Metropolis is one of the most exciting
and exceptional works of art that humankind has produced. This
epic science fiction film is one of Germany's famous silent movies
created by Fritz Lang and liberated in 1927, the period between the
two World Wars.
This movie represents the expressionist
cinema and shows us the repression of human needs by the machine
age. Lang's creation of a self-destructive society is a
protest against the machine age. Metropolis is one of the most
magnificent cities of 2026, is kept 'alive' by the unceasing work of
the underground people who live in slavery and is enjoyed by wealthy
and educated people.
The Austrian director of the movie,
Fritz Lang, presents the story of a master, John Federsen, who sees
people as machines working constantly to maintain the luxury and
technology of his metropolis. On the other side, his son
Freder falls in love with one of the underground workers who is a
spiritual leader for the slaves. The son recognizes the
unsentimental heart of his father and starts a revolution. The
city gets flooded and Maria (Freder's love) regains the workers'
trust after a robot had stolen her identity, she finds her loved one
after saving the city's children, and the workers shake hands with
Expressionism tries to simplify the
world and to understand it emotionally, in a subjective way.
It is very important to understand this definition of this dynamic,
violent and distorted movement in order to understand that Lang
tried to externalize his own internal vision of the world through
The name 'metropolis' comes from the
Greeks and means mother-city. It has this significance because
a metropolis is the biggest form of a technologically and
economically developed city. Nevertheless, referring to the
movie name, this film can be considered as the mother city of all
In this story, there are two main
characters, Maria and Freder. These two characters are also
the heroes of the story because they are the ones who rescue the
population from being drowned in the flood. John Federson is a
person full of empowering feelings who only thinks of himself and of
his city, forgetting about the ones who work for him. All the
fantasies that he has come true through the power of his workers but
he never thinks about the danger they are in while working for him.
This man wants so much power that he is almost hypnotized by it; he
is obsessed and possessed by the power of inventions and creations.
On the other hand, Maria is just a symbol of munificence, her soul
is pure and she is seen like an angel who brings peace to the world.
Maria convoys the people in a church settling area. She is
shown as sanctity, a holy person that is surrounded by the light of
the candles. She is positioned higher than the workers who
carefully listen to her as she speaks about peace, unity and their
salvation by a mediator that will soon come. Her eyes inspire
confidence and kindness as she kisses Freder in the church scene.
In general, all she does is for the good of humanity. One
thing that she repeats in the movie is, "Between the head and hands
there must be a heart." This means that she realizes the bad
things that the head (John Frederson) does and the good things that
the hands (workers) do. But she knows that these workers
should not be treated poorly or like robots and that, she can be the
heart, which can persuade the head and the hands to cooperate to
come to common interests. Maria, as her name suggests is also
a biblical motif. She explains to the workers the story of the
Tower of Babel. The workers in the story destroy this tower,
which parallels how the movie will end, with the destruction of the
machines by the workforce. Maria is still the representation
of Jesus mother because she is trying to save the lives of the
underground children. She would sacrifice herself and, alike
Mother Mary, she has a strong faith in the creator of the world.
All the scenes of this film are
perfectly created at the eye level so that anyone is able to view
the action. However, there is also a bird's eye view at the
beginning of the movie as the panorama of the city is shown from
high above the ground. This view was created to give us an
impression of how widely extended and huge Metropolis is. In
addition, the focus of the dramatic camera angles with bold shadows
is on the disproportioned landscape as well as on the right-angled
buildings. There are moments in which the camera focuses on
fast movement scenes like the dancing of the robot in the nightclub
and scenes where it focuses on slow movement like in the beginning
of the film where the 'slaves' are shown going into the working area
at a certain pace and aligned as robots. When more people are
involved in a scene, like the one in which all the children are
surrounding Maria as she rings the danger bell, the angles are
vertical, triangular, but when only one person is focused, there is
a close-up to allow us to read that character's expressions and
feelings. A good example would be the close-ups on the master
Fredersons' eyes as he asks his secretary why his son was allowed to
go underground and as well after that scene when he is thinking in
order to suggest this dictator's meditation and frustration.
Another important aspect of the camera and of Expressionism that I
have remarked was the scene in which the mad scientist tries to run
away from Freder and kidnaps Maria. He is walking up on the
roof of a sharp-angled building holding Maria under his arm as if
nothing would happen. The same scene was notable in Robert
Wiene's film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as Cesare walks up on the
roof with the kidnapped fiancé and the city crowd follows him.
Time also is significant in the film
because the clock keeps showing up in the most important scenes.
Time is evident in Fredersons' office as his son challenges him to
have mercy for the people as well as he is talking to his secretary.
Still only, a small portion of the clock is shown in these shots and
it means the time in which the master can think what decisions to
take. On the other hand, a gigantic clock is shown as Freder
finds an exhausted worker trying to turn a wall-clock. Freder
understands the struggle of this man and replaces him. There
is where he finds out that at 2 pm Maria will have a meeting.
But all that we have seen in this movie
is not only made to show us the great importance of this silent SF
film that can keep the watcher alive by its impressive music and can
inspire contemporary movies like Matrix , but for its great
historical importance. Fritz Lang expressed a social life in
this movie as well as a political one. After WWI, when Germany
had lost a war, people's lives were a disaster. Everyone was
disoriented and could not keep up with the tragedy that was going
on, and maybe there were some influences of the great anti-Semitism
that was supposed to follow. But Germany was a great disaster
as well and there was nothing it could have done to prevent it
because many troubles kept adding up over the years and this country
had to be defeated morally and politically as well as economically.
Even if Germany's wish of reconstruction was as utopian as
Fredersen's wish of a technological city, the postwar inflation had
a big contribution on cinemas development.
AvaxNews for many fascinating photos and background information
on the film.