The inability of a person to feel that people who have certain differences are just as worthy of life, and just as deserving of acceptance.

Intolerance tends to lead toward hatred, violence, and war. It's a demonstration how closed-minded and inhumane people can really be.

Various forms of intolerance include sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

Lack of tolerance. An inability of the body to digest or break down certain substances (drugs or nutrients) which are normally digestible by others. For example, lactose intolerance is an inability to digest the sugar lactose.

From the BioTech Dictionary at For further information see the BioTech homenode.

Intolerance (1916), a film directed by D.W. Griffith. Made after the success and the controversy of The Birth of a Nation, Griffith created another masterpiece of epic proportions. At the time, it was by far, the most expensive film ever made, costing an enormous $2,000,000, ten times more than 'Birth of a Nation'. However on its release it was a huge failure - it was too complex and innovative for the general public. Today it is widely acknowledged as a true masterpiece - in many ways surpassing even 'The Birth of a Nation'. Its originality - both in terms of plot device and camerawork - was highly influential among directors around the world - most notably Eisenstein.

The film consists of four seperate stories, set at different times in history, each displaying different aspects of intolerance. These stories are interwoven throughout the film so they all come to an end in the last 10 minutes, but it is easier for me to examine each seperately before considering them all as a whole. Here they are, in order of importance and length:

The Modern Story
Plot: This story, by far the longest and most moving of the four is set in the present day (1916). It centres on The Dear One (Mae Marsh). A young girl, she lives in a small town with her father, who works at the local factory. The factory owner has an unmarried sister Miss. Jenkins, who having lost her looks, turns instead to 'charity'. A group of 'reformers' from the city, more unmarried women, ask her Miss. Jenkins for money to help the poor. She in turn asks her brother for money, and he agrees, and cuts his employees wages by 10%. A full scale riot ensues, which results in several people being shot and all the workers losing their jobs. The Dear One and her father move to the city, as does The Boy (Robert Harron) whose father has been shot, and The Friendless One (Miriam Cooper), another young woman.

Unable to find work in the city, the Boy turns to crime, and ends up as a member of a gang run by The Musketeer of the Slums (Walter Long). The Friendless One also ends up as the Musketeer's girl. Meanwhile, the Dear One's father dies, much to her sorrow. The Boy meets the Dear One, they fall in love and promptly get married. The Boy vows to go straight, and returns his gun to the Musketeer and gets a job at a newsstand. The Musketeer, angered that the Boy has left the gang, sets him up, and gets him sent to prison for a year. The Dear One, while he is locked up, has a baby which she looks after by herself. The prying 'reformers' hear of this child whose father is in prison, and decide to look into it. They arrive at the Dear One's flat when she, feeling ill, has briefly gone to the neighbour's to ask for some alcohol as a cure. The reformers find the baby alone in the room, and catch the girl returning with the alcohol. They are shocked by this, and threaten to take her baby away. The Dear One, protecting her baby, drives the reformers out of her room with her broom. They are appalled by this behaviour, and return en force to take the baby. Unable to stop them, the Dear One is left alone, and consoles herself with the thought that they will take better care of her child. In reality we see that it is in a large room full of babies, and the nurse does not heed it when it cries.

Soon the Boy is released from prison, and returns to working for the Musketeer. The Musketeer is attracted by the Dear One, and under the pretence of trying to get her baby back, visits her alone. The Friendless One (who has the Boy's old gun) is suspicious and follows him, and the Boy finds out and goes to rescue his wife. The Boy enters the room where the Musketeer and the Dear One are struggling and begins wrestling with the Musketeer. Meanwhile the Friendless One, from outside the window, shoots the Musketeer and throws the gun into the room. It is clear to all that the Boy killed the Musketeer, and he is sentenced to death. A kindly policeman (Tom Wilson) hears of the sentence, and takes the Dear One to make an appeal to the governor, who happens to be in town, without success. The Friendless One, driven by guilt, follows them, and finally admits her guilt. They quickly follow the governor to the station, but they are too late, the train has already left. Meanwhile the Boy's execution is prepared - the trapdoor is tested, and a priest goes to see the Boy. The Dear One and the policeman borrow a convenient race-car that turns up at the station, and chase the train. They overtake it, and block its path. With the Friendless One they convince the governor to stop the execution, and they promptly rush to the prison. By now the Boy has been led onto the scaffold, blindfolded, and his hands tied behind his back. The Dear One and the Governor burst into the prison in the nick of time and save the Boy. Their baby is returned, and they all live happily ever after.

