The first scene shows Mabuse dealing cards with on them the faces of the players, the actors who are about to perform in the orchestrated fiction - Mabuse's inside the film, and also Lang's film about Mabuse.
And there is a woman who is our surrogate viewer in all this; she watches the gamblers from a distance, searching faces for thrills and sensations. All this touches at the heart of self-referential cinema in ways that still astound by how erudite, how in-sightful.
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Viewers who are looking for films about the mind weaving films will be delighted. There is one scene that will be absolutely unequaled in film until the second great cinema of Resnais and Tarkovsky some forty years later. It shows Mabuse operating an illusion on stage before a packed theater; the entire audience watches transfixed at people magically walking out of a screen into the middle of the auditorium - and vanishing at a snap of the fingers - none of them realizing the confrontation that is actually playing out within the fantasy.
But there is an extra layer that further elevates this. So what is perceived by the players as unluck or the chance turn of a card, from our double perspective rooted in Mabuse's mind is revealed as part of the same, decisive plan. Yet Mabuse is not a godlike presence, he is steeped in human passions; icy but on occasion petulant, seething, lusting, the mask full of emotional cracks.
So, on one level we have a controlled reality as a puppet show of absurdities, but on the other end finally we get a glimpse of the mind cracking under the weight of what it must control, under the burden of the operated illusion. The final vision is a nightmare where these controlled images animate themselves against their tyrant.
Tellingly it happens in a locked room; the blind people that were tasked by Mabuse to deal with his fortunes, in fact his counterfeit fortunes, now transform into apparitions of guilt. Few films have so deeply influenced our cinematic vision, from Vertigo to Lynch.
It has been since disguised and embellished, but it's revealed here for the first time. Enjoy a night in with these popular movies available to stream now with Prime Video.
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