- Native Title: Metropolis
- Primary Language: German (silent)
- Format: Black and White
- Year of release: 1927
- Director: Fritz Lang
- Budget: est. 5,000,000 Reichsmarks
- Film Length: est 153 minutes (original)
- Production Company: Universum Film
Another German expressionist work, Metropolis is a science fiction-drama set in the ambiguously-located megacity of "Metropolis" that explores the dangers of the divisions between the working classes and the wealthy elite. As well as an exploration of Marxist philosophy, the dangers of technology and plight of the worker in the roaring twenties, it also includes a variation on the synopsis of the classic Shakespearian tale of Romeo and Juliet. But there is far more to it than this alone as for a film whose length vary between two and two-and-a-half hours depending on what version you encounter (as the original faced heavy censorship with a sizeable portion of its material lost for many years)
The first scenes are powerful images of the darkness of this fantasised world: After a montage of working heavy machinery and an establishing shot of the metropolis itself, we are shown the first people of this megacity: The common worker, who shuffles as part of a regimented mass with hundreds, joined by hundreds more to and from factories. The movements of the people going in and the people going out are similar but echo different feelings: The "in" groups shuffle with their heads low as they dread another long day of hard labour while the "out" groups stagger as if stiff, their heads low and their movements sleepwalker like, exhausted from the long day and perhaps dreaming of collapsing onto a soft bed or even a wooden chair although we never see how these people live in their own homes.
Then we see the city's wealthiest in the metropolis above, enjoying themselves to the fullest in immense environments, including an Olympian stadium and a beautiful forest-like garden populated by weird trees to which the young fritter about in the most outlandish of outfits (the film's primary protagonist, Freden, for instance and a mild example wears a shirt, tie, and baggy breeches. One of the women he entertains and playfully chases in this park wears a tricorn hat with a dress fit for a film actress and one of the one-time extras wore a petticoat that made her dress four times as wide as her hips but with no depth). It is then in this garden that we meet Maria, who brings a group of workers' children to this park and explaining how she is showing them their brothers and sisters. The park's occupants however, stop and stare at the children as if they were a glaring eyesore on their perfect world or perhaps something that they had not seen before, but weren't enthused either.
Later on we see the labourers at work, and it is quite shocking to see human beings move in such a rigid and choreographed fashion that could understandably have the user confuse them for robots (although not far from the truth given the original definition of the word robot could be summed up as "he who performs hard labour"). It is difficult to describe their motions, which although appear stiff and rigid compared to normal human movement, are also fluid and efficient. As though the workers are dancing in unison to perform their roles and keep the entire machine working. Aside from the Heart Machine however, there is little mention of what all this industry is producing or supplying so it can appear as though the workers (such as one registered as "11811" who has to move the hands of a clock-like device to meet any lit-up light bulbs) are going though a laborious and torturous ritual of "progress" in order to appease and slow a thermometer that starts filling up if they're too slow like a doomsday hourglass.
|For their time, these sets were a phenomenal effort considering the scale and the detail.|
It is also possible that the atmosphere of the Weimar Republic had an influence on Metropolis, as only a few years before the nation had suffered a disastrous case of hyperinflation (reports exist of Germans using million-mark notes as notepaper or entire basketfuls to buy stamps at the dawn of the 1920s (Jensen, 2013)) that was only just settling down when production of the film started. And a couple of years after the film premièred, the Great Depression hit.the world, with a still-recovering Germany being hit very hard. Its possible that one of the missing scenes - where a worker found large wads of money - was taken out by 1927 censors in reactionary recollection of when the German mark was worth next-to-nothing only a few years before.
|Was Rotwang dabbling in science man was not meant to know?|
|Maria fully embracing herself as the Whore of Babylon.|
|The wink itself is perhaps creepy enough, but when she does|
this in front of Joh Fredensen the moment lasts several seconds.
There is also a possible anti-futurist element explored not just by the trodden-on labourers of the Worker City, but also by the robot version of Maria, who upon being released with her new skin was virtually indistinguishable from a real person as Rotwang had intended. Although it was perhaps more clear to the audience than the characters who the real Maria was, as the duplicate had deeper eyeliner and was far more expressive and emotive in her body language. While the real Maria stood solemn in a single position with a straight back and gestured with her hands as she retold the story of the Tower of Babel, the duplicate conveyed her message of revolution as she darted from end to end of her stage, leaning over the corner blocks and literally reaching out to her audience with wide eyes and a euphoric smile. There was perhaps only one scene in the entire film where she stood with her back straight while as her duplicate. And even in that scene the duplicate wasn't perfectly normal as she gave a wink to someone so slowly it was almost disconcerting. When she was caught she had her legs moving in every direction, her head swaying everywhere, had she existed in the real world she might have been considered insane. Despite how sinisterly Rotwang behaves, and him having the master plan, it is perhaps this robot that is the true threat of this film as she simultaneously riles up the workers to play out story of Babel and descends the elite further into hedonism and lust, promoting anger and vengeance by little more than showmanship and a silver tongue. "The anti-Maria foments unrest among the city's oppressed workers, while driving the city's wealthy sons to lustful violence with her astonishingly lubricious nightclub dancing" (Romney, 2010) She a robot but she's also not physically unstoppable; from what we see she doesn't have the super-strength or durability of the Terminators for instance despite the futurist belief that steel was superior to flesh.
Metropolis is a film perhaps long ahead of its time, a precursor to modern science fiction and the summer blockbuster, it contains so much that viewer can discover new details within again and again with each view that perhaps justifies its modern-day celebration as a masterpiece in film history. There is also a hint that this film is perhaps ahead of its time in terms of its themes, as some such as the segregation of rich and poor and the harsh exploitation of a distant workforce bring up strong images of The Great Depression and exploitive globalisation respectively. Metropolis has something for everyone be it a love for tense political drama, a satirical observation of modern society, a timeless tale of love, loss and betrayal, an escapist window into the future, a symbolism-riddled story to pick apart or an over-the-top action reel. It could potentially be stated that Metropolis is a well-composed window into a far-off yet familiar world that can be seen and appreciated by a variety of audiences.
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- (unknown); Leviticus 18:21; The Official King James Bible Online; http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Leviticus-18-21/ (last accessed 2nd October 2014)
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- Hall, M., 1927; Metropolis (1927) A Technological Marvel; New York Times; published (print) 7th March 1927; http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A05E2D8143BE13ABC4F53DFB566838C639EDE (last accessed 2nd October 2014)