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Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)

In F.W. Murnau's lush tale (documentary-style drama) of native South Seas love and Bora Bora island life, a story of ill-fated romance (a star-crossed love a la Romeo and Juliet style) and the breaking of a sacred tabu (the designation of a young girl as the new Chosen Maid, a 'sacred virgin' that could not be touched or desired sexually) - this film encouraged the trend of other popular, exploitational and lucrative 'bare native' films in its wake in the early to mid 1930s - after sights of polynesian girls swimming or dancing partly naked in the film:

  • a love affair developed between two Polynesian natives: the Girl (as Reri) (Anne Chevalier), and the Boy (Matahi) during a scene of 'Paradise"-like swimming
  • Reri was designated as the successor to the deceased former Chosen one, by a grim-faced, harsh tribal elder known as the Old Warrior (Hitu) - she was outcast and considered the island's new "sacred virgin" that was now "taboo" to all islander men: "No law of the gods is more to be feared than that which guards the sacred virgin - man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire for in her honor rests the honor of us all...Sacred is Reri from this time forth, she is tabu. To break this tabu means death"
  • after Reri's selection, there was celebratory native dancing of flower-garlanded, bare-breasted native dancers, although during the ceremony, Reri sat with her head down
  • in the next chapter, titled "PARADISE LOST," the Boy kidnapped the Girl and they lived together on another island ("of the pearl trade where the white man rules and the old gods are forgotten...driven on by fear -- fear of the avenging tabu")
  • they had to evade the never-ending, relentless pursuit by Hitu after the "guilty lovers"
  • in a heartbreaking separation scene - the Girl was snatched by the Old Warrior; she wrote a goodbye letter to the Boy ("I must go Hitu is here and waits for me You will die if I do not obey I will go so that you may live The Tabu is upon us. I have been so happy with you Far more than I deserved the love you have given me I will keep to the last beat of my heart")
  • in the tragic ending, as the Boy frantically swam after their sailboat, she was placed in a cabin and the hatchway was pulled over to enclose her, while the rope was cut that the Boy grabbed onto; he had to give up swimming - and presumably died of exhaustion in the open ocean


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