(1927) - dir. Fritz Lang [on CoS Video List]
one of the last films of the “silent movie” era and
one of the last German Expressionist films, director Fritz Lang
delivers a visually stunning film about a futuristic dystopian
city whose society is stratified into two distinct classes. Residing
on, and above, the surface of the Earth in a vast city looming
with skyscrapers, soaring tram systems, and congested freeways,
the Thinkers hedonistically play in lush, beautiful gardens and
decadent nightclubs without a care or thought about who and what
makes their city function. Far below the surface of the Earth,
and this supposed utopian empire, the class of Workers slave away
at the Heart Machine in ten-hour shifts to keep the massive city
functioning, never venturing to the surface. In the dark and gloomy
subterranean depths further below the machine levels resides the
Worker’s City, where the drones live with their children.
When a female worker named Maria enters the Eternal Gardens with
a small army of poorly dressed children, a man named Freder Fredersen
becomes enamored by her and very curious about these children
whom she proclaims are the “brothers and sisters”
of the Thinkers. Thus begins Freder’s quest to know who
these children are and where they come from. When he questions
his cold and callous father, Joh Fredersen, the mastermind who
controls the metropolis, he discovers his father’s cruelty
and is astonished when his father tells him that the Workers are
where they belong -- in the depths. Uneasy about Freder’s
interest in the girl and the Workers, and fearing that they may
rebel, Joh decides to employ an eccentric, and possibly crazy,
inventor named Rotwang (whom I found to be somewhat of a defacto-Satanist).
Rotwang is asked to create a Machine Man in the likeness of the
girl, and she is to be set loose in the depths of the Worker City
where she may infiltrate their ranks and cause dissension amongst
the Workers. But, Rotwang has his own dark agenda.
Satanists will find many things of interest here, and it is hard
to speak of the many wonders of this film without exposing them.
But, one point of interest is Lang’s powerful use of Caligarian
angles and lighting to demonstrate the enormity of the soaring
skyscrapers and to convey a certain atmosphere, which alludes
to the Law of the Trapezoid. The aesthetics and effects of this
film are remarkable. Another point of interest that came to mind
was Anton LaVey’s Pentagonal Revisionism. For this film
depicts a stratified society and speaks of the creation of artificial
humans to replace human labor. I also found the small use of Teutonic
pagan religious aspects interesting.
As for social commentary, this film speaks about class struggle,
a clash between the capitalists and the working class, rebellion,
and the supposed horrors of technology and its effects on humanity
and human existence. And, though it was made almost eighty years
ago, its message is relevant today as it was back in 1927. The
film’s themes are still commonplace in modern sci-fi films.
Fans of Blade Runner may find Metropolis
to their liking, as it seems to have been an influence for that
story/film and many others.
The viewing of the Murnau Foundation 2001 restored version on
DVD gave me more insight into the story than the previously released
versions of the film, and it is suggested that this version be
watched. Apparently, it is the closest version to the original
film that premiered in 1927, despite the fact that a quarter of
the film is still missing and irretrievable. The bombastic and
powerful original music score was restored and gave the film the
ambience that went missing with the various butchered VHS releases
of this extraordinary film, which had a different score that didn’t
fit the scenes nor did them justice.
[- Michael K. Silva]