Remarks: The whole story is greatly strenghtened by a superb performance from Mae Marsh - she plays the innocent young girl to perfection, with her worried smile, and childish habits. The riot in the factory is superbly done, with very good use of different camera angles and smoke - Eisenstein's Strike (1925) was clearly highly influenced by this scene. The scene when the baby is taken is also extremely powerful, with clever intercutting between shots of the Dear One and shots of the reformers opposite her. But the whole story is building up towards the final scene. The race, both against the train and the clock, is one of the first of its kind, and even today still one of the most exciting and nail-biting. The crosscutting between the high-speed car/train chase and the Boy being slowly prepared for execution is astoundingly effective, in spite of it having been frequently copied in later films. All in all this is the most powerful and moving of the four stories, and our relief at the final outcome is immense, especially in light of the other stories.

The Babylonian Story
Plot:This story, taking up a large portion of the film, and an even greater portion of the budget, is set in ancient Babylon, and centres on The Mountain Girl (Constance Talmadge). She, a beautiful but boisterous young girl, has come to live with her brother in Babylon. She rejects the advances of several young men, including The Rhapsode (Elmer Clifton), and attacks them if they touch her. This unruly behaviour causes her brother to take her to the slave market, to be sold as a wife. However, her un-girllike behaviour there (including eating raw onions) discourages anyone from bidding for her. At this moment Prince Belshazzar (Alfred Paget), the ruler of Babylon enters. The Mountain Girl appeals to him to save her from marriage, and he decrees that she may marry whenever and whoever she wishes. She thanks him, and from then on worships him like a god.

Meanwhile, Belshazzar has allowed the cult of the Ishtar, a god of love (whose followers include semi-nude hand-maidens), to enter the city. This greatly angers the High Priest of Bel, the rival god. At the same time a huge army, led by Cyrus, King of the Persians, is advancing on the city. An epic battle ensues - the Persians attack the city with huge siege towers, and ladders to scale the wall. The Mountain Girl, keen to fight for her Prince, dresses up as a soldier and shoots at the Persians from the walls. In the midst of the fighting is Belshazzar's bodyguard 'the mighty man of valor', who kills anyone who comes near him. Some of the Persians manage to scale the walls, but they are eventually driven back, and many of the siege towers are either toppled or burnt. After a long fight, stretching over two days the Persians finally make a retreat.

The Babylonians hold a huge festival, celebrating their victory and honouring the god of love. But in secret the priest of Bel sends chariots to recall cyrus's army, promising that he will leave the gates open for him. The Rhapsode is by this time a follower of Bel, and is one of the charioteers who goes on this mission. To impress the mountain girl he tells her of his mission (although he does not know its true purpose). The mountain girl, suspicious, and eager to protect Belshazzar, gets hold of a chariot and follows him. Discovering the danger, she rushes back to the city, ahead of Cyrus's advancing army, to warn the Prince. He, however is taking part in the festival, and by the time she warns him, Cyrus is already inside the city, slaughtering all the people while they celebrate. For a while Belshazzar's bodyguard manages to hold back the hordes of Persians, and the Mountain Girl defends her prince with a bow and arrow, but finally the bodyguard is killed and the Mountain Girl shot by an arrow, and the prince kills himself, leaving Cyrus to triumph over Babylon. In the last shot, the dying Mountain Girl, looks up at her dead prince and dies.

Remarks: The central scene in this story is the siege. This is an astounding, epic scene, with all the stops out - we have a 50-ft wall (actually constructed), huge siege towers, thousands upon thousands of extras, stabbing, shooting, beheading, and a peculiar fire machine. This scene must have been the first of its kind, and even today is very influential (The Two Towers). It is very cleverly constructed - it slowly builds up, as the forces prepare on either side, then as the battle is under way, it cuts away to people praying within the city, keeping the suspense up, before returning to the battle. The battle itself is displayed from several different angles, creating a strong sense of its scale and confusion. The festival scene is on nearly as large a scale with thousands of extras and an enormous set. It begins with a masterly crane shot, starting with an overview of the celebrations, and moving all the way in to close up. It is a little jerky, but for its time it is superb. The final race scene - the girl trying to warn the Prince, is also very striking, with shaky camerawork to create sense of speed, and crosscutting between the girl, Cyrus behind, and the festival in the city. Compare this scene with the chase scene in the Modern Story.

