The neglected masterpiece Metropolis is a movie not well known, despite being highly influential for a variety of other movies and the entire genre of sci-fi and pop culture as a whole for almost a century after its initial release.
It was considered groundbreaking at the time, and is held as the first sci-fi movie produced.
As is often the case when things aren’t understood, they end up being under-appreciated. There are many old movies that are spectacular but mostly forgotten. Metropolis is just one such example.
This post will explore its relevance of Metropolis today in our socio-political landscape and current technological enslavement.
In light of recent events around the world, a lot of old books and cinema have become eerily prescient. Movies such as They Live (1988), Metropolis (1927), and books including 1984, and Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are part of a recent increase in interest in stories involving futuristic dystopias and technocracies. You can learn more about the latest news regarding our current slide into technocracy here.
I have tried to avoid spoilers and plot lines where possible, but this is a commentary on the movie as a whole and spoilers are unavoidable.
Sci-Fi and Philosophy
I had never been very interested in sci-fi novels or cinema until I started following Greg Sadler for his philosophy discussions and videos, and watched his philosophical series on speculative fiction. Only then did I learn how rich the ideas and philosophical themes are in the genre, especially dystopian portrayals which are often very on par with what theoretical physicists speculate. I didn’t realize how philosophical science fiction can be or how politically subtle many works are. I also know how much research and knowledge of science that went into them. I thought it was just a lot of creative speculation and fantasy with a modern twist.
I had my interest in sci-fi dystopian movies piqued after coming across the simulation hypothesis – the idea that we are living in a simulation. Films like The Matrix have really put it out in mainstream public conscience. I’ve been working through movies that either influenced The Matrix or ones that inspired the directors of The Matrix, as well as similar movies. Along the way, I came across Metropolis (1927).
It was quite surprising to me that I hadn’t yet watched Metropolis. Despite not having an interest in sci-fi, I have watched hundreds of movies from the 1920s, from silent films to westerns and musicals. The silver screen era and the golden years of Hollywood is what I binged on growing up. From films like The Man With The Movie Camera to Singing In The Rain. Some of my best childhood memories include watching musicals with Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and crime love dramas with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall – which were my favorite actors of the time.
Read my previous post on the song; Goodbye Little Yellow Bird here from the film The Picture of Dorian Gray,(1945). While not dystopian or sci-fi it does have many common themes which also find expression in Metropolis. The occult and selling one’s soul to the devil – a popular theme in Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general today – is featured. But also how it deals with temptation and our modern uber materialistic desire-driven societies.
Perhaps too ahead of its time then, with current events and the recent happenings, the film is being fit in the Overton window making it enjoy a resurgence of popularity.
As the evolutionary and economics professor Gad Saad says (and I am paraphrasing here) – we should pay special attention to theories that make predictions that have a habit of coming true.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to dystopian literature and film, after all, there are generally more ways to get something wrong than there are ways to get something right.
Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city master, and Maria, a saintly figure to the workers, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes in their city and bring the workers together with Joh Fredersen, the city master.
The film’s message is encompassed in the final inter-title: “The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart”.
Metropolis is vague enough to be interpreted in many directions. I’ve come across posts about how it portrayed feminism before it became popular, to how the film foretells our gloomy lot in 2020.
Interestingly – Lang didn’t like the story, which was mostly written by The von harbou – his wife. But it gave him the opportunity to create a film that became one of the great works of 20th century art.
He got the idea while on a visit to New York. For Lang, a German, visiting New York in 1924 was an incredible experience. Lang says…
“I saw a street lit as if in full daylight by neon lights and, topping them, oversized luminous advertisements moving, turning, flashing on and off, spiraling…something that was completely new and nearly fairy tale-like for a European in those days….The buildings seemed to be a vertical veil, shimmering, almost weightless, a luxurious cloth hung from the sky to dazzle, distract, and hypnotize. At night the city did not give the impression of being alive; it lived as illusions lived. I knew then that I had to make a film about all of these sensations.”
Lang proved to be a very demanding director, and life on set was a difficult and exhausting experience. From taking 14 days to shoot the flooding scene with Helm and 500 children – in cold water, to using real fire for the scene where the false Maria is burnt at the stake, to even ordering extras to throw themselves towards the powerful jets of water for the scenes of the workers’ city being flooded.
Metropolis – a film of many versions
The following text appears at the start of The Complete Metropolis – the restored version of the 1927 classic featured 25 minutes of previously-lost footage.
“Soon after its premiere, Metropolis was severely shortened and altered. Since then, more than a quarter of the film was assumed to have been lost. In 2008, an almost complete version of the film was discovered in Buenos Aires. The material was heavily damaged and, because it had been printed on 16mm film stock, does not have the full-aperture silent picture ratio.
Utilizing the footage from Argentine, a virtually complete Metropolis has been reconstructed and its proper editing has been restored. The text of the intertitles was taken from German censorship records and has been translated into English. In order to maintain the scale of the restored footage, the missing portion of the frame appears black.”
The main restored versions are; East German version (1972), Giorgio Moroder version (1984), Giorgio Moroder Metropolis Soundtrack, Munich Archive version (1987), Restored Authorized Edition (2001), The Complete Metropolis (2010)
What Makes Metropolis So Special?
