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.
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 ...Written by
Whenever people are asked what they consider to be revolutionary and historically significant in terms of classic cinema, one answer that frequently comes up is Metropolis, and it's not hard to see why. In addition to being a very impressive technical achievement for its time, the film is well known as the very first feature-length sci fi film. While it wasn't met with a very warm reception upon its release (not to mention having been cut since then), it has made a massive impact over the decades for its biting allegory and themes of purity mixed in with knowledge and strength.
Set in a futuristic urban dystopia, high class city planner Joh Fredersen lives in the Tower of Babel around the prestigious city, which is atop its underground equivalent filled with workers who manage the machinery that support it. The actual story revolves around Joh's son Freder and the holy figure Maria trying to overcome the major split between the two parts. Director Fritz Lang and writer Thea von Harbou develop the film's plot through world building, as it's made clear from the start that the workers of the surface-level power plant toil with the equipment tirelessly year by year. Satirically, the workers are the clocks controlled by the ringleader Frederson. In a way, the film lets the viewers think about the societal differences between individuals and power without spoon-feeding the message as much as showcasing it through distinctive nations.
Admittedly, the film doesn't really develop the characters outside of their basic tropes and goals, but they're by no means bad. If anything, they're meant more to guide the events of the different classes throughout the story's progression. Freder knows all the wrong doings of tampering with technology, therefore he wishes there to be a proper balance between the thinkers and the builders, hence why he adores Maria so much. Speaking of Maria, she is the saintly guide to the workers looking for hope, but her purity comes at a price of the mad scientist Rotwag who builds a robot to replicate his loved one Hel (who ended up becoming Freder's mother). Without spoiling much, let's just say that what he does to Maria really causes the film to get suspenseful. The remaining cast are mainly easily manipulated individuals looking for the right voice to lead them.
But of course, the feature's visual style is timelessly breathtaking. Most of the special effects were huge innovations at a time of severe technological limitations, and some even work as substance depending on some given scenes (like the mythos behind the Tower of Babel). Many of the contraptions and backdrops have clearly inspired the likes of Blade Runner, Futurama and even Batman over the years, mainly through the gothic architect and abstract landscapes. Admittedly, a lot of the acting is really over the top by today's standards, but that's more attributed to the dynamic gestural performances commonplace back in the day. That, and many scenes do kind of drag on a bit for their own good. However, the narrative and message are meant to be told through these elaborate sets and melodramatic performances to gain the necessary emotional resonance for such an ambitious project like this.
In conclusion, Metropolis is a prime example of how something can stand the test of time through technical brilliance and emotional resonance based on a political allegory. It's funny how Fritz Lang believed this film to be the prediction of how the future would be perceived back in the 1920s, because it's not too far off from today. Technology is a great usage and all, but all the amazing knowledge and manual labor in the world are nothing without the necessary negotiating in case one spirals out of control, something that many corporations these days fail to realize. If you are yet to check this film out, definitely feel free to do so to remind yourself how important it is to maintain order around advanced infrastructure.
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