Kyle Atwood is a published author of fiction who plays too many video games and watches too many movies to be of sound mind.
I finally have had my chance to pay a visit to Fritz Lang's Metropolis after years and years of seeing it appear in the background of numerous films I have enjoyed. I figured it was time to see the film.
Released in 1927, Metropolis is a silent film centered around dystopian and science fiction ideas, while also preaching about class inequality. Critics have praised it as being drop-dead gorgeous and a fantastic story as well.
Let's jump into the review.
Sometime in the undesignated future, the city of Metropolis is divided into two social classes: the dominant class that lives on the surface, living comfortable lives, and the worker class, who lives below the surface. The worker class is ruled by Maria, who only wants to find a middle ground between the workers and the rich, comparing them to hands and a head, stating that they would need a heart between the two to survive. Enter Freder Fredersen, the son of the Lord of Metropolis Johhan Fredersen. Eventually, the two fall in love with each other. Meanwhile, Johhan decides that the workers no longer have a place in his society and creates a robot pretending to be Maria to spark a revolution to eradicate the worker class.
Still with me? Well, the plot had no problem charming me with its eerie spell. The plot may defy logic, but it is also suspiciously easy to follow as this discontinuity is a major strength of Metropolis. What makes this movie more than just an enjoyable film, is its theme of how humanity can be swallowed by its work and technology, missing out on the increasingly massive gap between them and happy life. It is a theme that can spark feelings of hope from its despair and a sense of rebellion, which can be poetic in its own way. What strikes me the most is how young the story of Metropolis is, despite being over ninety years old. It is so full of invention and thrill, yet somehow remains mentally fifteen years old, and that is beautiful, to say the least.
Considering this is a silent film, actors are given the tough task of using their body language and facial expressions to convey what message they are trying to give the audience. Everyone does their job in this regard flawlessly in Metropolis and Fritz Lang got a superstar cast to accomplish this. Even background characters hold a sense of depth with them, something a ton of modern movies forget.
Many silent films not only need great acting but also great soundtracks and Metropolis is no exception.
The sounds are mystic and filled with a real sense of melancholy and bliss, or, at times, chaos and grief. The music really speaks to me as well. For instance, when Maria's transformation takes place, the music is light and charming, despite the viewer knowing that what is happening is a plot to destroy the working class. The music is this way because of the mad scientist's discovery of life in a lifeless machine and it represents the sense of wonder he feels.
Anyway, the soundtrack is phenomenal, wouldn't expect it to be any less.
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A Striking Work of Art
I've already talked about how fantastic and innocent the story of Metropolis is, so I won't go much further with that. I will, however, preach about how fantastic this film looks and sounds.
Starting with the set design, it is breathtaking and made with so much care. Despite the film being in black and white, viewers are given a real sense of color and brilliance when looking at the dominant class and a crippling sense of repression and depression when looking at the worker class.
The design of the newly transformed Maria is haunting and the haggard, strung-out look of the primary cast members is striking. On top of this, the overall mood of the film leaves a lasting impression.
Lang's work in Metropolis is the pinnacle of German expressionism, with dramatic camera angles, moody lighting, immensely stylized sets, and over-the-top theatrics.
There is one scene in particular that showcases all of these fundamental trademarks of Lang's work. Aside from the scene when the robot is first revealed, I particularly like the scene when Freder Fredersen takes over at this giant clock that has some hand in regulating temperatures in another machine. It isn't long until Freder finds that the machine is exhausting and nearly impossible to keep up with, we can see this with the look of pain, panic, and frustration playing out on Freder's face. This scene is poetic in many regards and is easily one of my favorite scenes of all time, and an essential piece when talking about Lang's films.
One for the Ages
Metropolis is a film for the ages.
It's for those who consider themselves a romantic or a rebel.
It holds a lesson for the working class and one for the higher-ups as well.
Children could follow it, teenagers could enjoy it, and adults could be inspired by it.
When people continuously bring up Metropolis in a conversation about great silent films or historical films, it certainly deserves its place.
Most of all, Metropolis serves as the heart, linking the future and the present to the past with a message that we can all take something from.
© 2019 Kyle Atwood
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 31, 2020:
It's nice to see a genuine fan's review of this film rather than the usual 'report' that reads like some kid is writing it for school homework, well done! Metropolis is one of those remarkable movies that never seems to run out of amazing stories regarding how it was made. It really is like the movie that keeps on giving because it offers us hours and hours of enjoyment long past the duration of the film itself.