The Tunnel (1915)
Film review #522
Director: William Wauer
SYNOPSIS: Max Allan is an engineer who has the vision of building an underground tunnel that connects Europe and America. He convinces the world’s richest men to fund his venture, including Lloyd, the world’s richest man. However, there are those that do not want to see the project succeed, and will do anything to prevent it’s completion. This, and a number of setbacks, make it difficult for Max to fulfil his vision…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Tunnel is a 1915 film based on the novel of the same name by Bernhard Kellerman. The story centres around the vision of engineer Max Allan, who wants to construct an underground tunnel between America and Europe under the Atlantic Ocean. The story of the film is fairly simple: it’s less of a traditional story centred around the characters and a plot, but more so focuses on a vision for the future and what such a project would look like. It was probably a vision of hope in a world in the midst of the first world war. Max has to persuade the billionaires of the world to fund his project, so arranges a meeting in New York to persuade them, giving an opportunity for the film to make it’s point to the billionaires as well as the audience. Being a silent film, there’s not too much room to create engaging dialogue or complex set-ups, but even in the context of the silent film era, this film feels very basic and minimal: the interstitial text describes what is going to happen in the next scene, and then it happens. It’s very literal, and as the text already has described what is going to happen, there’s little room for surprise or interest to develop.
The film does a good job of exploring the issues that would surround the making of such a project: it is described as taking nearly twenty five years to complete, which even then, that might be described as ambitious. There’s lots of footage used of masses of men hard at work digging the tunnels, and this really gives a good sense of the scope of the project. I’m not sure if the footage was shot specifically for the film, but it fits in well. There’s also a balance between the problems that the workers face, and the problems that Max faces on a personal level, and even though the characters aren’t really fleshed out in any way, you still get a sense of the problems they are facing.
The Tunnel is a vision of hope for what humanity can achieve. The ending text describes how when the tunnel was finished it brought about peace and prosperity for all: that might be a bit too simple of an ending, but it’s definitely the message that the film is going for. Specifically, the issue of people being scared of technological progress will certainly make enemies of those still rooted in tradition, but that should not stop people with a vision. As you might expect, there’s a few instances of problematic portrayals of non-white/European people and cultures, but these are limited. Though the film is dated and is not very entertaining, it does have a message regarding progress that is still relevant, and only for that reason it would be worth a watch.