Pandora’s Box

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #358: G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box.

Weimar Vampire

I said I’d fin­ished watch­ing all of the films that I’d seen be­fore, but Pandora’s Box showed up at the Library re­cently, and I’ve cur­rently got Bicycle Thieves in the queue. Watching Pandora’s Box this time around was much more ful­fill­ing than the first time I saw it. I’m a big fan of Weimar-era films and German Expressionism in gen­eral, so an ex­cuse to re­watch this was quite wel­come. The Criterion folks had four sep­a­rate mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment choices to join with the film, I switched through all of them dur­ing my screen­ing, and have to say that I liked the pi­ano im­pro­vi­sa­tion one the best.

Death as Consummation

Pandora’s Box is one of those films that film buffs con­sis­tently praise and place on a pedestal. For its time it was quite frank and racy, and its non-judg­men­tal as­pect is some­thing that would be­come sorely lack­ing in American cin­ema once the Hays code went into ef­fect. This film is a German pro­duct, though the main char­ac­ter is played by Kansan Louise Brooks, whose act­ing was pitch per­fect for the tone that Pabst was aim­ing for in his ren­di­tion of Franz Wedekind’s Lulu saga.


Lulu is the ar­che­typal whore with a heart of gold, a woman whose free sex­u­al­ity ul­ti­mately ru­ins her en­tire world. This part gets men­tioned in just about every re­view of the film, but what in­ter­ests me the most is how ahead of its time her char­ac­ter and its por­trayal ap­pear to be. From one an­gle Lulu ap­pears to be a misogynist’s dream/​nightmare, a woman that af­firms the stan­dard anti-woman talk­ing points with no re­gard to the ef­fects her aber­rant be­hav­ior has on oth­er­wise “good” peo­ple. The vam­piric shot of Lulu and Dr. Schön is prob­a­bly the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of this. At the same time, she’s an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of a lib­er­ated woman, de­fined by her sex­u­al­ity in­stead of re­pressed by it. Countess Geschwitz is con­sid­ered to be the first ob­vi­ous les­bian char­ac­ter in film his­tory.

Lesbian Manipulation

Male char­ac­ters are all neg­a­tive, com­pletely con­trolled by their own li­bidos, which are ex­pressed through an ob­ses­sion with Lulu. Because none of the char­ac­ters [ex­cept Lulu] re­tain any shred of in­no­cence, there is lit­tle sym­pa­thy for them as they de­stroy them­selves. The strength of Pandora’s Box lies in this re­al­is­tic, Modern treat­ment of love and lust. Despite the si­lence of the film, the act­ing and screen­play en­sure that the film will re­main tren­chant as long as all is fair in love.

Jack the Ripper

Criterion Essay by J. Hoberman.
• YouTube clips [12].
Some screen­shots.
Guardian Article.
Louise Brooks Society.
Louise Brooks Gallery.
• Wedekind play Erdgeist [in German] at Project Gutenberg.

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