Quick recap: Matahi and Reri are lovers who live in paradise. Everything is perfect, except for the fact that Reri has been chosen as a Forever Virgin as sacrifice to the gods. Oops.
Fun (?) fact: I assumed ‘Tabu’ to either be a lost island in the South Pacific, or some very complicated ritual a select group of natives followed. Turns out, it literally means ‘taboo’, as in, Reri becomes off-limits, or tabu, to other men. What a let down.
My thoughts: Do you remember when you first discovered National Geographic magazine? You were probably in 5th grade or maybe middle school and the first time you opened one up you told yourself it was just for the articles since you wanted to be an archeologist after all. But inevitably there was always, ALWAYS some photo shoot about an Amazonian tribe who had never heard of the concept of clothes and that, unfortunately, would be the exact second your teacher chose to walk by. That, my friends, is how this movie felt to watch. I tried my best to pay attention to the plot as best as I could but like that very first National Geographic photo spread many years ago, the tribe….aesthetic…..was hard to ignore.
Despite this movie being made in 1931, it’s not the worst when it comes to representing an indigenous tribe. Director FW Murnau filmed in the South Pacific and hired mostly locals. The beginning of Tabu is about as stereotypical as you can get with youths running around naked and just enjoying nature. But at the same time, it just didn’t feel exploitative . It surprised me how a silent film about a non-white group of people could come off as so humane. For example, there is a huge feast for Reri before she heads out to be a Forever Virgin (meaning no man can ever look or touch her again) and of course the girl is absolutely devastated. I loved how fed up the elder was that he had to deal with such drama, but it felt realistic. And so did Reri and Matahi’s relationship. They really seemed to care for each other, even though both were super näive when it came to being an adult.
As I went over the basic facts with my nine year old the next morning, as I sometimes do, I realized that this is actually a very tragic film. Almost 90 year old spoiler alert: Matahi and Reri run away to a different island only to be tracked down by the elder rather quickly. He threatens to kill Matahi if the girl doesn’t give in to her fate and she finally agrees because she loves him so much. Matahi refuses to give up however and follows her ship as far as he can until he finally succumbs to exhaustion and drowns. So basically the movies ends on a downer, except for the gods, who finally got their Forever Virgin.
Final review: 3/5. The nudity is pretty good too.
Up next: Cairo Station