Throughout his long life, the scholar Faust has tried and failed to understand the workings of the world and the interconnectedness of things, the deepest of meanings. Now he is old, weak, and has lost his faith in life.
The sun rises on a new day. But why continue this life of ignorance and hopelessness? Faust takes a goblet of poison, the only thing able to free him from his doubts.
His ears fill with the sound of ancient songs, and he hesitates to drink the poison. Should he pray to God? But can God give him back his youth? Faust curses his life, his dreams, his delusions; in his despair, he calls on the Devil himself for help.
Méphistophélès appears. He is ready to serve: does Faust want wealth, fame, power? But what are those things to Faust? He wants to be young again, to be able to love again.
Méphistophélès promises to make the scientist’s wish come true and to serve him on earth, but on the condition that Faust’s soul belongs to the Devil in Hell. Faust hesitates to sign the contract. Then Méphistophélès conjures an image of Marguerite. Dazzled by the young woman’s beauty, the old Faust grabs the goblet Méphistophélès holds out to him, and after drinking is transformed into a strong young man.
The morning of the holiday; the townspeople gather in a square beyond the city gates. Laughter and merry conversation can behead. Only Marguerite’s brother, Valentin, is sullen – he has to leave for war and leave his sister by herself. He prays to God to keep Marguerite safe from evil. Valentin’s friend Siébel promises to keep her safe and protect her.
Méphistophélès and Faust enter the square. Méphistophélès sings about the “Golden Calf” that rules over the minds of men. Then he predicts Wagner and Valentin will die soon, and warns Siébel not to give Marguerite flowers, for any flowers he picks will wilt. He makes a brazen toast to Marguerite. Méphistophélès’ predictions and an insult to Marguerite anger the friends, but Valentin’s sword shatters in the air. They are only able to temper Méphistophélès by making the sign of the cross.
Faust impatiently waits for his promised meeting with Marguerite. When she appears, Faust offers her his arm, but she declines. Méphistophélès promises to help Faust win the modest young woman’s heart.
The suitor Siébel enters Marguerite’s garden. Méphistophélès’ prediction comes true – the flowers he has gathered for Marguerite wilt in his hands. Méphistophélès and Faust also enter, bringing a small chest of expensive jewelry.
Marguerite again comes face to face with the same handsome young man who first spoke to her in the town square. She is flustered by this meeting.
Marguerite sees the flowers left by Siébel but then finds the chest under them. The temptation is too great, and she opens it.
Marthe, Marguerite’s neighbour, enters the garden and finds Marguerite covered in jewellery.
Méphistophélès and Faust enter. Méphistophélès comes bearing sad news for Marthe – her husband has died in battle. But the frivolous Marthe doesn’t mourn for long. Enchanted by Méphistophélès’ flattery, she leaves with him to go for a walk. Marguerite and Faust are left alone.
Faust’s fervent passion has deeply moved Marguerite. Love and magic of the night sway Marguerite, and she turns to the stars to whispers to them her secret.
Soldiers return from the battlefield, Valentin among them. Siébel greets his friend, but refuses to enter Valentin’s home, only begging his friend to forgive Marguerite. Valentin rushes to his beloved sister.
Faust and Méphistophélès enter. Faust is plagued by remorse. Méphistophélès mocks him and sings a jeering serenade, calling Marguerite out to meet her lover.
The enraged Valentin comes to meet them: Marguerite’s debaucher will get his rightful punishment immediately! But Faust wins the duel with help from Méphistophélès.
Townspeople rush in. The dying Valentin curses Marguerite.
Marguerite’s love for Faust has brought her only suffering. She is pregnant with his child; meanwhile, her neighbours only mock her. Faust has abandoned her. In her deep despair, Marguerite begs God to forgive her sins, but all she can hear is the threatening voice of Méphistophélès ring in her ears. Tortured by the knowledge of her own sins, Marguerite loses the last of her strength.
Walpurgis Night. The witches’ Sabbath. Méphistophélès has brought Faust to this celebration of dark spirits. But Faust finds the dark scene repulsive. Then Méphistophélès transforms everything so that it is fantastically vibrant. An image suddenly appears of Marguerite locked in chains. Faust flees Méphistophélès’ magical world in order to save her.
Marguerite is locked up in prison. She has gone mad and in a moment of despair has killed her baby. She now awaits the death penalty.
Faust and Méphistophélès arrive at her cell to save her. They have until sunrise to get her out of the prison and must hurry. But Marguerite refuses to go with them – the only thing that can save her is the freedom of a clear conscience.