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Material for T8 – Metropolis

January 23, 2013

This week’s film is Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Please (re)watch the 2010 restored original version of it.


A few words about this film are in order. Please remember that this film is, in many ways, the most difficult piece of work we’ll approach this term. It was made in the 1920’s and, therefore, is in black and white and is silent. Metropolis‘ special effects were stunning in its time, but are now a bit hokey. The conventions of film making were different when Metropolis first appeared, and, as a result, it appears rather melodramatic at times. However, Metropolis is also one of the greatest, most beautiful, and most influential films of all time.

Just sayin’.

At any rate, the rest of the films we’ll be watching and discussing this semester will look much more familiar, so don’t panic if this isn’t your cup of tea.

For your assignment, I’d like you take seriously the idea that eponymous city (Metropolis) is a central character in the film. The question I ask you to write on is this: Is Metropolis the same character at the beginning and at the end of the film?

  • Please limit yourself to 300-500 words;
  • Please post your assignment as a comment to this blog entry;
  • Please do all of this no later than 24 hours before class begins on T8

A few clips worth lingering over are here:

The Clock Scene

Maria’s Transformation

The Dance Scene


From → Assignments

  1. Seth Rodgers permalink

    Throughout the film, Metropolis undergoes significant change, more specifically a social transformation. At the beginning of the film, the city is founded upon a deep layer of oppression, figuratively and literally. Distinct segregation between city rulers and the working masses is depicted by contrasting the harsh reality of The Depths with the blissful utopia of the Club of the Sons. While Joh Fredersen dictates his passionate vision for Metropolis to scrambling assistants, the workers far below conduct mindlessly brutal labor to operate the infamous machines. Slaving away at the mercy of time, the workers have almost become machines themselves. Meanwhile, the wealthy waste away their time at the mercy of mindless pleasure, whether frolicking in gardens or dancing at night clubs. Though Metropolis is the pinnacle of progress, its beauty is shallow and its cost is deep.
    However, after Maria enters the Club of the Sons like a beacon of truth, telling the children with her that these men and women were their brothers and sisters, the division between visionaries and oppressed begins to disintegrate and Metropolis is slowly endowed with a drastically different character. Eventually, this transition is personified by the workers’ revolt and a devastating flood which washes away The Depths and all they represented. Though the masses had neglected the machines in rebellion, it soon became obvious that they had put their own children in danger. In the end, the workers no longer need to labor away mindlessly, but instead have a vested interest in maintaining the machines and understand their importance. Rather than simply working for fear of the higher-ups, they now want to work for themselves and their children, who have made the Club of the Sons their safe haven as well. Likewise, once Joh Fredersen’s son becomes one with the workers, the calloused man is now strangely connected to his once faceless subordinates. Lastly, throughout the entire film, Freder and Maria’s romance represents a loving bond between the two tiers of society which are no longer estranged.
    In short, at the beginning, Metropolis is disjointed with no connection between its mind and hands; it is mechanical and vicious, just like Maria’s robotic clone. But in the end, the city is united by a heart—a common interest and growing sense of compassion which exceeds social barriers as Joh Fredersen and the workers’ representative finally shake hands.

  2. Shelby permalink

    The film begins with Metropolis severely divided. On a superficial level, Metropolis is an unforgiving and mechanical city. It is made entirely out of new age, industrial revolution stone and concrete in a stylized Art Deco kind of way. Just looking at the cityscapes made me think of Atlas Shrugged and Brave New World. But despite all the machines, it is deeply organic. Within itself the city is constantly clashing between humans and machines and their incompatibility. The people try to incorporate human elements into the machines. The machines are even given organ names – “The Heart” machine which, when destroyed, flooded the workers city. In this way, Metropolis does not change through the movie.
    So distinctly polarized, Metropolis operates on two different time frames. The workers of the city live and die on shift changes; time to them is completely irrelevant as it pertains to the position of the sun in the sky – living below the surface of the Earth, all that matters are the machines. The only clock of importance to the workers is the ten hour clock. In fact, the only time the audience even sees a conventional clock is the wrist watch on the demi god Joh Fredersen’s wrist. And it is Joh Fredersen, his goons, and the people who live above the surface that live to this twelve hour clock. The city is dying from disconnect. Freder asks his father about this disconnect, “It was their hands that built this city, father. But where do the hands belong in your scheme?”
    Metropolis suffers from a severe heart attack at the end of the film jolting the need for immediate mediation. Yet Freder serving as the new heart and mediator does not change the city. Metropolis is the same character – the working class is only now captured because they have heart. It would appear that there is a greater understanding between the planners and the workers, yet the city will continue to operate as before.

