In F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, particularly the period of the film in which Orlok terrorizes the crew of the ship he is smuggling himself upon, the character of Count Orlok (Max Schreck) is seen to have a supernatural effect on people. By looking at this scene from both descriptive, evaluative and interpretive lenses, the editing and shot composition of the film showcases the film’s desire to show Orlok as a supernatural and hypnotic figure.
There is then a cut to a wide shot of captain walking up the stairs, then cut to the other hold, where there is a sick man in a cot. The captain climbs down the stairs, presumably just after we saw him last. There is an insert shot of the sailor giving the sick man medicine, which then cuts back to the wide shot as they leave. The film then changes to a green tint, indicating a change in time, as the sick man wakes up and looks over at something that disturbs him. Murnau uses an eyeline match to show Orlok fading in and out of view, giving us the same view as the sick man. We then see his reaction in order to understand what he is feeling. Back to the yellow color, the man on horseback continues to travel with the horse.
Changing to the red color, we see the sick man has died, and the sailor and captain are dumping his body topside. We see them lift the body, then a match in action cut shows us the body being dumped outside the ship. Cutting back to the same shot, the film irises in on the sailor’s face to show that the next dialogue slate is his inner thoughts. After another parallel cut to the man on horseback, the film returns to the hold, where the sailor climbs down toward the coffins and walks toward one. The film shows a match in action as the camera cuts closer to coffins. The sailor chops the coffin with his axe, and the camera cuts to match the action on the other side of the coffin, showing the man's face looking down. We then see an eyeline match to the chopped part of the coffin, where rats emerge. We cut back to sailor chopping then looking up, with another eyeline match to the sailor looking at the rising Count Orlok from another coffin. After a medium shot of the sailor's terrified face, he holds up arms, cutting to a match in action as the camera cuts to show him running away.
The film cuts back as an ellipsis to the captain at the wheel, topside; another cut shows the sailor climbing out of the hold with the same terrified face, showing that this is still happening in chronological order. The sailor backs towards the edge of the sailing ship, and Murnau crosscuts between the captain’s reaction and the sailor’s drop from the ship. Cutting back to the captain, we see him start to tie a rope around himself, which is then crosscut with Orlok creeping across the topside. We see the captain eventually looking horrified at Orlok's approach, then the scene fades out, implying that Orlok killed him.
Interpreting this scene, we are shown various characters reacting to Orlok’s presence, even without him physically being there. Several scenes in this sequence are shown in continuity, in order to establish the timeframe of events that occur. Within this scene, we also see editing tricks used to show Orlok’s supernatural power, like his floating up from the coffin and his ghostlike fading in and out. These techniques are all used to create a somewhat dreamlike atmosphere and show the effect of Orlok on the supporting characters, while still showing the chronological telling of events.
Murnau, F.W. Nosferatu. GER, 1922. Film.