Metropolis (Germany 1927)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/2/10
Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich

Fritz Lang's futuristic dystopian masterpiece is a challenging film to watch, as are most silent films. The plot is a familiar cautionary tale of the rich elite taking advantage of the poor working class, and how easy it is to upset the balance of power into anarchy. Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) is the spoiled and naïve son of the Master Of Metropolis. When he sees the beautiful Maria (Brigitte Helm), he leaves his utopian world and follows her into the underground where the working class slaves away to keep the machines running. Horrified by what he sees, he confronts his father about the workers' plight, but he pays him no mind. Unfazed, Freder heads back to the underground and witnesses Maria spreading Christian gospel and telling the workers to be patient and wait for their mediator (savior) to arrive. Meanwhile, the great inventor Rotwang has invented a robot that will replace the workers and free them from their wretched lives. However, Freder's father sees this as an opportunity to get rid of the working class altogether and has the robot fashioned in the image of Maria, to spread dissent among the workers and cause them to revolt. She is clearly a representation of Satan and she uses her treacherous wiles to lead the entire population into sin. Fortunately, the real Maria manages to escape from Rotwang and Freder sets out to save the city. Ultimately, Freder becomes the savior of the people as the mediator (heart) between the aristocracy (brains) and the workers (hands).

The film is noteworthy mostly due to its incredibly advanced visual effects, visionary design, iconic imagery, massive sets, and foreboding gothic architecture. Brigitte Helm's robotic Maria is the devil incarnate, seductively wicked and intoxicatingly alluring. You can tell she's evil because she wears a lot of dark eye makeup, whereas the real Maria doesn't. The acting is crazy and overly exaggerated as was the style at the time, and most of the body language conveys anguish and despair. The iconic robot imagery only appears in three scenes, which I found rather disappointing, and the whole Christian subtext really turned me off. Still, "Metropolis" was a groundbreaking film that took huge risks and helped set the tone for the numerous science fiction and noir films that were to come.