Lillian Gish is on a train. She meets an older looking man with a mustache. They flirt for a while. The train stops. She has to go meet her cousin and expects that the older man will help her. Instead, she meets a young, rugged brooding man, named Lige, who has been sent by her cousin to pick her up. He is with an older man and she does not take them seriously, as they both appear to be simpletons. Meanwhile the wind roars. A pack of horses race in terror. Lige tells Gish that the horses are chased by the devil; a ghost horse which lives in the wind.
The Wind is the finest film of Sweedish director Victor Sjostrom, and one of the greatest masterpieces of the silent cinema. He focuses on not the humans relationships with each other, but instead humans relationships with their enviroment, which in turn influences how they relate with each other. This is a film of pure, raw emotion. It’s rife with feeling in every scene, every shot. You can’t take your eyes off of it. Sjostrom paints a canvas of extremes. Otherwise known as pure cinema.
As we continue, Gish meets the cousin and his family, and is viewed with jealousy by the wife. This is just, I suppose, as this is no familial attraction between Gish and the cousin. An almost sexual energy bounces between them. Later, as Gish plays with the cousins children, the wife disembowels a pig, and sharpens her knives. There is later an extended dance sequence, where Gish realizes that she can never love her cousin, and a series of events similar to that of Griffith’s Way Down East, also starring Gish. The behaviour of the wife character in these sequences are espicially interesting. She becomes outlandish, and extremely possissive of her husband. She almost kills Gish. The Wind shows us our truest, primal forms.
Lige’s behaviour is also very interesting. He is built up to be a very goofy character, seemingly not to be taken very seriously. Like Charlie McCory from The Searchers. However, his dark, brooding behaviour in the opening of the film is almost a foreshadow of his behaviour later in the film. Gish is forced to marry Lige as she must find a place to live. She can’t go back to where she came from. She’s in the desert, already too far gone. Soon there’s a sudden mood shift. Lige will force himself on Gish, and she will say horrible things to him. In this moment, we will run through a gamut of emotions. Our attachment to the characters, Lige in particular, allows for this sudden shift in mood to be so shocking. But there’s more. Prior to Lige forcing himself, we are allowed to have a brief moment of beauty and innocence. After all, it’s their first night after their marriage. They sit and Lige pours Gish some coffee. They drink it together and Lige is lost in exitement. Little does poor Lige know that Gish is so put off by Lige’s coffee that she pours it down a vase. Lige is shocked to see that Gish has finished her drink! He says that he’ll get her another. Gish places her hand on Lige’s, and tells him no. Lige just stares, in awe, in love. In the meantime we have been so lost in this moment that we haven’t noticed that this has taken place in one two shot, with no major camera moves or even movements from the actors, other than their faces. We can’t help but feel immense joy when Lige is so happy.
But then Lige leaves the room, to get more coffee for himself. We return back to the roaring wind outside. Suddenly Lige and Gish’s feet are the only things seen, as their movements are cut together. This is then intercut with the wind outside. We return to the feet, as Sjostrom punctates the shifting of emotion with movement, and equates it with the never changing Wind, which continues to roar.
Next thing we know, Lige is forcing himself on Gish, and she pushes him away, and spits, and says that he disgusts her. Lige is lost. He doesn’t know any better. He knows only what the wind has told him. “I thought you married me because you loved me.” he says. Gish stares as well. She never wanted to do this to sweet, sweet Lige. But it is life, it is the wind. Lige sadly says that he loves her, and he’ll try to make enough money to send her back home. As he pathetically walks away, he notices the coffee that Gish has poured into the vase.
Soon we are treated to one of the pinnicles of silent cinema, the windstorm, where Gish slowly goes insane. I cannot describe this, it must be seen. The Wind becomes a horror film, for one moment. It continues on later, when Lige brings home the man that Gish had flirted with long before on the train to the desert. Lige must leave, and there is another windstorm, and Gish goes more insane, and the man who Gish had previously flirted with rapes her. Gish will go on to kill him, and see visions of him in the midst of the windstorm. The last sentence I described may not sound like much, but once again, it must truly be seen.