Two of my favorite things are school and old movies, and I'm constantly looking for ways to combine the two (that don't involve actually changing my major). This blog was the result of one such endeavor; for another, I got to re-watch Metropolis last week for a class called Modernity in the Western World. It's an Honors history class, and my presentation focused on the film as a representation of the post-industrial attitude toward Futurism; don't worry, I won't be rewriting that essay here. I will say, however, that upon seeing Metropolis for the second time -- the first was a year ago, in the film history class I've mentioned here before -- I picked up on a lot of things that I'd missed the first time around. I've blogged before about my lack of patience for silent movies, but I really think Metropolis is a film worth seeing twice.
Metropolis is about a city divided into two classes. The collective "head" of the city is the ruling class, those who live aboveground. The "hands" of the city are the laborers, who live underground and work in shifts to ensure that the city above them runs smoothly. Maria, a wise young woman to whom the workers look for guidance, preaches patience and predicts that a mediator will come, someone who will be the "heart" and unite the two classes for the betterment of all.
It's interesting to see not just how far off Fritz Lang's vision of the future is from what we now know -- although Norman Ball of the Bright Lights Film Journal is quite right to say that he "misses the productivity gains of the computer age by a mile." However, I find it more interesting to look at how he delves into the past in order to create that vision of the future.
The image of the laborers being forced into the machine to replace their comrades who had just perished in the explosion, for example, was strongly reminiscent of images of Hewbrew slaves being forced to build the pyramids in Egypt. Maria's speeches to the workers about waiting for a mediator parallel John The Baptist foretelling the coming of Jesus. The story of the Tower of Babel is directly invoked throughout the film, both when it's mentioned directly and in the image of the aboveground city. My Dad, an avid fan of the genre, always tells me that the best science fiction draws material directly from history; Metropolis is an excellent example of this.
Ball, N. (2008). Metropolis, Ezra Pound, Mammon, and the law of too-large numbers. Bright Lights Film Journal, (62). Retrieved November 11, 2008, from http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/62/62metropolis.html