Metropolis is certainly one the most influential films to come out of the ‘20s, along with the likes of Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. Some may think that because the film is old, silent, and in black and white, it may be boring and draining. However, Metropolis is nothing of the sort; the restored version of the early twentieth century original is both visually stimulating and emotionally uplifting. Not only is Metropolis a refreshing change of pace, but it is also a silent classic that paved the way for many contemporary cinemascapes.
In a futuristic world where the upper class lives on the surface, and where the working class resides far underground slaving over machinery to power the rich city of Metropolis, there is one man who seeks to change this disunity between the classes. Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of town-leader Johhan Fredersen (Alfred Abel), is sparked to alter the class struggle by a visit from a charming young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm). Maria enters Freder’s estate with a horde of poverty-stricken children from the underground, and Freder becomes emotionally attached to both the poor children and the Virgin Mary-like Maria. With hopes to nullify the ruthless Social-Darwinist society that his father has built, Freder calls on the mad scientist/inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) for help.
However, all goes awry when the evil Rotwang creates a robot in the likeness of Maria in order to convince her followers to destroy the machines that run the non-working class’s world. Little do the underground slaves realize that by destroying the machines, they are destroying both the elite and themselves. Freder is the only hope to bring peace to the two conflicting classes before it’s too late.
Metropolis blends horror, romance, fantasy, and science-fiction all into a perfect package that also manages to pack a political punch. With both the uprising of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie and the inevitable striving towards a Communist society, obvious elements of Marxism are present. Nevertheless, even though several aspects of public policy are evident throughout the film, the picture opens with a disclaimer that reads: “This film is not of today or of the future. It tells of no place. It serves no tendency, party, or class. It has a moral that grows on the pillar of understanding: ‘The mediator between brain and muscle must be the heart.” The quote is attributed to Thea von Harbou, and it serves as the film’s dominant theme, which carries so much symbolism.
In every silent film, there is an abundance of both make-up and overly-dramatic expressions, and unsurprisingly, Metropolis is no exception. At times, the characters, with their tremendously pale faces and their excessively accentuated wide eyes, look more like pantomimes than actors. Their facial expressions and body movements are exaggerated to the utmost extreme, but then again, this is true acting, considering there is no tone of voice – or, for that matter, no voice at all – to interpret.
Metropolis is the parent picture of thousands of films — paving the way for films like Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and Gattaca to name a few. Both its visually stunning camera angles and its deceptive cinematography (between prop and performer) are absolutely astonishing — given the time it was made.
Metropolis is truly a groundbreaking film. It contains both characters and situations that will be forever emulated throughout the world of cinema. The dreamy feel and the eerie eye-shots will be stamped into your memory for a lifetime, and even though this film may not “say” anything, it says a lot about societal stratification and screams masterpiece. (**** out of ****)