  3. Taylor Warren permalink

    The city of Metropolis, even as a central character, is the same throughout the film. Created by the mind of Joh Freder, Metropolis is a great city with monumental buildings and is governed/controlled by the upper-class. The upper-class is educated, wealthy, and seem to be the “head” of the city, as in the “brain.” I say Metropolis is the same because I’m operating under the assumption that Metropolis is seen differently by different people. For instance, the wealthy see Metropolis as clean, new, extravagant, etc. The poor, those who are workers and the “hands” of the city see it as a prison, as filthy, a horrible job that they are forced to slave at every day. The only reason Metropolis changes from beginning to end is because people start to see it differently based on the personal experiences and changes they are going through. So yes, Metropolis is the same from beginning to end, but the way people view Metropolis changes, as well as the way they live within Metropolis. People change, but not the city. However, if you want to dig deeper than that, one could say that because the people within the city have changed, the city is thus changed as well. If we are considering Metropolis to be a main character, than it seems feasible that the personality of the city (or character) could be altered simply because of other actors/pressures/changes of everyone else around it. The people (both the poor and the rich) make Metropolis what it is based on what their circumstances are at the time. But even still, I hold the view that Metropolis, the eponymous city, is the same character at the end as it is in the very beginning.

  4. Uddit Patel permalink

    Metropolis is not the same character at the end of the film compared to the beginning of the film. At the beginning of the film Metropolis was separated into two sections of the working class and the elite. However, as the film continues many people and event help close that gap between these two groups. The working class is portrayed to be connected as machines while the elite class is considered human or the thinkers of society. The thinkers are the elite class because they can control the environment around them and manipulate the world as they see fit. From the beginning when the workers form a line during the shift change to when Freder takes over the machine clock, the working class are seen to be accomplish repetitive, mind-numbering tasks. These tedious tasks represents that these workers have no brain power, and no thinking is involved of how to accomplish these machine-driven tasks assigned to them.

    In the beginning of the film, Metropolis seems to be together and united while really internally there are problems. The city seems to be united because the city is working perfectly fine and there are no fires or disasters, while internally the people do not like their jobs and the working class wants to be treated better. Also the working class is not using their brains or contributing much to society and there is a conflict with the two classes. However, by the end of the film the situation is different. Even though externally and literally the city is destroyed, the city is united. The working class revolt and damage the city but this symbolizes that they are no longer machines or slaves but have a brain of their own. In the middle of the film, Maria is transformed from a thinking being to one a machine that takes commands from its owner. The machine looking like Maria does not think of the consequences of the actions and just follows orders.

    Machine Maria did not think about how destroying the heart machine would flood the grounds and destroys all the homes. This transformation resembles how Maria was a thinking being before like the elite class and later was transformed into a machine like the working class. Machine Maria was used as a machine to do whatever they wanted from her like dancing in front of the men in a sexual way. She also never questioned the commands given to her and was similar to the working class in the beginning of the film. However, the working class revolt and this change to Maria do not affect the end result of friendship and unity between the workers and their rulers. The social barrier being destroyed and change occurring in Metropolis is represented by Freder and Maria’s love. These people, both of two different classes, are working for the peaceful unification of their people. Instead, the city can do more with their people since they will start to work together symbolized with the factory representative and Joh Federson’s hands shake.

