In 16th-century Prague, a Jewish rabbi creates a giant creature from clay, called the Golem, and using sorcery, brings the creature to life in order to protect the Jews of Prague from persecution.
Following a screening of the film in October 2010, a panel of three experts discussed their responses to the film, which you can read by clicking on the articles titles on the right-hand side of this page.
At almost the same time as the film was being made, another version of the golem myth was being transformed into a modern art-work. Nicolae Bretan composed a one-act opera on the topic in 1923. Bretan was the first composer of Romanian opera, being of Transylvanian origin. Based on a poem by Mihali Eminescu, ‘The Ghosts’, the opera is yet another version of a European Jewish myth that has a long history and exists in many transformations. In the opera and the poem, the focus is much more intimate than the film.
Der Golem appears, at first blush, to be very different from other roughly contemporary films – such as James Whales’ version of Frankenstein - in which “dead” matter is reanimated. For a start, it features kabbalistic magic, not science (or rather perhaps a “spectacle” of science). Nonetheless, there is perhaps more, at a deeper level, that unites the two films than is immediately obvious. Frankenstein, with its humming lab apparatus and its evocation of galvanism, and Der Golem’s depiction of the uncanny power of the Word, both depict their cinematic worlds from a vitalist perspective.
I appear to be here as a combination of token film studies expert, token folklorist and token Jew; and that’s not an altogether negative position to be in. I’ve had a close relationship with Wegener’s Das Golem for many years now; it has been a film which seems to follow me around. For example, I wrote the short piece on the film in the book 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die, and when I was curating the St. John’s Jewish Film Society, back in Newfoundland, Canada, it was one of the first films I screened.