Directed by Fritz Lang
Written by Thea von Harbou
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu, and Fandor
Even if you haven’t seen Fritz Lang’s masterpiece, Metropolis, chances are good you’ve seen a movie influenced by it. Batman’s Gotham is practically pulled straight from this film. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is its direct thematic offspring. George Lucas based C3PO’s design on the Machine Man you can see above. The Matrix and its (highly superior) counterpart Dark City referenced this movie more times than I could count. And on and on. Long story short–sci-fi wouldn’t be what it is today without Metropolis.
I wish I was paid to be a film critic. If that were the case I would have the time to at least begin describing everything I want to. Alas, I have an English lesson to plan, and I’ll have to settle for whetting the appetites of any who stumble upon this blog.
Metropolis is set in the year 2026 ( a nice, round 100 years from the film’s completion). The action takes place in a society simultaneously Utopian and Dystopian. It is meant to be a representation of future Berlin, but could easily stand for any place. It is a society ruled by the machine, by science, and by the illusion of progress. Happiness has made way for industry, and as a result liberty has made way for slavery. Society is split into two classes–the workers and the thinkers. The workers inhabit the underground factory-dungeons, slaving away day after day to make Metropolis tick. Meanwhile the thinkers, who live above the surface, plan for the future of the city, without any idea of how things actually get done below. They are either ignorant of the workers, or a direct cause of their plight.
This may sound awful depressing, and in a sense it should. It’s cautionary, an obvious warning against a reliance on technology and the almighty Machine. More importantly it’s a check on authority. Perhaps unintentionally, it foreshadowed the Nazi’s grip on Germany in the years to come. This is curious, considering the film’s writer Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife at the time) later became a member of the Nazi party, while Lang himself was labeled a Jew and fled to Paris. How could Metropolis, such a powerful stance against faith in authoritative power, be put together by two people with such dissonant views? I certainly couldn’t say. But I’m straying, so back to the film.
Perhaps I’ve already said too much about plot and theme. Metropolis is heavy on those things, yeah, and they are certainly executed deftly. But more importantly the film is a visual spectacular. It is so magnificent to behold that at times it is on the verge of being overwhelming. Scene after scene is perfectly designed to communicate a vision with images–images that are sometimes disquieting, sometimes uplifting, but always awe-inspiring. Roger Ebert described it as a nightmare. Yes, true. And nightmares are the dreams that stay with us for years. Lang knew that, and that’s why many of his films share the same quality. He didn’t want us to forget. Because one day, if we do forget, the Metropolis of his imagination could be the nightmare of our reality.