  5. Metropolis is a completely different city at the end of the film. The changes in the attitudes and actions of those who live there affect the characterization of the city itself. In the beginning, the underground is a dark and sad place, with everyone moving methodically and robotically, without any real thought or consideration to what they were doing, other than they had to do it, while up on the surface the upper class were carefree and oblivious to the suffering of those below them. It seems to be a dismal place where you are either miserable or an idiot. During the rebellion, the atmosphere changes to one of panic and chaos as the robot woman conducts the rebels to flood their own city without their knowledge or understanding, which would kill off the working class and destroy those above ground; how many of them do you think could work the machines below ground? By the end of the film, the two groups of people have begun to move together, to try to work together for the mutual benefit of everyone involved with the main character acting as their mediator. The city itself, while still undergoing major changes, seems to be a much happier place where the working class is not simply ignored and expected to do its work while the upper class reap all of the rewards of the hard work they have never done while enjoying whatever they fancy at the moment. Although the film ends at this point, while the two groups negotiate better conditions for all, I believe the character of the city would change still further after their negotiations, while the city adjusts to the new way of life and even further after this, when they find an equilibrium.

  6. K.Rengan permalink

    The change of Metropolis, as a character, from the beginning of the movie to the end must be analyzed through two parts: the people and characters that make up the different orders of society (the head and the hands), and the overall function of the city (who stands in what social order). The most important moment that we can look at to see if there was a change is when the Thin Man addresses Joh Frederson, the Master of Metropolis and says: “the only thing keeping the workers in check is their expectation of getting the ‘mediator’ promised them.” As the story continues from this point, we see that the workers are incited into rage and ultimately revolt by the combined efforts of Joh Frederson and the mad scientist Rotwang who let the workers do what they will –revolt. The plot by the two (or Joh really), is so that the workers (hands) continue to work and feed the machine with their own living flesh. So, in terms of the people they now have a mediator and they see that change has occurred; whether this is just a perception or the mediator will actually be the heart between the head and the hands is left unknown. To the actual structure of the city and its social order, nothing really appears to change. The hands continue to work and the head continues to control; or that is what we can tell. In a Marxist manner, the difference between the two changes is important (the connection being that Marx thought that religion still kept the individual enslaved). With the subtle religious overtones that the movie implies –a mediator as a type of profit, the sins and Hel, and the imagery- it appears that workers are still in the exact oppressed state they began in. The only difference is that now they see a shimmer of hope that may or may not exist.

  7. Micah Patten permalink

    To understand this film, the time frame in which it was written must be considered. The 1920’s was in many ways the time in which industry was the most dominant. WWI had recently devastated the world based on gears and wheels, crushing humanity into the mud with automatic weapons and tanks that were a product of the mechanized monster of industry. Metropolis is a strong character in this film, but it is not one that really can change. The people change, their relationships to one another change as well as their view and perspective of the city, but the city itself does not change. The film brings us a interesting philosophical concept, which is the state of humanity. At the beginning of the film, the machine is a monster, consuming life to feed itself. The machine is what creates life the way it is, even if at a terrible cost. The machine at the end is not much different. The relationship, again, is different,but mankind cannot reconcile the absence of the machine. They have become so dependent upon it that they cannot ever be free. The film then seems to demonstrate the relationship of industry as becoming the new god of man, even though it was created by man. There are many biblical parallels as well that indicate the idea that this machine was created in arrogance and is itself the downfall of man. Freder’s father resides at the tower of babel, a tower in Biblical history designed to strike into the sky as man claiming to be equal with God, and God destroyed the tower and scattered humanity accross the earth. The same is being implied here, that man’s desire to have power and to be like gods, creating machines to achieve their ends, have created the very master to rule over them. The desire for power is their very own downfall. Does it matter, then that the classes are united, since they are still as a whole enslaved? Or does it matter that they are enslaved if they are content and united?

