Metropolis has been hailed by critics as one of the greatest movies of all time. Despite portions of the film being lost forever, it has endured as a science fiction classic.Send comments to
Metropolis is a silent German film made in 1927, and is one of the expressionistic, pre-film noir movies to emerge from the Weimar Republic. It tells the story of a dystopian society, divided into thinkers and workers. The thinkers do not know how to work, but are the bourgeois of society, while the workers do not know how to think and are the lower class.
Freder Frederson, the main character, is the son of the city’s leader and spends his time running footraces and chasing girls. That is, until he meets the schoolteacher Maria and the children she cares for. She declares that everyone is each other’s brother, and Freder becomes consumed with the desire to find one of his ‘brothers’ and live his life. He goes into the depths of the city and finds among the machines worker 11811. Freder offers to take his place at the machine while 11811 has the opportunity for a day off. These machines seem to only have the function of keeping the lower class enslaved.
While Freder is underground, his father goes to visit the (mad) scientist Rotwang. He has been finding notes about secret meetings among the workers and wants Rotwang to help him solve the problem. It turns out that Papa Frederson stole Rotwang’s beloved, and now the scientist has been busy making a robot to take her place. Rotwang doesn’t want to help him, but in the end he takes him down to the catacombs and they spy on where the workers are meeting.
Freder has also arrived at this meeting, taking place at a chapel of sorts. Leading the group is Maria, who tells the workers that they will have a solution to their sad existence, but they must wait for a moderator before they begin any actions. The group leaves while Freder stays behind to talk to Maria, all while Papa Frederson and Rotwang watch from their hiding place. Rotwang is instructed to kidnap Maria and finish the robot in her image. Once the robot replaces Maria, chaos begins, and Freder must save the city.
Although Metropolis can be corny at times due to the silent film technique of over-acting, the story and its message ring true. Director/writer Fritz Lang incorporates elements of Marxist and Freudian theory, as well as biblical and fairy tale mythos. The machines and the city skyline are impressive (stop-animation was used to make the cars on the city model “move”), and Rotwang’s robot is the first ever in film. Lang and photographer Carl Freund created some of the most memorable shots in movie film, and clips from Metropolis are constantly replayed on television and in advertising.
Gustav Fröhlich, who plays Freder, is a good hero, but the star of the movie is Brigitte Helm. She tackles the roles of Maria and the robot, showing both the good and evil wonderfully. Both her characters are passionate, although for different goals. She manages to bring a stunning level of sexuality to the robot, parallel to the virginal Maria.
Even though there are missing scenes, the movie is over two hours long. The scenes that are missing are connected to the rest of the film with text cards describing the action – a poor substitute, but nevertheless one that works in a silent film. And don’t let the word “silent” deter you: Metropolis is and always will be a classic.
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Alfred Abel, Theodor Loos, Heinrich George