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.