  8. Cory Johnson permalink

    This is clearly a pro-labor film with a message that mediation and negotiation between labor and capital can cure all ills. The magnificent cityscapes are certainly a nod to massive capacity that unabashed capitalism can produce and the underground vaults a representation of the vast social costs of that capacity. The movie would like us to think that the handshake at the end changes everything, which should mean that the city as the main character is changed as well. But how much can it really change? I submit, not very much.
    This is still a case of economic inequality beyond anything the GIni index has ever seen. The workers are literally hidden underground, with the rich cavorting above. The implication here is that they were not put there by some subtle gentrification processing, but some strong-armed force and now they’re held down with wage slavery, or something. The film wasn’t clear. On practical basis, this society cannot change to fit the vision and message the film makers are trying to portray. What changes tomorrow when the workers have an eight hour shift instead of ten? What if their wages are increased 10 percent? These men and woman are still in basically the same situation. Does the social order change so that they’re allowed above? Is everyone suddenly enlightened to including these people in their daily lives? Of course not.
    This is the same city, there’s no changing it. Catastrophes happen all the time without earth-shattering changes to the established social order. This country fought a bloody civil war to include blacks in our society and it took over 100 years after that to legally enforce their equal status. Metropolis is still a human institution and radical changes take time. Time, that is, that the film didn’t provide for the sweeping changes it would have you believe are occurring.

  9. kim cory permalink

    Metropolis changes its character as it proceeds with the plot.I believe the character of a society is determined by the laws, rules, social classes, and relationships between those classes. In the beginning, Metropolis is a well organized society with a strict and distinct social class differences due to consisting people who do not question their status or disobey their rules. However, at the end, people starts showing their emotions and thinkings toweard subjets and that changes the character of Metropolis. The movie starts with showing the people in one group (as if they are marching in military) lined up one towrads an elevator and the other towards their work stations. They do not talk or look aroundl; they are all in step, just waiting for their turns to go to their work station. As it shows the worker class, the movie also shows the loyal class, where Freder thinks and acts according to his opinion (changing his status with his “brother” to get to know “brother”s life style. Starting the movie with these settings led me to assum that the character of Metropolis is a well-organized and socially divided world.
    Although the movie starts in that way, as the movie goes, things change – especially people’s attitudes. Instead of following the orders of Freder without questioning, they start looking at incidents from their point of views show their opinions. At the end of the movie, when Maria gets burned, people start showing their anger and confusion. They are eager to watch Maria receiving punishment. When it turns out the Maria they put on the post is a machine, they show their confusion and start looking for the answers. Just watching these changes, I think that the character of Metropolis is not the same in the beginning and in the end of the movie. I feel as if the character has stayed the same, they should not have been punishing Maria for what she has done, instead they would have moved on with their duties without getting logically invovled with the issue.

  10. John Decker permalink

    The city certainly is not the same character at the end of the movie as it is at the beginning. For one, there is now a link between the workers and the thinkers. Freder and Maria bridge the gap between the two populations. With the destruction of the fake Maria, the workers can now see the good deeds done by Freder and will have a newfound trust in the thinking class. They may also see Maria as one of them with the ability to influence those who have power over them. Freder has changed the character of the city as well. He has ventured into the tunnels and complexes and now understands what is happening right below him. Initially, the city has a vertical structure; both figuratively and literally. Work is pushed down while management is funneled up. This is also represented by the thinking class living in high buildings above the city and the working class descending into the tunnel complex. However, with Maria and Freder now having a love interest, the vertical aspect of the city has changed. There is a link between the two and perhaps the city will begin a more horizontal structure. All in all, the city is much different than it was at the beginning of the film with the two classes now having a connection.

