A soulmate found in a toyshop: The Doll by Ernst Lubitsch

A soulmate found in a toyshop: The Doll by Ernst Lubitsch

A silent movie made in 1919 shows that little has changed when it comes to society’s expectations of women. Cinema Akil, billed as ‘the first arthouse cinema in the Gulf’, recently screened The Doll by Ernst Lubitsch, a film that uncovers the many facets of heterosexual relationships, and that is still relevant today. 

In The Doll, Lubitsch delves into the expectations women had to conform to during the early 20th century in Finland. Additionally, he sheds light on the ideal dynamic between husband and wife during that time period as well as the misogyny that women faced – they were expected to be perfect wives, have small appetites, be pretty, elegant, and graceful. 

Finland was the first country in Europe to allow women to have the autonomy to vote. In 1905, a General Strike led to the adoption of ‘the principle of universal and equal suffrage in Finland’. This led to the Republic of Finland allowing all women and men the right to vote and to run for office. The achievement was significant from an international perspective, as Finland was the first European country to grant women both these rights, with many European countries making the right to vote accessible for women in the aftermath of World War I

The Doll, Ernst Lubitsch

Lubitsch was aware of his feminist approach in depicting one of the main characters, Ossi Oswalda.  He embraces Ossi’s inner spirit by portraying her as wild, youthful, feisty, and humorous, attributes not usually used to describe women at the time. Ossi’s character is shown through her playful actions; she pulls silly faces, is rebellious and non-conforming. Ossi does not abide by her father’s rules, and eventually angers him by running off with her love interest Lancelot without his knowledge. Whenever Lancelot turns away and leaves the room, the audience gets to see her childish side, where she takes his food, dances, and sits in a slouched and non-ladylike manner. Lubitsch breaks the fourth wall here, to show her unfiltered side to the audience.  

Born in Berlin in 1892, Lubitsch dedicated most of his life to directing, producing, screenwriting and acting until his death in 1947 from a heart attack. The Doll is one of his most renowned films, demonstrating his quick wit and sophisticated storytelling skills. 

This lighthearted silent film leaves an important imprint on society’s outlook on love and romantic relationships throughout history. Love is not perfect and there is no one way to find your soulmate. It is a delight to watch because of its quick turn of events, often leaving the audience in a state of surprise. Breaking the fourth wall adds a playful side,  connecting us emotionally to the characters. By exploring the subject matter of heterosexual love and the societal norms that come with it, Lubitsch argues that the process of finding a soulmate does not come with a manual or a set formula that all people can follow. 

Lana Alsakka Amini 


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