Thursday, 2 October 2014

Film Review: Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927)

Fig.1 Original Movie Poster

The first feature-length science fiction movie, Metropolis was a pioneer for its genre. Made in 1927 and directed by Fritz Lang, it is one of the most expensive silent films ever made with a budget of just over 5 million Reichsmark. All that survives of this black and white, German Expressionist movie is an incomplete copy. Until recently, over a quarter of the film had been lost, with intertitles filling the missing gaps. However, in 2008 a damaged print of Lang's original cut was found in the Museo del Cine in Argentinia and 95% has now been restored. 

Fig.2 The Metropolis (Movie Still)

The story is one of polar opposites: rich and poor, black and white, light and dark. We are introduced to the 'metropolis' - a clean, modern city with skyscrapers and various modes of transport, busy with commerce. (Fig.2) Bold, strong images of industry and production are booming from the screen as we are taken down to the 'workers' city'; an underground, dark and steamy powerhouse. Coupled with the strong and fierce images of machinery is the grand and imposing music (think Emperor's March from Star Wars). Workers are marched in and out of the workroom 'en masse' with bowed heads and expressionless faces. With are given a sense that these workers are utterly spent and close to breaking, but absolutely crucial to the running of the city. The men themselves are working like machines. 

Fig.3 - The Heart Machine (Movie Still)

Above the Workers City live the rich and their families, including the creator of the city, Joh Fredersen and his son, Freder. The scene here is a complete paradox. Light, bright and airy with music that is free and flowing, it is easy to see that life here is entirely different. (Fig.3) Here we also have our first glimpse of Maria, whom Freder instantly falls for. Maria is one of the poor and Freder ventures down to the Workers City, desperate to find her again. In doing so, he stumbles across the heart machine and realises how bad the working conditions are below the city. He vows at that point to help and takes over from one of the workers, 11811. An exhausted Freder discovers that the workers are secretly visiting Maria in the catacombs below the city for hope that life will improve. Maria tells them that they are the hands and the creator is the brain of the city. All that is needed is a mediator to be the heart that will connect them all. Freder steps forward and Maria believes he can be the mediator they all need. 

Fig.4 - the transformation from Machine Man to Maria (Movie Still)

As this is happening, Joh Fredersen visits a scientist named Rotwang, who reveals his latest invention, Hal, a robot reincarnation of a woman they both loved. On seeing the interaction between Maria and Freder, Rotwang persues and captures Maria and uses her to bring his robot to life. (Fig.4) The 'robot' Maria, known as the Machine Man returns to the catacombs and starts a revolution against the machines. Despite the efforts of foreman Grot to stop them, the entire city of workers destroy the heart machine and in turn, flood the city. Meanwhile Freder and Maria rescue the children who have remained in the city. The workers realise their mistake too late and try to find the Machine Man, believing her to be a witch. Desperation and confusion ensue between the workers who initially chase the real Maria. However, justice is served in the end when the Machine Man is burned at the stake and her true identity revealed. We are left with a moral ending, when Freder acts as the mediator between Grot and the workers (the hands) and Joh Fredersen (the brain). The two opposing sides shake hands and agree to work together for the future.

Many thoughts come to us when watching this movie. The characters are played extremely well, in particular, Maria (played by Brigitte Helm). Her interpretations of Maria and the Machine Man are so believeable with the diverse body language, make-up and costumes  (Figures 5 & 6). Metropolis marked the beginning of a successful career for Brigitte Helm, until she retired in 1935 after both the coming of sound and Hilter's takeover of the German film industry. She was long forgotten when she died at the age of 90.

                     Fig. 5 Ethereal, and peaceful Maria     Fig.6 Evil Maria after the transformation                                                    
Another strong character is Freder (played by Gustav Fröhlich) who can see what is going to happen from the outset. He tries to help and is not afriad to stand up to his father when relaying events to him regarding the heart machine explosion at the beginning of the film. We get a sense of Joh Fredersen's power when he is confronted by Grot, the big, powerful and tall guardian of the heart machine. Although in stature, Grot is by far bigger than his employer, the influence Joh Fredersen has over him and the rest of the workers is evident. We can see that Grot is intimidated by him from the body language between the two characters. Although Joh Fredersen is the creator and leader of Metropolis, the size of the buildings and the sheer power of the city seems to put him on edge. He is aware the city he has created is by far bigger than him. His view towards the poor of the city is obvious as he states that they are "in the depths where they belong" and, aside from Grot, only sees his workers for the first time at the end of the film.

So much can be said about this film, but its influence is immediately recognisable when looking at films such as Fifth Element and Blade Runner. Innovative camera work shows how the film was moving things along in the film industry, as well as the special effects used. The scene when Maria is transformed into the Machine Man is particularly recognisable and iconic. Metropolis has not only influencing film making, but also fashion, costume design and music since its birth nearly 90 years ago.

Fig.7 - Building the Metropolis (Still)


Fig.1 - Original Movie Poster
(Accessed 30.09.14)

Fig.2 The Metropolis (Movie Still)
(Accssed on 30.09.14)

Fig.3 The Heart Machine (Movie Still)
 (Accessed 01.10.14)

Fig.4 The transformation of Maria (Movie Still)
(Accessed on 30.09.14)

Fig.5 Maria (Movie Still)
(Accessed on 30.09.14)

Fig.6 Evil Maria (Movie Still)
(Accessed on 01.10.14)

Fig.7 Building the Metropolis (Still)
(Accessed on 30.09.14)


  1. Hi Emma !

    You have written 3 very thorough and thoughtful reviews here - well done. Just to draw your attention back to the brief though...

    'In addition to and support of your own critique, your reviews must include a minimum of 3 quotations from 3 different published sources + poster art + supporting stills.
    Please note - Harvard Method must be used for all quotations and all illustrations to be referenced correctly. Reviews are to include bibliography and illustration list.'

    So basically, you need to continue writing as you are now, but support your discussion with other people's views. These quotes need to referenced using the Harvard method, details of which can be found here -

    Looking forward to the next one :)

    1. Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for the great feedback. Encouraging to know that it's going ok! I did wonder afterwards about the quotes, so thanks for the reminder about definitely adding them in. Would you suggest adding to the ones I've already done or just start from next week's?

      Really appreciate your help :)

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