From the very opening scene and throughout, Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis feels years ahead of its time. From montage's to cutaways, sophisticated special effects and vast set pieces paint establishing shots in a much broader light than that of which you would expect scenes to appear in within this era. These overwhelming shots effectively create a framework for the viewer, giving early hints that the events of Metropolis will be overlooked by huge structures and mannerism's that unarguably mirror todays culture, “the image of a futuristic city as a hell of scientific progress and human despair” (Egbert, 1998) . We meet the futuristic city at the peak of its production, high class civilians parade on the ground floor whilst workers continue to attend to monstrous machines in silent hordes under the surface, seemingly to allow the higher levels to continue as they are. Freder (Gustav Frohlich), son of the wealthy leader figure Jon Frederson (Alfred Abel), becomes aware of the drastic divide in his culture when he witness' a group of lower class workers carrying out there duties to maintain the city from its lowest and most mechanical level. Freder, horrified by the events he witnessed underground, immediately confronts his father over the wellbeing and injustice of the working class inhabitants. Disgruntled by his fathers lack of sympathy for the lower class, Freder takes it into his own hands to combat the divide in society and begin to bridge the gap in the different qualities of living, whilst his father only continues to broaden the horizons of his empire by enrolling the help of inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). Frederson and Rotwang continue to modernise their city by pursuing one of Rotwang's plans to create a robot inhabitant that will effortlessly fit in amongst the upper class citizens. Meanwhile in the lower levels of the city, Freder is witnessing the lengths the workers are going to in order to keep faith in their routine existence, when he bares witness to the god like figure of Maria (Brigitte Helm) who is helping the workers to continue with their lives and keep faith. Frederson soon becomes aware of the presence of Maria amongst his workers and with the help of Rotwang abducts her, and uses her likeness to apply the finishing touches to their project. Freder heroically rescues Maria and they set out to close the growing divide in their city together.
Fig 1: Metropolis
Throughout Metropolis the theme of the head needing the hands and the hands needing the head continues to present itself through the characters of the workers and Freerson. It would seem that Lang is trying to express the way man’s dependency on technology is only going to grow as the level of innovation in our world increases, but also that technology will forever be dependent on man to improve and upgrade its quality, encasing us in a vicious cycle. The character of Maria beautifully illustrates this point by being herself a technological marvel created by Rotwang, “The "Maschinenmensch" robot based on Maria is a brilliant eroticisation and fetishisation of modern technology” (Bradshaw, 2010). Although the premise of Maria’s character is completely inspired by impossible future technology her actions show that even the most brilliant inventions can cause chaos in the hands of the wrong people.
|Fig 2: Metropolis|
It feels as if Metropolis bares a slight resemblance to the movies of today, in that both often tackle the idea of civilisation being its own downfall. When the workers rise in Metropolis and begin to revolt and the upper class continue to upgrade their city it begins to feel as if this idea that Lang has conjured has left a permanent mark on directors of modern cinema today. When you compare Metropolis to movies such as 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, themes begin to spill over, as Phillip French has pointed out here, “It influenced generations of film-makers and musicians, providing iconic images of oppression and liberation.” (French, 2015). In both movies you become an audience for disasters and tragedy to take place whilst society can only sit back and endure the nightmares they have had a hand in creating. In Metropolis the robot Maria, created by Rotwang, causes chaos amongst the city whilst in The Day After Tomorrow the human race feels the force of nature they have provoked due to the effects of global warming. This point not only supports the idea of Lang’s theme running through the years of film making, but also that Metropolis resembles aspects of civilisation in the real world today. Hardly a day passes without groups in society objecting to standards and ideas that world leaders have pressed upon them and it becomes impossible to not see this portrayed cinematically when the workers of Metropolis begin to rise up.
However that is not to say that Lang hasn’t taken influence from filmmakers of his own time. The character of Dr Caligari from Robert Weines 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has made a lasting impression on Lang through his own form of the character Rotwang. Both characters seem to thrive off the idea of creating a being in which they can control and manipulate, this is true in the case of the characters ‘Ceaser’ and ‘Robot Maria’. Whilst the character of Dr Caligari uses Ceaser to carry out his crimes, Rotwang uses his Robot to influence the workers of Metropolis and encourage them to take action in his own style. There is also an extremely mimicked scene in both movies, when Rotwang bounds across rooftops with Maria captive you cannot help but see Ceaser stalking across the skyline with his prisoner. This idea of a damsel being taken by a villain or monster seems to have engraved its place in cinema throughout the years, as iconic scenes of King Kong taking Jane in his grasp climbing the empire state building flood back to you in the closing scenes of Metropolis.
Fig 3: Metropolis
Fritz Langs’s Metropolis can go down as nothing short of a classic. When you consider the scaffolding it has created for modern day epic’s to shape themselves in and compare too , it becomes evident that Lang’s work has and will continue to inspire generations of timeless stories.
Bradshaw, P, (2010), Metropolis,, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/sep/09/metropolis-restored-film-review Accessed on: 30/9/2015
Egbert, R, (1998), Metroplois, http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-metropolis-1927 Accessed on: 30/9/2015
French, P, (2015) Metropolis Review- Phillip French on Fritz Lang’s Visionary Epic, http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/mar/15/metropolis-fritz-lang-philip-french-classic-dvd Accessed on: 30/9/2015
Poster, Metropolis, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/ Accessed on: 30/9/15
Screenshot, Metropolis, http://www.chrismrogers.net/#/blog/4555515884/'Metropolis'/8971437 Accessed on: 30/9/15
Screenshot, Metropolis, http://www.thetruthseeker.co.uk/?p=13888 Accessed on: 30/9/15