  11. ricardochavez permalink

    The city’s beauty and modern aesthetics have created two distinctly different factions which characterize the corruption of a city. The rich are the planners and ultimately controllers of the pseudo –robotic humans that keep the city running from underground. I do in fact think that Metropolis maintains the character throughout the movie, however its lapse in beauty from the revolt is the catalyst for the thinkers and workers to realize that there must be some sort of equality. As a 1920’s film I can definitely see the reflection the film had on its era. The 1920’s was filled with wealth and characterized by an ornate culture fueled by the upper class and upper middle class population. However, Metropolis tries to convey that the beauty of the city and it’s tuxedo-wearing club-goers are just merely the first things you see. However, the corporations and shops need the workers to create an output and those are the true underground laborers. So ultimately I feel that Metropolis’ character doesn’t change, but it is merely the state of the city that affects the attitudes and personality of the people who live in it. In this case, the reconciliation between the two social classes wasn’t established until the city experienced its troubling moment. Obviously at the end, the unification between Joh and the laborers showed a sign of hope for the equality of the city’s citizens, thinkers and workers.

  12. Heather Ireland permalink

    Metropolis, as a character, changes dramatically throughout the movie. At the beginning the metropolis is structured with a dictator, Joh Fredriksen(the master) and the proletariat(the machine). There is a highly oppressive environment, where the rich live lives of grandeur and excess and the workers are essentially machines, so oppressed by the regime that they are forced into the lowest level of functioning. This is demonstrated by their ten hour clock instead of the 24 hour clock that Joh is on. The real Maria, who inspires Freder (Joh’s son) to travel underground and observe the abysmal living conditions, and the robot Maria, who craves destruction and chaos, are the catalysts for the changes in Metropolis… with Robot Maria convincing the workers to flood their underground housing inciting panic and chaos amongst the people. The Metropolis is structured quite differently by the end of the film where Freder(the mediator) calls for a unification of the people, instead of a revolution. Freder and Maria wish to create an open forum for the people, to connect the workers with their leader. The unification of the people, the humanizing of the workers is the key difference in Metropolis from the beginning of the movie to the end. Because the people of the city have changed, because the heart of the city has changed the character of the metropolis has, in fact changed as well.

  13. The main character becomes the mediator, the heart, between the city and the machine workers. Metropolis begins as a seemingly happy and successful city, but as time goes on and secrets unfold, metropolis was never actually as happy as it looked aesthetically. The underground workers were miserable, and it took a revolution to overcome their suppressed lifestyles. The metropolis slowly transformed from a tyrannical underground slave-run prison, to a city much like Babylon. As Maria said within the movie, the people who forced others to do their work and to put in the hard labor for them were punished by the mediator. The mediator, the one with the heart and ability to maintain a balance, is ultimately what made the change for the Metropolis. It was interesting to me that all of the workers in the underground city were men; yet, the supposedly perfect machine-worker was fashioned as a woman. This seemed to make some sort of statement to me that either women were being portrayed as machines who are supposed to do all of the work, or in a more positive light that women are capable of change, major change. Either way, this stuck out to me as I watched the movie. The Metropolis ended up changing for the better, and even though it took a rebellion, there is now a mediator who has a heart large enough to take care of the people.

  14. Monica Hottle permalink

    Metropolis seems like a new “character” at the end of the film, but I believe that Metropolis is ultimately the same city at the end.
    In the beginning of the film, there is clearly a divide between the wealthy industrialists and the workers who literally work beneath them. The rulers are completely unaware of the oppressed lifestyle that the workers live in. Nothing is resolved until Freder is intrigued by Maria and follows her the the underground worker’s city; there he witnesses the conditions and even the breakdown of a large machine when the operator collapses. Freder questions this disconnect between the rulers and the workers, and ultimately mediates the relationship between ruler and worker (with the help of Maria).
    Something we see in this film is the absence of a connection between the ruler and the worker, but this can be paralleled with a lack of connection between a brain and a body. The rulers are wealthy not only in currency but also in knowledge and ultimately control the workers. The workers do as their told; they do not question what they do, they simply do as they are instructed to do, despite their conditions. When the body realizes that there is an issue (in this case, a discrepancy between the brain and the body), the body eventually fights back. However, even the body as a whole needed guidance on how to connect back to the brain (in this case Maria and Freder).
    I apologize if this response seems really disjointed – this movie was really trippy to me and I won’t lie, I struggled to keep up with it. Although the body and the brain were joined in the end, that (to me) does not mean that the city will change. There might be better conditions for the workers, but I believe that there will still be that ultimate “ruler vs. worker” structure.

