The Golem: How He Came into the World (German: Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam, also referred to as Der Golem) is a 1920 German silent horror film and a leading example of early German Expressionism. Director Paul Wegener, who co-directed the film with Carl Boese and co-wrote the script with Henrik Galeen based on Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel, stars as the titular creature, a being in Jewish folklore created from clay. Photographer Karl Freund went on to work on the 1930s classic Universal horror films years later in Hollywood.
The Golem: How He Came into the World is the third of three films that Wegener made featuring the golem, the other two being The Golem (1915) and the short comedy The Golem and the Dancing Girl (1917), in which Wegener dons the golem make-up in order to frighten a young lady with whom he is infatuated. The Golem: How He Came into the World is a prequel to The Golem from 1915 and as the only one of the three films that has not been lost, is the best known of the series.
Set in the Jewish ghetto of medieval Prague, the film begins with Rabbi Loew, the head of the city's Jewish community, reading the stars. Loew predicts disaster for his people and informs the elders of the community. The next day the Holy Roman Emperor signs a decree declaring that the Jews must leave the city before the new moon and sends the knight Florian to deliver the decree. Loew meanwhile begins to devise a way of defending the Jews.
Upon arriving at the ghetto, the arrogant Florian is attracted to Miriam, Loew's daughter, for whom his assistant also feels affection. Loew talks Florian into reminding the Emperor that he has predicted disasters and told the Emperor's horoscopes, and requests an audience with him. Having flirted with Miriam, Florian leaves. Loew begins to create the Golem, a huge being made of clay which he will bring to life to defend his people. Florian returns later with a request from the Emperor for Loew to attend the Rose Festival at the palace. He shares a romantic moment with Miriam while Loew reveals to his assistant that he has secretly created the Golem, and requires his assistance to animate it. In an elaborate magical procedure, Loew and the assistant summon the spirit Astaroth and compel him, as per the ancient texts, to say the magic word that will bring life. This word is written on paper by Loew which is then enclosed in an amulet and inserted onto the Golem's chest. The Golem awakes, and the Rabbi initially uses it as a household servant.
When Loew is summoned to the palace for the festival, he brings the Golem with him to impress the audience. Florian meanwhile slips away from the court to meet Miriam, whose house is being guarded by Loew's assistant. Back at the palace, the court is both terrified and intrigued by the arrival of the Golem. Impressed, the Emperor asks to see more supernatural feats. Loew projects a magical screen showing the history of the Jews, instructing his audience not to laugh or even speak. Upon the arrival of Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew, the court begins to laugh and the palace suddenly begins to crumble. At Loew's order, the Golem intervenes and props up the falling ceiling, saving the court. In gratitude, the Emperor pardons the Jews and allows them to stay.
Loew and the Golem return to the ghetto, spreading the news that the Jews are saved. Loew returns to his house and begins to notice erratic behaviour in the Golem. After managing to remove the amulet, he reads that upcoming astrological movements will cause Astaroth to possess the Golem and attack its creators. Loew is called down by his assistant to join in the celebrations in the street. As the community rejoices, the assistant goes to inform Miriam but finds her in bed with Florian. Devastated, he reanimates the Golem and orders it to remove Florian from the building, but the Golem, now under Astaroth's influence, literally does so by throwing Florian from the roof of the house, killing him. Horrified, the assistant and Miriam flee, but the Golem sets fire to the building and Miriam falls unconscious.
Loew's assistant rushes to the synagogue to alert the praying Jews of the disaster, but upon their arrival at Loew's house they find that it is burning and both the Golem and Miriam are missing. Despaired, the community begs Loew to save them from the rampaging Golem. Loew performs a spell that removes Astaroth from the Golem. Promptly, the Golem, who is wandering the ghetto causing destruction, leaves Miriam, whom he has been dragging by the hair through the streets, lying on a stone surface and heads towards the ghetto gate. He breaks the gate open and sees a group of little girls playing. They all flee except for one, whom he picks up, having now a docile nature. Out of curiosity, she removes the amulet from the Golem; it drops her and collapses, unconscious. Loew meanwhile finds Miriam, who awakes shortly after. Happily reunited, they are awkwardly joined by Loew's assistant, who informs him that the Jews are waiting for him by the gate. After Loew has left, the assistant promises to Miriam that he will never tell anyone of her forbidden affair with Florian, and asks in return for forgiveness for his actions. The Jews meanwhile gather at the gate to find the dead Golem. Rejoicing and praying, they carry it back into the ghetto, the Star of David appearing on the screen as the film ends.