“Metropolis,” Capitalism, and Science

Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis provides a good balance between science fiction and social commentary on Weimar Germany.  It depicts a futuristic, dystopian city in which the upper and working classes are both literally and symbolically divided.  When Freder, the son of the city’s overlord discovers the disconnect between the classes, he realizes his role as a mediator between his father and the workers.  He is helped to discover this by his love interest, the prophetic Maria, who preaches for a peaceful solution for the class divide rather than the violent revolution which ends up occurring.

The film’s esthetics play a large role in emphasizing the distinction between the classes.  While the visible part of the city where the wealthy reside is bright and modern looking, the workers’ city is literally underground and characterized by darker colors.  The opening scenes further show the differences between the residents of each section of the city.  The wealthy are shown playing sports and dancing in elaborate gardens specially designed for their pleasure, while the workers are shown marching in a monotonous mob, downtrodden as they prepare for another long shift.  These scenes and esthetics show the two extreme social classes created by capitalism, rather than a large middle class.

The theme of scientific advancement and the troubles in brings reminded me of Bertrand Russell’s “Icarus, or the Future of Science.”  In Metropolis, scientific advancements do not equal better lives for everyone.  While the city is full of technological advancements that make the lives of the citizens of the surface easier, it comes with the price of the suffering of the underground workers.  The creation of the robot Maria is another example in the film of technology being used to harm others.  The robot’s role was reminiscent of that of the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, as both were used to carry out the plans of a madman.

Is the idea of there being some sort of mediator between the classes too idealistic to truly work?

One thought on ““Metropolis,” Capitalism, and Science

  1. This post summarizes the movie well, and also brings up some intriguing points. I thought the dramatic distinctions between the upper class and lower class was portrayed very well to the viewer. I also though of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari while watching this film. As for your question, I have no good answer. One would think the middle class is some sort of buffer between the upper class and lower class, however we see in today’s society that is not even the case.

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