The French Story
Plot: This story, taking up quite a short section of the film, is set in France in 1572. It depicts the infamous St Bartholomew's Day Massacre. The central figure is Brown Eyes (Margery Wilson), a young Huguenot girl, living with her family, who is betrothed to Prosper Latour (Eugene Pallette) who is a Catholic. The king of France is Charles IX (Frank Bennett), a catholic, whose mother Catherine de Medici (Josephine Crowell) has a lot of power over him. She finally convinces him that the Huguenots must all be killed. So at dawn, the soldiers go to the houses of the Huguenots and massacre them all - men, women and children. One of the soldiers who goes to Brown Eyes's house has already been attracted by Brown Eyes. When they break in, after killing her father and throwing her sister out of a window, he tries to rape her. Meanwhile Prosper Latour hears of the massacre and rushes to Brown Eyes's help. Too late - we see the soldier run her through with his sword. Finally Catherine walks out to inspect the massacre, and smiles at the result, and Prosper Latour, finding Brown Eyes dead, carries her body out into the street, and after shouting at the soldiers is himself shot.

Remarks: In spite of its shortness, this story has some powerful scenes. The massacre is extremely striking, the soldiers riding down the streets killing everyone, bodies lining the roads. It is extremely shocking and distressing. There is a particularly moving scene where a priest shelters a young boy, being pursued by soldiers, under his cloak. La Reine Margot, a later french film about the same event, is highly influenced by this scene. Brown Eyes's murder is also very shocking and unexpected - you really expect Prosper Latour to get there in time to save her.

The Judaean Story
Plot: This story, by far the shortest of the four, simply consists of a few scenes scattered through the film, and recounts various stories from the life of Jesus, including turning water to wine, and the crucifixion. It also displays the Pharisees in a bad light.

Remarks: The purpose of this story is basically to identify the intolerance of the romans and pharisees, and the suffering of christ with events and characters in other stories. The shot of the crucifixion is quite effective, with the crosses on the hill in the distance, and thousands of people crowding around.

These four stories are interwoven and linked by intertitles, drawing comparisions between them, and shots of a woman (Lillian Gish) rocking a cradle back and forth. The rocking of the cradle is supposed to represent the swings between happiness and suffering in life. The stories build up along side one another, each with similar themes. The climax of each comes at dawn - the Boy is to be executed at dawn, Cyrus will march on Babylon at dawn, the massacre begins at dawn, Jesus will be crucified at dawn. In three of them we have a race to stop disaster - the car racing to stop the train and the execution, the Mountain Girl racing to warn the Prince, Latour racing to save Brown Eyes. In the fourth we have Jesus carrying his cross to the hill. We see Brown Eyes killed, and Babylon falling, before the unexpected happy conclusion to the Modern Story. This brings a huge sense of relief, and finishes with a hopeful rather than pessimistic outlook. Finally we see a modern battle (presumably World War I), and prisoners in a jail, with the intertitle 'When cannon and prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance -' then, as the soldiers are raising their bayonets to kill one another, angels appear from heaven, and the intertitle 'and perfect love shall bring peace evermore'. The soldiers all drop there weapons, the prison turns into a field, and we see the near future where the cannons are overgrown, the people are all happy, and children are playing in the fields. Finally we cut to a last shot of Lillian Gish rocking the cradle, before the credits roll. This final scene is a bit overdone and sentimental, rather like the last scene of 'The Birth of a Nation', but something is necessary to sum up the whole film, portraying the contrast between love and intolerance. All in all Griffith has created a true masterpiece, far ahead of its time both in terms of camerawork and plot device, and creating some really powerful and moving scenes.

In*tol"er*ance (?), n. [L. intolerantia impatience, unendurableness: cf. F. intol'erance.]


Want of capacity to endure; as, intolerance of light.


The quality of being intolerant; refusal to allow to others the enjoyment of their opinions, chosen modes of worship, and the like; want of patience and forbearance; illiberality; bigotry; as, intolerance shown toward a religious sect.

These few restrictions, I hope, are no great stretches of intolerance, no very violent exertions of despotism. Burke.


© Webster 1913.

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