Review: The Wind (1928)
Perhaps one of the best films ever made, The Wind from director Victor Sjöström is both a cinematically ripe work of art and a great story told in the simplest of ways.
Lillian Gish plays the central role of Letty Mason, a hopeful young woman traveling from Sweet Water Virginia to live with her cousin Beverly, and his miserably jealous wife Cora. It seems like the worst thing about the town is probably Cora and her attitude towards Letty. They are polar opposites, demonstrated by being shot in different frames, but forced to exist within the same walls. Naturally, this leads to a clash that seems to be reaching its boiling point for much of the story. Letty’s closeness to Beverly leads Cora to banish her, forcing Letty to marry one of two suitors, neither of which Letty feels any love for. With Letty’s absolute fear of the wind, and her eventual decline into madness, mainly at the hands of the terrifying Whit Roddy (Mantagu Love), plus the troubled nature of her new marriage to Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson), The Wind spirals into a whirlwind, in and of itself.
Despite the theme of human against nature being a large component of the film, human against human seems to dominate as the more consequential of themes in The Wind. The animosity felt between the humans is amplified by the obvious friction seen onscreen between nature and man. The characters all have the same primary needs, and through all of the dangerous events (cyclones, etc.) there is an emphasized proximity in times of danger, and a constant feeling social anxiety that comes about as a result. The danger doesn’t take away at all from the emotional turmoil of the characters. If anything, the danger created by the wind makes everything so much more claustrophobic. The “small world” concept gives way to something much more cramped and cringe-worthy.
Letty’s life seems incredibly dire and exhaustingly desperate in The Wind, despite the fact that she succeeds in escaping from Virginia. The film doesn’t tell you what Sweet Water Virginia meant to Letty, except that she so enthusiastically frames her departure, which implies a strong sentiment all on its own. After seeing the barren dust-bowl Letty now resides in, you come to wonder why a place that sounds so euphonic would be a place you would want to leave. “Sweet Water” seounds like a place you would want to leave to, not from. And yet the end of The Wind seems to give the shape of the film new hands for molding. It takes on a completely different ending that seems to ruin the depth of its genesis.
Nonetheless, The Wind itself is incredible, to say the absolute least. The cinematography goes beyond anything one would expect. There is such a life to the movement of the film that it takes on a new and strange quality to it, particularly with the intense amount of darkness that inhabits the space of the frame. Lillian Gish, who enters the film as a young, lively woman, brilliantly becomes a ghostly, terrified girl locked under the ‘protection’ of a loveless home. Victor Sjöström does a brilliant job directing the film, which itself was a semi-traumatic undertaking for Gish, but of course provided a real and profound film with a deserving reputation in the world of cinema.
Gallery of Images from The Wind