The Last Laugh by Murnau – Summary & Analysis
The doorman of the Grand Hotel “Atlantic” is very proud of his powers: he occupies a prestigious position, symbolized by his costume. In his neighborhood, he is respected and envied. One morning, arriving at his job, he finds he has been replaced. The hotel manager tells him, bluntly, that this is due to his advanced age. He snatched his sumptuous delivered and he is banished to guard sinks. This is the worst humiliation. By evening, the ex-porter is the sly recover his livery, so to deceive his entourage. But gossip has witnessed her downfall. She reveals his humiliation to the whole neighborhood, which ridicules the poor man. Exhausted, he comes to hole up in his sink, where a night watchman discovers, prostrate …
The story should have stopped there. But the author took pity on his invented hero and an epilogue barely believable. An eccentric American billionaire dies of a heart attack in the toilets of the hotel. He had time to bequeath his vast fortune to the man who has attended him his last moments. The doorman and found his lost glory back, along with the night watchman, he celebrated his triumph by feasting before the hotel staff attended, who respectfully salutes him.
At the crossroads of expressionism and realism, the film shows the virtuosity of the last works of the silent era of the movie industry.
There is in The Last Laugh, one of very few silent films to be devoid of any heading, the most tremendous concentration of energy, talent and stylistic variety used to express the outside and the interiority of men.
The theme of the film is far from simple. For The Last Laugh is also a film about old age, stage of life where the illusions of appearance could and should diminish, while at the doorman at the Atlantic hotel, they culminate. Whole story is limited to the exchange of a livery against another, and the contrast between the pride he derived from the first and humiliation that caused him the second was something wrong, which adds the pitiful nature of his destiny. Murnau able to describe in a synthetic vision the immense suffering of his character and his disposition. It does indeed live in the gaze of others and to establish a link with the previous film by Murnau, Nosferatu, one could say that it is vampirized through the eyes of others.
To express the weight on the conscience of the doorman, Murnau gave most of the characters that surround the appearance of demonic apparitions. They exist – in the second part, for torturing the hero trapped in a tumultuous world and completely cut off from nature (as one of the principles of expressionism). The realism of the original subject, characters, situations which could make the film a perfect archetype of Kammerspiel, invented by Carl Mayer, is transformed by the expressionism of the shape and brilliant virtuosity of Murnau.