but if it is true, than Han’s monologue about the “beast” inside him actually would be an accurate analogy to all pedophiles.
Criminals have deliberately exploited the justice system, and deliberately utilized the plea of insanity. Just because a decision is ensued in a formal courtroom, does not mean it’s correct or justified.
What exactly are you trying to get at? It’s true that there are criminals who manage to exploit the legal system, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t depend on it.
Mob hunts, or a parent who’s child has been murdered/molested, act on emotion, whereas judges and lawyers act on rational thinking. People who act on emotion only care about getting revenge, whereas those working in the justice system care more about proving who’s actually at fault. If we didn’t rely on the justice system, that would only cause more false accusations to end in unnecessary deaths.
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