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The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) (1921) Harsh Alkoholic Drama from Sweden (Review)

By Genaro | movies | 19 Apr 2020


Plot: Whoever dies during New Year's Eve must collect the souls of the dead throughout the year. The story takes place at this night and the spectator gets to know two main characters of the story - an unfortunate, mischievous alcoholic and Salvation Army's sister. The spectator learns how their fates intertwined. Who will die and be a new coachman of phantom carriage?


The famous Swedish film of silent movie era from the same studio as Bergman used to shoot may seem to be a fairy tale or a horror movie. You have certainly seen films that reflect on the main character and her immoral deeds with Christmas storyline. This film does this at midnight on New Year's Eve and mainly discusses alcoholism, ruthless deeds and the associated suffering. The scene behind the sounds of a poorly tuned guitar on a deathbed with all three essential characters is great, with characters like an naive good; a sinful rectified and a cowardly sinner. This scene with its music cuts under the skin. The music of David Holm's return home in his mocking state about the possibility of infecting his own children is perfect fit, very suited to the scene, what is disturbing and thrilling the spectator. Who knows, maybe this scene inspired Kubrick into Here's Johnny scene. Equally great is the music on the scene of the run to avert disaster, which sounds like a quiet part of a metal song. The theme has its power, but today, when I am used to comparing similar problems with the series BoJack Horseman, where they were discussed much more and with characters that the spectator got to know much better and loved them, this film loses a bit of it. Problems discussed are ageless, but their adaptation in this movie was somewhat ravaged of time, but is pleasing to depict strong female characters. Finally, you will say that the coach did not even have to be there, it would work without it great. The conclusion was not satisfactory for me, it does not fit into the previous story. Filmed in the twenty-first century it could have been as harsh as movies Submarino or Jagten from Scandinavia too.


Conclusion: 8/10

Pros: Carriage and analysing of alcoholism + cowardice and dishonesty of the main character; Victor Sjöström performance as director and main character.

Cons: The spectator cannot be fully identified with characters because there is not enough time to spend with them. These topics were better presented eg. in BoJack Horseman. The conclusion was not satisfactory for me.

Recommendations for movies with people in intense situations with emotional pressure: The Paradine Case; Panic in the Streets; Hud; Onibaba; Deliverance; Excalibur; Irreversible.


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