  15. Amy Vander Wyst permalink

    Metropolis is most definitely not the same from the beginning to the end of the film. Just as a limb might never be the same after a bone is broken, or a husband is never the same after his wife dies, the city is forever changed by the events of the film.

    At first, we see the city similar to Freder. A thriving metropolis, it seems at first glance to be a utopia. We soon find that it is in fact a distopia evidenced by the horrible living conditions of the worker class, as well as the existence of said worker class. They toil and do all of the work but reap none of the benefits. As for the upper class, few know of the workers plight and they live their cushy lives in complete ignorance.

    Freder soon learns the truth behind Metropolis’ dark secret, by which he is shocked and appalled. Once this truth comes to light, it sets off a series of events that end in Freder being the great mediator that was prophesied to unite the “hands” and the “head”. The Heart Machine has been broken, but there is a new heart in the city now, the unification of the classes and their new understanding of equality.

    In the beginning, Metropolis was a shining city with a dark secret. Its inner workings were run by workers akin to slaves, unbeknownst to most of the thinkers and planners above. Initially, when scenes of the city are shown, it is often nighttime, very dark and foreboding. The smoke and steam that emits from the underground machines gives the whole city an eery quality.

    In the end, the machines are broken, the underground working stations are entirely flooded, and the two classes are seeing each other for the first time. The scenes of the city look a little brighter, there is no more foreboding steam and a bright future lies ahead. The city could almost be said to feel happier now that the workers have been let free and the upper class realize their hubris. The city comes alive with the cheers of its citizens, as all are happy to see Joh and Grot shake hands in truce.

    Without a doubt the city has changed; be it the citizens within it, the internal structure, the class system, or the way it runs by machines, it has completely changed. In other ways, by allowing the evil of the robot to breach its depths, the city has also purged its evil ways just as Rotwang died.

  16. Caroline Martin permalink

    I find it to be an interesting concept that Metropolis can stand alone as a character itself. Even with this connection, I found that the city is best personified through Maria. The Greek term “metropolis” is literally translated as “mother city.” Maria, while she is no one’s mother in the plot of the movie, stands as a symbolic mother to the workers of The Workers’ City and their children. Furthermore, she supports the plethora of biblical symbolism and allusion within the film. Her name is Maria; Jesus’s mother’s name was Mary.
    The city’s state of being is parallel with Maria’s throughout the film. Metropolis’s beginning is a thing of beauty. The city features such magnificent places as the “Club of the Sons,” the “Eternal Gardens,” and the “Tower of Babel.” In the same way, Maria first appears to us as a woman in white, seemingly pure. The significance behind the Tower of Babel is that the people were attempting to become closer to God. When Maria is “transformed” by Rotwang, or when the robot takes her likeness, she acquires a new persona. The robot Maria is scantily dressed and promulgates herself in front of the high society men of Metropolis as a “new erotic dancer.” At the end of the dance, Maria ascends atop a dragon, symbolically fulfilling the prophecy given to Freder by the Thin Man (whom he imagines as a prophet). The Thin Man states,“Verily I say unto you: The days of the Apocalypse are nigh…!” When Maria’s persona takes a turn for the worse so does Metropolis. The Workers’ city floods (another biblical allusion) and all the lights are extinguished.
    Ultimately, if we are considering the “end of the film” to mean the very end, I propose that Metropolis has emerged better than before. In the same way that Maria is saved by Freder, Metropolis is saved by Freder. Freder’s role as the savior of Metropolis is made clear by his representation of Christ. This representation is made evident when Freder runs to “the depths” and takes the place of one of the workers, just as Christ took on the sins of Man. The connection grows when Freder works on the clock only to end up in a position as one who is being crucified. He yells, “Father-! Father-! Will ten hours never end–??!!” This symbolic phrase screams (literally) of the moment when Christ, on the cross, yells, “Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?” I was hoping to draw a connection between the “ten hours” and the time at which Christ died as well, but, alas, Christ died on the ninth hour.

