'Metropolis' by Fritz Lang Is a Reaction to the Anxiety of Change
The Opening Scene
The dystopic opening scene of Metropolis dramatizes the prevailing social dangers posed by futuristic cities and thus mirrors early twentieth century concerns that the modern city was becoming too large, impersonal and dependent on technology. Subsequently, Lang affirms the main value held in the population that an increase social hierarchical divide was being created. He begins the film with a short title sequence depicting a ziggurat superimposed upon the city buildings. This acts as a metaphor for the power hierarchy that is established by urbanization. It also is a potent metaphor for the human exploitation in a capitalist society and even references ancient Inca culture when human sacrifices were held on top of such pyramids. Through these powerful images Lang is depicting the intense concern during the 1920s with the growth of large industrial complexes, which assumed greater political and economic power causing the inhumane treatment of workers. Most importantly, people and nature are missing from the viewer’s first impressions of the city. In addition, Lang creates a sense of endless urban sprawl by stretching the structures beyond the frame. Both of these techniques illustrate Lang’s idea that future cities will emphasise the prioritization of development and progress above all. Subsequently, Lang dissolves into close-up shots of moving parts of heavy industrial equipment. This machine montage accentuates the cities’ over reliance on machinery and the sense of ceaseless motion and power that drives this inhumane place. These aspects highlight his reaction that rapid change towards industrial development will enslave humans instead of relieving them and thus further establish a social hierarchy.
The Moloch Scene
In spite of Lang’s development of the idea that change is necessary and must be embraced for a society to exist and thrive peacefully, he depicts the anxiety brought about by these changes. In the Moloch scene, Lang affirms the values of anxiety on the future of the human species in the wake of technology’s dominance during the industrial revolution. He supports the value of many in his era who feared that our fixation on technological innovation, which saw unchecked developments of production lines and machine based economies, pose a threat to society’s humanity. Hence, Lang utilizes Freder’s exaggerated epiphany to represent society’s uneasy concerns of the city’s repressive system. He costumes Freder in white and uses an extreme long shot from above to show him being dwarfed by the enormous space and confused. This shows the anxiety brought about by change and also illustrates the lack and therefore need for the upper class to understand the horrendous exploitation and dehumanization of the workers. If this essential change is not met, then Lang envisions a scene of devastation. The explosion and Freder’s biblical vision of Moloch as a god of ruin and violence are the first main statements of the theme of apocalyptic danger and ruin that could accompany development. In addition, Lang couples intensifying and menacing music, quicker editing and exaggerated workers’ movements to indicate how easily destruction can manifest unless modifications are made, such as incorporating compassion between the ‘heads’ and the ‘hands’. Furthermore, Lang exaggerates the strong contrast between the social class environments by strategically juxtaposing this scene with the previous Pleasure Gardens scene. Therefore Lang is insinuating that without the required change, which will no doubt be accompanied by much social anxiety, society will inevitably become dysfunctional if technological developments and innovations continue unmodified.
The Yoshiwara Scene
In addition, Lang portrays the anxieties existing at the time about the increasing power of women as a result of the First World War. He hints at the dangers of their femme fatale qualities – sexual, independent and pitiless. This is demonstrated in the Yoshiwara scene where robot Maria has a flirtatiously cool demeanor and modern dress, modeled after the New Woman that had emerged in the early 1920s. This Maria is a sexual icon, a flamboyant representation of modern sexual freedom and a celebration of sex. Lang purposely depicts her as a vamp stereotype with her make-up and evocative gestures. Also her dance in front of the lecherous male audience infers links to the ‘Whore of Babylon’ and the Biblical ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ Moreover, she reduces the men to nothing but leering eyes, to one voracious act of collective voyeurism. The film literalizes their being ‘all eyes’ by cutting to a montage of a dozen eyes in extreme close ups. Additionally, Lang cross cuts Maria’s dance with Freder’s sickness, which further defines her actions as a negative representation of modern sexuality. Hence Lang highlights the anxieties about how the changing qualities of females poses a threat to society’s patriarchal order by inciting men’s animalistic and wild responses.
© 2018 Billy Zhang