Metropolis, Directed by Fritz Lang, is a German science fiction film originally released on January 10, 1927 in Berlin, Germany (Weimar Republic at the time). Significantly reduced versions of the film were shown in the US and UK a couple months later. It was produced by Erich Pommer and the screenplay was written by Thea Von Harbou and Fritz Lang. At the time of its release, Metropolis was praised for its visual effects which were ahead of their time, however it received mixed feelings for its story. The Nazi Party became particularly fascinated by the film because of its messages about society, leaving Fritz Lang to distance himself from the film. Other people called the film out for being too cliché or overdrawn, however it earned much praise and awards later on, particularly for the music score and restoration efforts since much of the original was lost after the premiere.
This film is set in a dystopian futuristic city in the year 2026 and follows the story of Freder, the son of wealthy Joh Fredersen, the city’s founder and the boss of all the workers who toil below the ground to keep the city functioning. Freder’s quest was to overcome the gap between the rich and poor after he fell in love with a woman named Maria because when Freder pursued her, he stumbled into the underground Worker’s City and amid the terrible conditions, he witnessed a terrible accident that killed many men. Freder was shocked by his father’s ignorance towards the workers’ suffering. Freder decided to trade places with a worker named Georgy (Worker #11811) to begin his mission.
Although Metropolis (and its various fragments and restorations) are German in origin, it has something to say about socio-economic division in American culture. Its writer and director was inspired to create Metropolis after he visited New York City for the first time in 1924, the era after WW1 (which ended in 1918) and before the Great Depression (which began in 1929). During this time, the United States had a booming economy and was doubling in wealth. However, as the economy prospered tremendously and industrialist magnates became richer and richer, a divide between them and the lower class workers became evident. This divide became a point of tension in society, and this tension is what Fritz Lang used to set a theme in his film: “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart”, where the “head” is Joh Fredersen, the wealthy industrialist with big dreams who is blind to the suffering of the “hands” who are the countless faceless low-wage workers who toil for hours on end and the “heart” is Freder, who represents an idealistic entity who shall resolve the tension between the two social classes. Ultimately, what I believe Metropolis is saying about American culture is that there is a problem when we have a few at the top of the ladder who live a life of blissful ignorance and have all the money: In the process of getting where they are, they have created a two-tier society where a vast amount of people struggle with a subpar life and have no voice.
We can find parts of the film playing into particular themes. The city is futuristic, beautiful, and immensely prosperous on the surface and in some ways exaggerated, which makes it an example of fantasy. Since the Metropolis was inspired by 1920s New York City, we can easily compare it to The Great Gatsby, which also contains a pursuit of love, the discovery of a darker side to society, and social disruption. There are also bits and pieces of religious folklore in the film, such as the inspiration from the Tower of Babel and a brief scene where Freder is confronted by the easily recognizable Seven Deadly Sins as he is pursuing Maria. In addition, we can think about abjection, who Julia Kristeva suggests as what “disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules” or “immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady”. When Freder witnesses the accident (giant machine overheating and exploding) and people suffering and dying in front of his eyes, he is deeply disturbed by it and it wakes him up to the harsh realities that exist, pushing him to take action to bridge the gap between poor and rich.
Original movie poster: https://goo.gl/kZS6l7
Cast: Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen, Gustav Frolich as Freder, Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang the Inventor, Fritz Rasp as The Thin Man, Theodor Loos as Josephat, Erwin Biswanger as Georgy (Worker 11811), Heinrich George as Grot the Foreman, and Brigitte Helm as Maria (and her Machine Man imposter). See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017136/
Interactive H110 timeline for adding real-world historical context to the film: http://timerime.com/en/timeline/3856977/Section+1+Timeline/