Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection, and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy.
This 1927 movie predicted the future dystopia of a neo-feudal corporate based capitalist class structured society that seems all too familiar today.
This film is justifiably considered the iconic granddaddy of all science fiction movies. Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist epic science-fiction drama film directed by Fritz Lang. Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote the silent film, which stands as an example and established a standard that still defines epic science fiction movies of today. The sets and art direction continue to rival any other example of the genre, even with the advantages of today’s technology. It was the most expensive film of its time, and is a pioneering accomplishment, being one of the first feature-length science fiction films ever made. It is also an early example that began the tradition of establishing science fiction as being socially relevant by depicting a socially relevant and politically pertinent story.
The acting style of the time portrayed in the film is dated, and some people might find the exaggerated movements and expressions of the actors comical in a way, but it gives the film an otherworldly nature that lends it the feeling of a surreal puppet show.
The story depicts the future world of 2026 (only 11 years to go) in which the haves and the have nots are clearly defined as being separate classes both in lifestyle and by the places they inhabit, with the wealthy industrialists living above the downtrodden, impoverished, working classes who literally live underground below them. The capitalism that creates this schism is represented by the enormous machines the poor, who are at times memorably portrayed as human automatons in their movements, must constantly attend and labor in service of. These machines provide the power for the city, and help keep it safe from flooding by the actions of giant pumps that are part of it’s makeup. There is also a gigantic symbolic clock that is part of the machine, depicting the passage of the minutes and hours of their dismal existence.
Into this world, we are introduced to some of the key figures in this tale, the son of the wealthy city master Joh Fredersen, Freder, who idles his time away like others of his kind in pleasure parks provided for their amusement. It is in one of these parks he first sees Maria, part of the working class, who is taking some children on a tour to see how the wealthy classes live. She is ushered away almost immediately, but it is too late, Freder is smitten, and he uses his position in a scheme to trade places with a laborer so he can arrange to meet her, but his father notices his sons changed behavior and sends an agent known as the Thin Man to follow him. Meanwhile, the laborer he made plans with gets distracted at a local dive called the Yoshwara bordello and forgets to keep his end of the bargain to meet Freder at his place. At this point another character is introduced, Rotwang, an inventor who has lost a woman he loved, she left him to marry Fredersen and died giving birth to Freder. Rotwang has built a robot in hopes of resurrecting her. It turns out Maria is a leader of sorts to her working class peers and sells them on a message of hope regarding a mediator she predicts will come to address the injustices and disparities they are forced to live with, Freder believes he could fill this role, and shortly after this Freder declares his love for her and they plan to meet. In a plot to discredit her, Fredersen orders Rotwang to give the robot Maria’s likeness so she can be used to sabotage any plans the workers may have. Through a case of mistaken identity Freder witnesses the robot, who he thinks is the real Maria greeting and embracing his father, and goes into a delirium from the sight.
In one of the movie’s most memorable scenes the robot goes to the Yoshiwara bordello and does a dance that drives the patrons crazy with lust and they begin fighting and killing each other out of a crazed passion for her. Things get even more confusing when the real Maria escapes from Rotwang and attempts to put a halt to the robot’s deadly deception of getting the workers to revolt and destroy the machines that keep the city powered, and safe from flooding. She fails and the workers follow the false Maria and destroy the machine at the city’s heart and the city begins to flood and crumble. Feeder and the real Maria manage to escape the destruction while also saving a group of the working class children that were left behind by the aroused crowd of angry workers.
This coincides with Rotwang apparently going insane and thinking Maria is his lost love, and he goes to find her and finally chases her to the top of a cathedral where he and Freder fight, until Rotting falls to his death. The mob, in the meantime, discover the folly of their actions, find the robot/false Maria and burn her at the stake. All’s well that ends well as the workers and Fredersen, encouraged by Freder meet and symbolically shake hands.
The melodrama is over-the-top by any standards but gets the job done of telling a story that is both compelling and emotionally engaging. A true masterpiece of its time that still holds relevance as an enduring work of art.
The famous dance scene: