In 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]