  17. Matthew Drake permalink

    When the film first starts, it is hard to see Metropolis is a character. But as you hear the workers talking about the different machines, i.e. Heart-Machine and M-Machine, it is easier to see it. When you first see the city of Metropolis, its complexity amazes. It is always busy and everyone has a part to play. However, those who built the city and those who do the manual labor for it are kept deep underground separated from the scholars and athletes. The people are segregated, such as the personality of the city. There are conflicting and oppressed traits of the city.
    As the film continues on, you witness the start of the construction of the Tower of Babel. From there, you find out that Freder is the heart of Metropolis, where his father is the mind. The workers are the hands, and Freder is the only person who can mediate between the mind and the hands. But he falls in love with Maria, who symbolizes hope. When his father takes her away, Freder becomes broken. Metropolis wants to carry on with hope and love, but its mind is controlling everything. Metropolis becomes heartbroken after the loss of hope.
    As the Machine-Man influences sin all across the city, Metropolis is tricked into doing evil. The death is its soul lingers around the city. Refusing to listen to its heart, Metropolis is sent into a state of self-chaos. The city finds out the damage it’s done to itself and finds someone to blame. Set it a fit of confusion and anger, the city begins to start is self-demise. Only love can save the city from destroying itself. As love lives through the battle, he is able to reunite the mind and limbs into one single, undivided entity. So, no Metropolis is not the same as it was before.

  18. Ben Vowell permalink

    It is assumed that Metropolis went through some sort transformation at the end of the film. The city has learned to bridge the gap between its industriousness and its creativity with a sense of humanity. Obviously, at the beginning of the film, the city is draped in a sort of cold, machine like shroud, at least for a large portion of its inhabitants. For whatever reason, the workers become aware of their chains, such as the prisoners in Plato’s cave, and want to cast them off. They seek to change the industrial complex with a mediator. The classic battle between the have-nots versus the haves ensues, with greed taking over. Suddenly, the roles are somewhat switched when the workers revolt and give in to greed and the rich recognize their own mortality as their world slowly comes to a stop. At the end of the film, Metropolis reaches a kind of medium between the two classes. They both realize that their relationship is symbiotic and it seems like an argument for a Utilitarian society is made as the leaders of both sides shake hands.

    However, if this is the argument the film makes, it is a dangerous one. Utilitarianism and the Greater Happiness Principle appear to work, but this is only true in theory on a small scale. A society living under this principle might seem like a kind of utopia, but it might very possibly be one that subverts the justice system and lead to a collapse from trying to please everyone. This leads to what one might call the Paradox of Universal Utility. It entails every person involved looking out for the greatest majority they can, subsequently ignoring justice and people’s rights.

    This paradox is not something to be feared, however, because it is unlikely that everyone could even conform to a system of utility, the way it would work best according to Mill. Some people are simply not genetically predisposed to be intelligent and lack the ability to properly empathize with those around them in social situations. Additionally, not everyone is a nuclear scientist, great author, or an innovative economist. There are those born predisposed to themselves and those that become this way through years of schooling and parenting. Surely, not everyone with wealth or knowledge would willingly give it away for someone else’s prosperity, no matter how compelling it may seem.

    I believe the character of Metropolis is shown in two extremes; one with no heart, and the other blinded seemingly by it.

