Metropolis, a 1927 silent film directed by Fritz Lang is a unique look at a fictional dystopian society where the massive city, and those who control it, rule everyone and everything. The film characterizes the extremes of a business-driven capitalist society that creates a distinct separation between the rich and the working class. Mr. Frederson, the owner of the entire city, control all its business functions and rules the working-class people, who are better characterized as slaves than citizens. An early dialogue exchange that highlights the corrupt intentions of Mr. Frederson and the elite happens when he and his son, Freder, exchange words in his office. Freder asks, “and where are the people, father, whose hand built this city”? His father responds saying, “where they belong”, “in the depths”. The discouraged, slave-like laborers are shown heading to work in the photo above. The possibility of a revolt arises when Freder says, “What if one day those in the depths rise up against you?” The film follows Freder as he decides to descend from his elitist position in society to take on the role of a worker, after meeting Maria (right), a mysterious woman who strives for equality among all social classes of Metropolis. Maria sheds light on the idea that all that inhabit Metropolis are indeed “brothers”. Freder and his now associated working-class people hope for a “mediator” that will bring together the “head and hands”, or the elite and the workers, that make up Metropolis.
In an attempt to disrupt Maria and Freder’s promotion of equality, Mr. Frederson with the help of a scientist create a robot that resembles Maria in order to impersonate her (left). In doing so, they will be able to turn her followers against themselves and disregard her previous ideas of equality.
In a turn of events, Rotwang the inventor turns the new robot against the city despite what Mr. Frederson wants. All the working-class people begin revolting against the city and its control. Flood breaks out threatening the lives of workers and their children, turning the whole city on its head and into complete turmoil. In the end, Freder is able to bring the head and hands together, representing the “heart”. As it turns out, Freder is indeed the mediator that was needed to bring the city together.
For its time, Metropolis is a forward-thinking representation of an idea more so than a prediction of the future. It attempts to display the corruption and total chaos in result of an extreme capitalist society, and sheds light on the thought of such a contrasting rank of social classes. It focuses on a good vs. evil dystopian conflict that incorporates new and unconventional aspects such as robots and slave-like labor.
I interpret the film as proposing more of a “what if?” scenario than a “this is what’s going to happen” one. The style of production is a refreshing and unique display made up of cartoon-like city landscapes (right), orchestrated music, and frequent on-screen dialogue to help the viewer understand the stories plot. In certain scenes, the film portrays fast, upbeat music aligned with quick camera shots and special effects that result in exciting moments of action that are still intriguing even with a lack of technology during this era. Metropolis challenges the idea of an irrational focus on industry and capitalism, alongside the incorporation of up-and-coming technology and fighting against oppressive and constricting ruling.