Saturday, 3 October 2015

Film Review: "Metropolis" (1927)

Figure 1: Theatrical Poster for Metropolis
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is a silent science-fiction German expressionist film, set in a futuristic dystopian city which presents a distinct separation between classes and the presentation of a social chain, shown in the living conditions and the positioning of the two cities, one which is above the surface, and the other deep down into the earth.

Figure 2: The surface city towering high with bright and energetic lights.
Within Metropolis there are two cities that live on top of one another, the tall, towering, glistening and lively city that stands tall up on the surface, and the cramped, dark and dull Worker's City, which resides deep underground, hidden out of the view of the surface dwellers. Throughout the film these two cities are presented with great differences, although both cities are somewhat cramped together, the surface city feels far more upbeat and energetic, with life in the movements of the lights in the windows and signs, and movements of everyday life of the cars, trains, people and planes that explore the city, generally portraying a positive atmosphere, while the Worker's City's cramped atmosphere reflects the exact feeling of the city. The entire set creates the impression that the entire city is trapped within a box, with several smaller boxes piled on top of each other, slotted in together to make the most of the space. This idea of squeezing as many workers in the city as possible depicts the idea of the higher society on the surface is placing all of the working class into one area, so that they can act like slaves and power the surface city. H.G. Wells remarks that the surface city “is represented as being enormously high; and all the air and happiness are above and the workers live, as the servile toilers in the blue uniform in The Sleeper Awakes lived, down, down, down below.” (H.G. Wells, 1927) reiterating that the only happiness in Metropolis is for the surface dwellers, with the fresh air and the happier and more powerful the person who lives at the taller parts of the city, comparing drastically to the poor living conditions and monotonous slavery for the workers in the lowest parts of the city.
Figure 3: Worker's City, cramped and tightly compact.

The workers are portrayed to be the least important in the hierarchy of city, placed at the very bottom, just above the catacombs. This reiterates the idea of the Workers representing poor working class people, cramped together and pushed to the bottom of the chain, being the slaves of the society. Another factor that reiterates this point is that the Power Rooms which power both cities is in fact on a level higher than the Worker City, still closer to the surface, presenting the Power Rooms and the machinery being even more so important than the living people in the Worker's City.

Figure 4: Monster machine being fed the slaves of Metropolis.

Machinery again is put on a higher part of the social chain, as well as the food chain, presented in the imagery of the scene where Freder watches as the machine explodes and morphs into a robotic creature, with the worker's walking slave like into its mouth, being literal food for the machine. The Maria Imposter also mentions this when rallying the workers to rebel, saying “Who is the living food for the machines?!” and “Who feeds the machines with their own flesh?!”, directly stating that the workers not only symbolically work themselves to the bones to manage the machines, but also end up giving their lives to ‘feed’ the machines, the workers becoming a primary food source for the machines, which in turn power the higher classes of the surface city.
Figure 5: Machine-Man (Hel) compared to C-P3O
It is visibly clear that when watching Metropolis that the design and storytelling inspired many future science-fiction films, for example aspects in the scene where the mad scientist Rotwang is transferring Maria’s appearance onto the robot can be compared to the scene of the monster’s creation in Frankenstein (1931), with the idea of several scientific components mixed with the power of electricity to create a new monster. The design of Hel the robot can also be seen as an influence for the design on C-P30 in Star Wars (1977). The concept of a dystopian future being the setting for films has become a popular theme for more modern films, such as Hunger Games (2012) and Maze Runner (2014). Roger Ebert remarks that the entire film’s design can be seen as inspiration for future films ““Metropolis” fixed for countless later films the image of a futuristic city as a hell of material progress and human despair.” (Ebert 2010)

Metropolis both presents the idea of in a dystopian future the class system would play a major part in the lives and structure of the city, to the extent that an entire underground city would be made for the lower classes, becoming slaves and improving the lives of the higher society. This film created such an impact on the sci-fi genre that even films ninety years later use Metropolis to inspire designs and stories.


Figure 1: Original Theatrical Release Poster (1927) Metropolis.

Figure 2: Film Still (1927) Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Germany. Babel Studios.

Figure 3: Film Still (1927) Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Germany. Babel Studios.

Figure 4: Film Still (1927) Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang. Germany. Babel Studios.


No comments:

Post a Comment