“Metropolis” and Scientific Advancement

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.

Russell – The Future of Science

In this article, Russell likens the progress of science to the inventions of Daedalus and the inherent selfishness of mankind as Icarus. As the myth goes, Icarus flies too close to the sun, has his wings melted and falls to his death. He predicts a similar fate for humankind if they are given the technology to fly towards the sun.

This article has many metaphors and summaries about technological development, but from reading his introduction and conclusion, one gets the impression that he is using science as an example to debate the human psyche. One impression he makes, is to talk about the consistent hope through history that mankind will develop an inherent kindness. However, by the end of the article he seems resigned to the conclusion that man will continue to use science, the most powerful of all historical progresses, to satisfy the prejudices of the masses and those in power. In his mind, only a strong global power can solve this problem, which is a confusing statement considering Russell’s lack of explanation. However, he debases this method as well, stating that the historical stagnation of the last great power, the Roman Republic, shows that the fall of civilization may the best answer to the combination of scientific progress and human flaws.

This theory is partially disproved by Stone, as he talks about one of Russell’s themes, eugenics, and describes its conclusion after the fact. His description of the Head of the Eugenics Society in Britain who changes his stand from pro-race eugenics to ‘parental obligations’ after the Holocaust, is symptomatic of the societal pressures of responsibility that the combination of scientific progress and human flaws can create (Stone, 99). However, it is hard to completely discredit Russell’s ideas as he does not give a time line for his projection of the fall of civilization. The themes, if not the specifics, of his article would be responsive of the dangers of scientific progress today.