The Pleasure Garden as a Prison in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis tells the story of a futuristic city in which a handful of elites live in luxury while ruling an army of workers confined to a smoke-belching underground factory. A prophetess threatens the fragile balance between these two classes, predicting the arrival of a “mediator” –referred to as the “heart”- who will join both social classes together to found a society in which the “head” (the managerial class) unifies with the “hands” (the workers) as a result of their link to the heart.

I found the pleasure garden scene very interesting, as it reminded me of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Quelling subversion requires limiting the imaginations and social consciousness of both the workers and the elites. One cannot simply expect all the elites to remain satisfied with their dominance and comfort. Some might find this state of affairs repugnant and attempt to overturn it in the name of equality. The ruling powers must therefore build a reality of their own, through which to indoctrinate the younger generations to pursue a similar course of action. If they cannot conceive of suffering, starvation, and drudgery, so much the better; incapable of critical thought, these young elites will not possess the empathy necessary to compare their standard of living with that of the proletariat. In the pleasure garden scene, we see the young protagonist playing like a child, brimming with joy. He cannot know suffering, or conceive of a better world. For this he must travel to the depths the city and witness an industrial accident. Only when confronted with the broken bodies of men just like himself does he begin to wonder if his lifestyle depends on the exploitation of those beneath him in station. The viewer does not know whether to pity him or laugh at him.

Although the film does end on an optimistic note, I wonder if found admirers in budding fascists. After all, did the fascists not seek to unite a managerial and a working class in social harmony, thereby avoiding a radical overthrow of the class hierarchy by a revolutionary workers’ movement?

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