I’m a very visual person and this movie has spectacular visuals that were very ahead of its time. It used novel and revolutionary methods with mirrors to use fewer sets but create the illusion of more buildings. Called ‘the Schufftan process’, named after Eugen Schufftan who worked on the film.
The movie features themes of ‘controlled opposition’, deep fakes, and PsyOps.
While watching one of my thoughts was how it must have been perceived at the time it was released.
Much of the activity and body language seems cartoonish or clown type expressions and exaggerations which they felt needed to be done to overcome the lack of voice – but I think a simpler more subtle approach would have actually worked better and been more genuine.
Early in the movie there is a scene underground of the shift change, and what stood out to me so much was the underground network. It showed multiple angles and it managed to give it a depth, a 3D feel, that I feel was very ahead of its time, and rare in silent movies of the early 1920s.
This isn’t a movie that is meant to be carried on the plot alone but by the journey and experience – especially being a silent film. It is a movie that necessitates a patient approach and one that rewards reading between the lines. Especially contrasting it to current events in 2020.
The movie has an eerie feel to it throughout – especially when watching it today. I enjoyed watching it and contrasting in my mind the lives and ideas people lived by then and how narrow their awareness of things like shadow governments and deep state was, as well as how the media and news lie to the public. To say nothing of the mass surveillance of the law-abiding public and the ‘experiments’ conducted on the public under the CIA. These things were not in the public’s awareness and they didn’t have the number of whistleblowers and investigators in the media that we have had today.
It also feels odd watching a movie that most of the people in it are dead, especially with it being a dystopia.
The idea of workers being mechanical and themselves like machines comes through consistently. Not just in their enslavement to their society but themselves – the line between us and the machines we rely on – becoming blurred is indeed a modern reality especially with things like Neuralink on the horizon.
It seems that the bigger our cities get, and seemingly more cosmopolitan, the less we incorporate traditional values.
Surprisingly, the movie is still very immersive. The camera work was groundbreaking for the time – in its methods and outcome of incredibly clear, spectacular visuals for the time.
Personally I found myself taken away by how well the set work was. Not only for the time – even now it would be very impressive.
The music is synchronized really well. While I’m not a fan of the score and feel it is completely unoriginal and even stealing themes of other composers. It is done in such a way that you at times feel it was directly from a specific composer and at other times feels like something you have heard before (but is vague enough that you can’t figure out from where).
The movie has such attention to detail, where each frame attempts to be artistic and look like a photograph. Something you don’t really come across these days except in comic book-based movies – where frames often are composed in such a way to liken themself to the scenes in a comic book.
It is difficult to state how ahead of its time Metropolis was, anticipating video calls and the myriad of other social forces throughout. How single rich billionaires have ‘too much’ control in society and our enslavement to machines and technology – something becoming much more a reality with developments in A.I.
Considering how Hollywood seems hell-bent on bringing out remake after remake, I actually wouldn’t mind one of Metropolis.
“Let’s all watch as the world goes to the devil!” – Metropolis
The film has many references and symbols from the occult that many people miss. Some are more obvious than others. I won’t go too deep into it in this post but you can read more of it here and elsewhere.
The character of Maria was always bathed in light. I can’t help but think of the Lucifer icon here the ‘bringer of light’. Maybe it’s a stretch of the imagination.
It seems to be a common theme in the entertainment industry (as brought about by recent revelations), and is often practised by those elites who run society – as is the case in Metropolis. The people, the common men and women, are often manipulated by the occult elite and are otherwise religious, good, and naive.
The fake Maria is also a case of false idol worship – which is just one of the dozens of biblical themes. One of which is the use of the name Maria – the Latin name for Mary. The occult likes to degrade sacred objects and it is possible that the name is no coincidence.
I am profoundly fascinated by cruelty, fear, horror and death. My films show my preoccupation with violence, the pathology of violence. – Fritz Lang
Deep Fakes and Fake news
Deep fakes are another theme that has become a reality which we as a society are not ready for.
In the movie, the mad scientist Rotwang makes a robot in the likeness of Maria to use her as ‘controlled opposition’ to manipulate the workers and to prevent the revolution they were planning with Maria. This is perhaps the most prescient part of the whole movie to me, the issue of deep fakes which are on our horizon.
Criticism & Reviews
Metropolis has been met with mixed reviews since its release.
Many decry the length and the pace but I think it’s a type of movie that shouldn’t be approached in the same way as other normal blockbusters.
In general, it is the storyline that gets the majority of negative reviews, with descriptions including “trite” from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, and “naive”. H.G. Wells, legendary sci-fi author, described the film as “silly”.
Conversely, the film has received much praise for its visual beauty and complex special effects. In fact, the film was inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2001 – the first film to receive this honour.
Despite being 2.5 hours long, this is a movie that will suck you in. There are so many possible interpretations of this movie to flesh out and a lot of room to interpret and discuss. And luckily there are a lot of online discussions about the film already.
I think it’s a movie best watched with someone, so you can discuss the movie afterward.
Metropolis is a rare gem one that we should seek to preserve in our memories and culture.
“Motion pictures and weapons of war: science has created them both. So while others point guns, I’ll have my camera, offering fantastic dreams of other worlds just beyond our reach.” – Director Fritz Lang