Released in 1927 by director Fritz Lang, Metropolis is a Sci-Fi Drama about a dystopian city in which man kind is separated into two groups: The factory owners who live in the city above and the workers who live in the city below. In the city above a young man named Freder lives carefree in luxury until one day a mysterious woman shows up with a group of children from below calling out “look at your brothers”. This supers Freder to go to the city below where he sees the conditions the workers have to deal with, even witnessing an explosion that kills several people. Freder then goes to his father only to learn how apathetic he is towards those in his employ. Freder then goes back to the city to meet with the woman he saw before while his father learns that his workers have been holding secret meetings in the catacombs below the city. Together, although unaware of each other, Freder and his father learn that the workers are getting ready to revolt, with the woman from the gardens (named Maria) as both leader and deterrent. She alone is keeping the workers peaceful, but it’s unsure how much longer she’ll be able to persuade them. Freder joins their cause as a Mediator between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie, while his father decided to provoke the workers into violence so that violence against them will seem to be justified. This all comes to a head when both the workers and Joh Frederson think their children have died to to Frederson’s plan. This shared allows for Freder to get the workers and his father to compromise.
Unfortunately for the film this ending feels unearned due to Joh’s progression throughout the film. When Freder asks about the workers after seeing the explosion Joh tells his son that they are “where they belong” and it’s made clear that Joh’s workers are not a priority to him. Nor does he very seem to really care about his son either. Through most of the film Joh mostly seems like he wants Freder out of the way and is mostly concerned with how his sons new found love for the common man could interrupt business. Joh’s apathy makes it a stretch to believe he’d be so deeply affected by his sons supposed death, but the idea that he’d then care about the horrors he made his workers undergo breaks all semblance of suspension of disbelief as he did not face those horrors nor was shown to have any empathy at all.
The film’s not all bad though. Many of the films set pieces are a marvel to watch, like the dance the Robot-Maria does and how the ideals of the Seven Deadly Sins comes to life along with it, or Freders and Maria’s escape with the children as the City Below begins to flood. But probably the best set piece was the explosion near the beginning. Freder hits his head after being knocked back and sees a vison of the workers walking in orderly fashion strait into the mouth of hell. This is a great visual metaphor for the conditions of early 20th century working men. More importantly it helps establish why Freder goes down the path he does. Not only does he see the factory conditions as hellish, but when his father says that they belong there it is easy to see him as the Devil, condemning men to a fate far worse than they deserve.
If only the rest of the movie had kept up with this clarity of message. One of the biggest flaws in the movie is how confused it seems to be on the points it’s trying to make. The film starts clearly showing that the Proletariat uprising is just, but the workers are easily coated into violence to the point where they unwittingly put their own children at risk. This could have been a great way of saying that people need to think about their actions before allowing base instincts like rage and anger to take over, but the film offers no pay off to this. With an understanding of the time period it’s easy to ignore the films fear mongering towards science and it’s blustering of the religious fable that the “seven deadly sins” will throw man into chaos as shown by how the “Evil Machine Man” uses it’s sexuality to cause men too kill each other out of lust, but the films central idea shouldn’t be this murky. Ambiguity can be done right, but it seems like the film makers either didn’t know where exactly they stood on the issue or they hated the working man as much as the Bourgeoisie.
In the end, Metropolis is an interesting part of film history, but it’s just not worth the watch for any one who doesn’t care about how film has progressed.
My Grade: 20/20