The Wind is the last surviving silent picture by Seastrom, the great Swedish director who worked in Hollywood in the 1920s. It is also the last silent film of Lillian Gish, the mute art's greatest actress. In The Wind, natural forces destroy a delicate young woman, played by Gish, who is isolated in a desert cabin struck by sandstorms. Through both cinematography and Gish's performance, wind represents all the cosmic forces that have ever borne down on a vulnerable humanity. When faced with a brutal male attacker, Gish's seemingly fragile and innocent character summons a ferocious strength and resilience.
What makes The Wind such an eloquent coda to its dying medium is Seastrom's and Gish's distillation of their art forms to the simplest, most elemental form: there are no frills. Seastrom was always at his best as a visual poet of natural forces impinging on human drama; in his films, natural forces convey drama and control human destiny. Gish, superficially fragile and innocent, could plumb the depths of her steely soul and find the will to prevail. The genius of both Seastrom and Gish comes to a climactic confluence in The Wind. Gish is Everywoman, subject to the most basic male brutality and yet freshly open to the possibility of romance. As a result, the film offers a quintessential cinematic moment of the rarest and most transcendentally pure art. Seastrom made nine films in the United States after accepting a 1923 offer from Hollywood, and although the silent film was on its way out, he left, in The Wind, one last enduring monument of the genre.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 174.