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?
In 1927, Metropolis premiered to critical acclaim, citing both the incredible new film making techniques of Fritz Lang as well as its story, in light of recent political developments in Europe. While the film is seen as revolutionary movie in cinematography, it has undergone quite a few changes in the years since its original release in Berlin. I happened to watch the restored version (2010), which is the “most complete” version and is the one deemed closest to Lang’s original release. However, the movie that most audiences saw was not this release, but rather a fraction of the film due to cuts made at the studio level for commercial reasons.
The reasons for the cuts was profitability and recent political developments in Europe. The movie in its original length ran two and a half hours, a long stretch even for some modern films. The film released was pared down to ninety minutes, removing much of the thematic content and motivation for some of the action. For example, the entire plot line of Rotwang’s revenge was removed in order to speed the movie up. While this has little to do with its impact on Europe, it is the other cuts that change the thematic content of the movie.
There is an entire sub-plot of communist revolt that was not released to the masses during Metropolis’ original theatrical run. This theme was originally developed by the author of the short story in response to the Russian (and other subsequent) revolutions; but in light of recent political changes and the economics behind this content, the decision was made to cut this from the film. While there was no political body behind this decision, this is one of the first major examples of self-censorship by the studios. This decision, although it had little impact on movie-goers, set a precidence for future studio executives, leading to further censorship in cinema.
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?
Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis depicts a futuristic dystopia ridden with class-struggle. Made in Weimar Germany, the films follows Freder, the son of the city’s overlord, and Maria, his love interest, as they try to disenfranchise the classist nature of this urban society. Throughout the film, there is a stark contrast between the scene’s of the workers slaving endlessly to power the city, and the pleasured lives of rich. The city eventually crumbles due to the rocky internal nature and ends with a reconciliation (despite total destruction) of “head” and “heart.”
The scene that stood out to me the most was when Freder explained the horrific details of an accident on of the machine rooms to his father, Fredersen. Freder was down there out of curiosity of the depths, and was following Maria. He watched in shock when a machine exploded and caused several deaths and injuries. He begs his father to fix these horrible conditions, but his father remains unaffected.
This scene paints a picture of the horrible factory conditions in Weimar Germany, as well of the rest of Europe at the time. Economic output was a top priority as modernization prevailed, even though many times it was at the expense of many workers health and safety. It also depicts how little factory owners cared about these workers. To them, workers were replaceable as everybody was looking for work. Conversely, it also shows that perhaps some wealthy people, such as Freder, were appalled by these conditions and urged immediate change.
Maria prophesized a mediator that would bring the classes together and help the workers, could this be Adolf Hitler?
Humans are creatures of habit; we don’t like change. This dislike can morph into fear, especially when it comes to technology. In his film Metropolis, Fritz Lang explores the marvels and horrors that could come from technological advances. While Lang illustrates class inequality and warfare, the film focuses mainly on scientific advancement as a double-edged sword.
Metropolis is the story of a futuristic city, in which the wealthy live extravagantly while the poor work all day to keep the city running. A woman named Maria tells of a mediator that will close this gap between rich and poor. Freder, the son of the ruler of the city, fills this role of mediator by bringing his father and Grot, the leader of the workers, together.
This film displays the good that can come from scientific advancement, but also the evil. For example, science can bring remarkable things, such as the city of Metropolis, but it can also bring horrible things, such as the Maria robot. In this way, both Metropolis and Bertrand Russell’s “Icarus or The Future of Science” advise people to be cautious with science because what can come of technological advances is uncertain.
The contract between the actions of the robot Maria and the real Maria show why science is not to be trusted. The robot Maria leads the workers out of their underground city, leaving the machines and their children behind. The real Maria goes to the workers’ city and saves the children. This scene shows the audience that scientific advancements are not always better for humanity. Humans need to be cautious and aware of their actions when using technology because it can be dangerous.
Metropolis shows the uneasy and fear of the 1920s. Science was advancing and changing how people thought and perceived reality. This film shows the meeting of humanity with its creations.
Metropolis is a 1927 film made in Germany, and considered to be the world’s first important science fiction film. It is set in a future where thousands of nameless workers toil in underground factories to help the wealthy minority live in peace on the surface.
The film follows the exploits of Freder, the son of a wealthy industrialist, and Maria, the daughter of a worker. Freder learns compassion for the workers when he goes down to their level, literally and figuratively, and witnesses an explosion that is caused by the carelessness of fatigued, overworked men. This sets in motion his desire to connect the working class and the upper class, which he does through persistence, and the odd arrival of a robot that stirs up a workers revolution through sexual tension, that harms both the wealthy and upper classes. The movie ends with Freder convincing his father and a worker to shake.
The scene I find most fascinating is at the beginning. The movie describes the workers as a horde of similarly dressed workers walking in and out for their shifts, and their hazardous and undesirable working conditions. Simultaneously, the children of the wealthy are frolicking and embracing around a fountain, on the surface level of the city. While this is admittedly a pessimistic science fiction view of the future, and partially similar of Orwell’s 1984, it raises a question about Weimar Germany. While everyone has heard of the culture revolution, including Bauhaus architecture and jazz music, and the economic upturn under Stresemann after 1925, I don’t fully understand how this could have been a reality for a vast majority of a post-War nation. While the issue of capital may have been largely solved through American loans, the utilization of these resources would have required daily shifts from the majority of the population, evoking a similar image to that of the opening scene in the movie. I don’t understand how Weimar Germany can be simultaneously known for baskets of paper money during the hyper inflation of 1923, and the supposed cultural freedom. My question is, how did the average German worker, or peasant, living anywhere but in a large city, live? Did they have access to such luxuries? Did they have time to participate in such luxuries? Were their daily lives that different than under the monarchy?
Also, on a minor note, there was a clock at the start of the movie that only had 10 hours, instead of 12. Does anyone know why?
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a 1927 German science fiction film displaying the heavy influence of the impressionist movement. The film portrays a dystopian future society (the eponymous “Metropolis”) in which the laborers that maintain the mechanical operations of the city are relegated to an underground living space while the upper classes enjoy a comparative utopia above. The city’s leader, Joh Fredersen, attempts to augment his power by using the newly invented Machine-Man, who is made to look like the prophetic character Maria, to incite a rebellion in the working class which will simultaneously cripple their underworld home and justify any further punitive measures that he wishes to take against the laborers. Upon realizing that his son Freder has posited himself amongst the working class and is thus endangered by the rebellion, Joh realizes the error of his ways and begins a policy of symbiotic cooperation with the labor force, due largely to Freder’s impassioned diplomatic efforts between the two.
Thematically, the film is centered around the opening epigram “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” This epithet is invoked both explicitly and implicitly at numerous points throughout the film. One of the more subtle examples of this exultation of emotional literacy occurs approximately halfway through the film when Freder confronts the incarnation of the grim reaper that stands among the seven deadly sins. Freder admits to the reaper that his death would have meant little to him up to this point in his life. However, after having discovered his love for Maria, he defiantly warns that death must “stay away from me and my beloved.” In this manner, Thea van Harbou makes a strong case for the value of the heart; it is so essential that human life without it is not only impossible, but meaningless.
Do you feel that the role of the “mediator” described in the film is as important as Lang and Harbou portray it to be? In modern society, what offices/positions fill that role?