  19. To assume that the Metropolis is unchanged, I believe, almost requires a bit of naivety. Though it’s difficult to deny a changing dynamic between the people who constructed, live in, and run its being, the fact remains the city itself is unchanged. It still represents the harsh social division that perhaps served as an influence to Huxley’s Brave New World and many of the other dystopian novels that would prevail in the aftermath of the World Wars. Despite “The Depths” being flooded out toward the end of the film, the dichotomy the Metropolis serves between the working class and the unmistakably frivolous upper class (literally separated by the construct of the city) is apparent throughout. The characters perhaps resolve their apparent flaws as they are joined with Freder serving as the mediator between brain and hand, but the premise of the city is the same. I think it is more worthwhile to argue that perhaps the city could begin to see changes but its basis of debauchery and excessive frivolity is never discounted. Instead the only spiritual reflection that takes place at all occurs underground with the workers and their faith in Maria, while aboveground we only see the debauchery of the nightclubs and what Hel (machine-Maria) does to drive men to killing each other for her affections. This is not dissimilar to Huxley’s dystopia except Huxley explains why the division exists (they are bred into their mediocre existence) while Metropolis’s director Fritz Lang seems to provide no explanation. Yet the disparity between the working class who toil for days on end doing menial tasks and the upper class who experience excess in the form of drink, drugs, and sex (or at least sexual desire in Metropolis) is still apparent, and seems to operate within the confines of what the city was created for, not because of the people that run it.

  20. Simeon permalink

    If the main character of this question is the city of Metropolis, rather than the obvious main character of the story, the son of Joh, then it is far more difficult to find an answer. In a few obvious ways the city remains unchanged. The city still belongs to Joh, the city is still a futuristic place and arguably, if we could look at the plot after the movie’s conclusion, the workers still have no place in it. In order to grasp any concept of change, some original faults would have to be identified so some comparisons can be made: before and after.
    One obvious fault is the segregation of the working class and those in Metropolis. The workers were basically enslaved, and before the explosion scene, I actually thought the workers were robotic creatures instead of human. Does this separation change in the end? There is no evidence that it does, because for Metropolis to exist, workers must tend to the machines. So though there is a sweet moment at the end of the film where both sides come to a better understanding of one another, someone has to go back down and tend to the machines. I wonder who that would wind up being.
    One other fault would be such an extreme dependence on technology by the city of Metropolis. Here I would blame the machine for alienating the two sides of this future world. Additionally I would point to the destruction and mayhem that resulted from the workers foolishly running to strife at the words of a machine; a decision that almost cost them all the lives of their children. However, the Heart Machine’s engineer clearly said that the machines were needed for life. Without their proper functioning, the worker’s world was flooded. The workers then, learned a lesson that their lives depended directly on the machines. However, I would argue that other than the blackout the average citizen of Metropolis wouldn’t have known anything regarding the machinery. If this is true, most Metropolians would have learned nothing and thus would have had no reason to change. There seems to be a distinction between machinery and a machine man. The first must be maintained if life is to go on. The second, the machine man, however seems to be some character that if manipulated by the wrong controller can have dastardly results. In any case, I do not see machinery as the antagonist but rather the concept of a machine man. I cannot make any case towards why criminalizing a machine man separate from technology itself is good or bad.

  21. J. Lucky permalink

    Metropolis is personified by the head and the hands. It is the cold, callous and calculating machine much like a computer that runs its program through. On the upper levels it is deciding what to do, producing possible solutions to problems. On the lower levels all the hard work is done, the droning on and on to keep the machine running. This is how we find Metropolis but it a broken state.
    As we find out that the hands are not fully unaware of the head though the head seems mostly unaware of the hands this come into conflict in the form of Freder. He introduces empathy into Metropolis as he takes pity on the workers below the utopian city. Maria also now with greater power given to her with her relationship with Freder is able to introduce hope. If you will, the relationship of empathy and hope produce by Freder and Maria gives Metropolis a heart within the machine.
    This heart must overcome the lust for power personified through Joh Frederson and the vice personified through the inventor. Ultimately it is the struggle of Metropolis to show humanity over its former and callous nature and that victory of heart which leads to a transformed Metropolis at the end of the film.

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