Verdens Undergang (The End of the World) (1916)

Verdens Undergang (1916)‘Tonight when the sky is in flames, we will let the stars dance for us.’

An astronomer discovers a new comet and calculates that it will enter the Earth’s atmosphere and cause widespread death and destruction. A financier suppresses the news in order to make a killing on the stock market, but even riches cannot protect him when the apocalypse comes.

Danish silent film that was the first cinematic depiction of the end of days. Our focus is mainly on a rural mining community, in particular on the family of the colliery manager. He has two daughters; one virtuous and kind, the other flighty and sinful. These archetypes are pretty clearly defined; subtle shadings of character not being all that common in silent cinema. So it’s no surprise when the naughty one runs off with the owner of the mine to the big city. There she lives a life of luxury and indolence, her wellbeing apparently entirely dependent on expensive gifts. Virtue stays home, of course, pledging her troth to her childhood sweetheart, who becomes a sailor.

However, the mine owner isn’t content with just corrupting young girls, although let’s be honest, the girl in question didn’t take a lot of persuasion! No, now he sees a chance to make millions on the markets after being clued in to the details of the upcoming apocalypse by his stargazing cousin. The editor of the local newspaper joins in for a cut of the pie, displaying the kind of journalistic integrity we’ve come to expect from the mass media. All of this is only made possible by the fact that his cousin is seemingly the only astronomer on the entire planet who has his telescope pointed in the right direction.

When the apocalypse arrives, it’s surprisingly well presented, considering the vintage of the film. There are some big crowd scenes, flames in the sky and falling rocks. This is all supposed to be ‘fire and brimstone’ of course, as the presence of a local preacher throughout proceedings has left little doubt that the hand of god has been guiding the meteor in its wayward course across the heavens. And as our sinful duo host a wild party to celebrate Armageddon, complete with a banquet and dancing girls, while the poor miners run through the streets, it doesn’t take a genius to know how things are going to turn out for all our protagonists.

Verdens Undergang (1916)

The hills were alive…oh, hang on…

Throughout the film there are a surprising number of exterior scenes, and these are well composed and handled. These serve to sidestep the stilted appearance of many silent movies of the period and lend an air of accessibility to a modern audience. The sanctimony and religious subtext is pretty overt but it’s not overly preachy and doesn’t detract from the proceedings in general.

Performances are rather of the period, of course, but there’s a high level of all-round professionalism and the scenes of aftermath are quite effective. It all makes for quite a satisfying experience and the exisitng print, preserved by the Danish Film Institute, is in wonderful condition.

It’s no classic, but it does set quite a high benchmark in very early science fiction cinema.

2 thoughts on “Verdens Undergang (The End of the World) (1916)

  1. Science Fiction from Denmark | TRAUM UND EXZESS - Silent Cinema Index

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