In the film The Last Laugh, there are several themes that are with out a doubt still relevant today. First we must outline some of the strong themes in the German Expressionist film. There is the theme of rich vs. poor and the change in socio-economic status. In addition we could see the theme of “what goes around comes around”, and lastly, the old adage, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.”
The Last Laugh was considered part of the Kammerspiel movement in German cinema. Most of these types of films had unhappy endings however The Last Laugh did not. We see the lead character (the old man) go from being a doorman to a bathroom attendant to a millionaire. So we get to see all the emotion that follows suit with this change in socio-economic status. The theme of “rich vs. poor” is really the backbone of this story. How people treat the old man depending on where he is within the economic ladder. The fact that wealth seems to exemplify power and people are attracted to both. As someone that has grown up in a country that emphasizes the importance of a strong middle class, the protagonist seemed most content and balanced in the beginning when he was a doorman and had his family by his side. It was shocking to see his family turn their backs on him as well as his community, once he no longer wore the uniform and honor of the doorman position (which I am not quite sure I follow but certainly an interesting perspective). In terms of mannerism and behavior we watch the old man go from well adjusted in his role as a doorman to a huge shift once he gets demoted and most of the film is spent emphasizing the emotional as well as physical downfall of his life with this change. A sunken posture, a very sad face, and slow deliberate movement could characterize his demeanor.
My grandmother used to say, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone”. This idea or theme, I personally thought, could definitely be seen in this film. As stated earlier, wealth seems to mean power and power seems to attract people to him. Therefore when he is poor and depressed most people do not notice him and when he has money in the end, he is the cat’s meow. Money seems to also bring other types of behavior, gluttony and general over-indulgence. However while we see this in the film, we can also imagine that this is just his initial reaction and shouldn’t a man be able to have some fun with his wealth? At least he seems to share it with his new best friend, the old man that took his place as bathroom attendant.
Finally, we have the theme of “what goes around comes around”. In the usual sense this idea is rooted in the Buddhist or Hindu philosophy known as karma. The idea that the world we live in is one of cause and effect. However in the film we see some cause and effect but in the end it is merely by chance that our lead comes into the fortune. He goes from comfort to lack and from lack to wealth. The old man is simply doing his job in the beginning as well as fulfilling his duties, as a husband at home, once he gets demoted there is a ripple effect. We see his family leave and all of his neighbors laugh at him, but who get “the last laugh”? We can say that it is a mere coincidence that the millionaire leaves his fortunes to last pitiful soul he dies with but maybe it is also about kindness. His inheritance goes to the one whom arms he dies in so this means it has to be someone that has a sensitivity to hold a man when he dies instead of just letting him fall alone and die without looking upon the face of another kind soul. In the end “the meek shall inherit the earth” and the man that has lost everything gains all of the wealth, fame, and we can assume respect that he was denied by the system.
Mast, Gerald & Kawin, Bruce. A Short History of the Movies. 11th Ed. Pearson Education, Inc., 2008. Print
Video in class: Narrative Film 530 The Last Laugh