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Is the film Metropolis a reflection of the German culture during the 1920’s?

The silent film Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang was written in 1924 and started screening in 1927. Metropolis was highly influenced by the culture that was present in the Weimar Republic at that period of time. Not only was the film influenced by government ideologies, such as fascism and communism, but it was also influenced by the views of women of the time. Through the themes of corruption and the characterization of two individuals, the film is able to portray the culture of Germany in the 1920’s.

One of the ideas that had become popular during World War I in Germany was known as volkgemeinschaft which was an expression that aimed to remove class tensions and create a “people’s community.” This reflected one of the ideals for both fascism and communism which were beginning to take shape in Europe at the time of the film’s airing. These ideologies were portrayed through the film’s theme of the struggle between the working class and the rulers. Interestingly, the working men are portrayed as desolate; with heads hung they walked in an almost zombie-like fashion with little to no emotion until they begin to rebel, meanwhile the ruler of the city Metropolis, Joh Fredersen, appears emotionally deficient as well. While the workers are powerless to change their fates on their own, Fredersen should not be so devoid of emotion for he is one of the elite. This characterization portrays the common fascist belief that intelligence cannot be trusted; instead emotions should be the elevated area of human existence. Thus the film portrays Freder and Maria as the two heroes’ because they are ruled by their emotions while Fredersen and Rotwang are considered villainous and their intellect is their downfall. Finally, as a continuation to the theme of eliminating class divides, the character Rotwang is depicted with a metallic prosthetic after losing his right hand in the building of the Machine Man. This is an illusion to Rotwang’s left handed belief that class distinctions need to be eliminated in the Metropolis.

In addition to Fascist beliefs, the Weimar Republic had strict views on women. The view on women is portrayed through the film’s characterization of Maria and the Machine Maria. The audience is first introduced to Maria, just as Freder is, in the Eternal Gardens. Freder is accompanied by scantily clad women, yet when Maria appears in her simple work attire, he is mesmerized. She is plainly attractive without any makeup or elaborate clothing to help her. Lang chooses to utilize a type of camera filter that creates an almost halo like glow around Maria, both when she is first introduced in the Gardens and when she is in the catacombs. By characterizing Maria as plainly attractive and by applying the filtered effect the audience doubtlessly likens Maria to the biblical Mary. Meanwhile, the Machine Maria is characterized as a much more suggestive woman. She adorns dark makeup and performs gestures meant to appear erotic. She is also openly compared to the Whore of Babylon while dancing in front of the elite and brings to life the seven deadly sins. Also, to further these illusions Lang creates two scenes in which each woman is at a higher altitude with a group of people reaching for her. Machine Maria has men grasping at her in lust after she dances for them, while the real Maria has children grasping at her when they are in peril. These two vastly different characters portray how women were viewed in the Weimar Republic; either as very virtuous or promiscuous with little in between.

Between the film’s main theme and the depiction of the two characters, Maria and Machine Maria, the audience can clearly see the influence that the German culture of the 1920’s had on the film Metropolis.

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8 responses to “Is the film Metropolis a reflection of the German culture during the 1920’s?

  1. I agree with your point that Metropolis represents some of the political and social ideologies in Germany during that time. The idea of “volkgemeinschaft” is pretty obvious in this film from the scene with Maria and the children in the Club of the Sons where she is calling them and the members of the club brothers and sisters. The film also displays many fascist and communist ideologies in a good light but also demonizes capitalism. Joh Frederson is portrayed as a villain most of the film because he’s a stone-cold capitalist, willing to do anything to maintain his prosperity. The films anti-capitalist message mirrors German sentiment during the time period, having just suffered devastating losses during WWI at the hands of the United States and Great Britain.

  2. I really like that you draw the parallel of the emotionless nature of both the workers and Joh Fredersen throughout most of the film, and I would further extend this comparison by saying that one of the few instances in which both show emotion is when the safety of their children is in jeopardy. This suggests that even two vastly different classes of people have the fundamental need to protect their children–and that a sure way of threatening or manipulating both classes is by endangering their children. It’s a very interesting consideration.

  3. Metropolis does present a very interesting contrast on women, as you pointed out. I don’t think I completely agree with Joh Fredersen being devoid of emotion. It is without doubt he feels no sympathy for the working class in the depths of his city but his longing for Hel and love for Freder are some of the major plot points in the story. The final scene shows him and a worker attempting to reconcile but having such an ingrained disposition against each other not to be able to alone. In the end, Joh accepts his son’s help and reconciles with the workers. Perhaps not the most in-depth characters, but I think he plays a much larger role.

  4. bjones109

    I have to disagree with the idea of the workers being devoid of emotion. I believe that in order to hide the fact that the workers have a secret religion in the catacombs, they needed to hide all of their emotions to appear like the desolate working class that they were expected to be by the overseers. I believe this is a more plausible case than thinking that the workers relearned their emotions by the end of the film. Also, I believe that the workers were so quick to perform such extreme acts at the end of the film was because they have been hiding their emotions for so long and they wanted to let it all out for once.

    • Agreed, I feel that everyone has emotions and if they are not expressed it does not necessarily mean they do not exist. There is always a deeper reason for the concealment of said emotions.. Good point

  5. Pingback: Metropolis (1927) | timneath

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