Study Guide for Metropolis

1. Filmographic Citation from Clockworks:

Metropolis. Fritz Lang, dir. Germany: Ufa, 1926. Lang and Thea von Harbou, script, from the novel by von Harbou. (Available in alternate versions.)

Silent film showing a pleasure-city for the elite and a mechanized underground portion of the Metropolis, where mechanized workers tend the city's machines. A very important work for a robot femme fatale and the motif of mechanized underworlds. Cf. Android, A Boy and his Dog, and THX 1138 ... and see ... E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and H. G. Wells's The Time Machine and The First Men in the Moon.

2. Major Cast

Jon Frederson: Alfred Abel Freder: Gustav Froelich
Rotwang: Rudolf Klein-Rogge Joseph: Theodor Loos
Maria/Robot Maria: Brigitte Helm Plus cast of thousands (literally).

3. Questions and Comments

  1. Note dual world: eutopian pleasure city for rich (above) and mechanized hell for workers (below). The hero, Freder, in typical Hero fashion, descends from the world above into that below, and there learns his destiny. Note very well that the underworld is the traditional home of Chaos and Old Night: the old Powers, the powers of the irrational, of the Nature that will not be subjected to human restraints, human culture. Taking that underworld, lighting it up, and mechanizing it is a major symbol for a reason and will that will allow no limits.
  2. Note robot and mad scientist: Rotwang. (Also Rotwang's hand: it will be inherited by Dr. Strangelove, Dr. No, Luke Skywalker, and others, including, if we allow some arm with it, the Terminator.) Cf. and contrast creation of robot with other cinematic creation scenes: the Golem, Frankenstein's Creature, assorted clones and cyborgs, RoboCop.
  3. The explicit politics of Metropolis are silly. Still, the film deals explicitly with class conflict and should teach us to ask of other films, "Where are the workers? Where is the class struggle?" (E.g., quick, name three enlisted personnel on any Enterprise. Where are the grunts in Star Trek? [What about Alien(s) for workers and grunts]?)
  4. Be sure you understand the politics and how they are defanged in a happy, romantic-comic ending in which a new and better world coalesces around a foursome: Freder = Heart, mediating between his Father (Head) and the Foreman (Hand), with Maria representing Spirit. Ding, dong, Rot-wang's dead! and Jon Frederson will now be a kinder, gentler dictator of Metropolis.