Sometime in the future, the city of Metropolis is home to a Utopian society where its wealthy residents live a carefree life. One of those is Freder Fredersen. One day, he spots a beautiful woman with a group of children, she and the children quickly disappear. Trying to follow her, he is horrified to find an underground world of workers who apparently run the machinery that keeps the Utopian world above ground functioning. One of the few people above ground who knows about the world below is Freder's father, John Fredersen, who is the founder and master of Metropolis. Freder learns that the woman is called Maria, who espouses the need to join the "hands" - the workers - to the "head" - those in power above - by a mediator who will act as the "heart". Freder wants to help the plight of the workers in their struggle for a better life. But when John learns of what Maria is advocating and that Freder has joined their cause, with the assistance of an old colleague. an inventor called Rotwang, who turns out to be But their nemesis goes to works towards quashing a proposed uprising, with Maria at the centre of their plan. John, unaware that Rotwang has his own agenda., makes plans that include shutting down the machines, with the prospect of unleashing total anarchy both above and below ground.
In the future, the society of Metropolis is divided in two social classes: the workers, who live in the underground below the machines level, and the dominant classes that lives in the surface. The workers are controlled by their leader Maria, who wants to find a mediator between the upper class lords and the workers, since she believes that a heart would be necessary between brains and muscles. Maria meets Freder Fredersen, the son of the Lord of Metropolis Johhan Fredersen, in a meeting of the workers, and they fall in love for each other. Meanwhile, Johhan decides that the workers are no longer necessary for Metropolis, and uses a robot pretending to be Maria to promote a revolution of the working class and eliminate them.
The future. Metropolis is a wonderful city, high above the ground its towers stand. The people prosper, the economy is flourishing, the suspended streets are busy. But Metropolis also has a great secret, so hidden that not even Freder Fredersen, son of founder Joh Fredersen knows about it. He is spending his free time in the Eternal Gardens, when suddenly a woman shows up, with what looks like a class of children. They're from the City of Workers, in the depth, Freder learns. "These are your brothers", she tells the children, before she is forced to leave. Freder is so intrigued he follows them into the depth and doesn't like what he sees. The workers are exploited, they must do labor like robots. Freder tries to convince his father to change, while the woman tries to keep workers' morale high by predicting a man will stand up that will mediate. Someone that will use both hands and head, someone that will be the heart.
In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.
- The film is set in the year 2026, in the extraordinary Gothic skyscrapers of a corporate city-state, the Metropolis of the title. Society has been divided into two rigid groups: one of planners or thinkers, who live in luxury on the surface of Earth, and another of workers who live underground toiling to sustain the lives of the privileged up above. The city is run by Johann 'Joh' Fredersen (Alfred Abel).
The beautiful and evangelical figure Maria (Brigitte Helm) takes up the cause of the workers. She advises the desperate workers not to start a revolution, and instead wait for the arrival of "The Mediator", who, she says, will unite the two halves of society. The son of Fredersen, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), becomes infatuated with Maria, and follows her down into the working underworld. In the underworld, he experiences firsthand the toiling lifestyle of the workers, and observes the casual attitude of their employers (he is disgusted after seeing an explosion at the "M-Machine", when the employers bring in new workers to keep the machine running before taking care of the men wounded or killed in the accident). Shocked at the workers' living conditions, he joins her cause.
Meanwhile his father Fredersen consults with the scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), an old companion and rival. Fredersen learns that the papers found with dead workers are plans of the catacombs and witnesses a speech by Maria. He also learns that Rotwang has built a robotic gynoid. Rotwang wants to give the robot the appearance of Hel, his former lover who left him for Fredersen and died giving birth to Freder. Fredersen persuades him to give the robot Maria's appearance, as he wants to use the robot to tighten his control over the workers. Rotwang complies out of ulterior motives: he knows of Freder's and Maria's love and wants to use the robot to deprive Fredersen of his son.
The real Maria is imprisoned in Rotwang's house in Metropolis, while the robot Maria is first showcast as an exotic dancer in the upper city's Yoshiwara nightclub, fomenting discord among the rich young men of Metropolis. After descending to the worker's city, the robot Maria encourages the workers into a full-scale rebellion, and they destroy the "Heart Machine", the power station of the city. Neither Freder nor Grot, the foreman of the Heart Machine, can stop them. As the machine is destroyed, the city's reservoirs overflow, flooding the workers' underground city and seemingly drowning the children, who were left behind in the riot. In fact, Freder and Maria have saved them in a heroic rescue, without the workers' knowledge.
When the workers realize the damage they have done and that their children are lost, they attack the upper city. Under the leadership of Grot, they chase the human Maria, whom they hold responsible for their riot. As they break into the city's entertainment district, they run into the Yoshiwara crowd and capture the robot Maria, while the human Maria manages to escape. The workers burn the captured Maria at the stake; Freder, believing this to be the human Maria, despairs but then he and the workers realize that the burned Maria is in fact a robot.
Meanwhile, the human Maria is chased by Rotwang along the battlements of the city's cathedral. Freder chases after Rotwang, resulting in a climactic scene in which Joh Fredersen watches in terror as his son struggles with Rotwang on the cathedral's roof. Rotwang falls to his death, and Maria and Freder return to the street, where Freder unites Fredersen and Grot, fulfilling his role as the "Mediator".
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