Starring: Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein Rogge, Fritz Rasp, THeodor Loos, Brigitte Helm. Germany. 2h 28m
Despite the age and the various cuts of this groundbreaking movie it’s still a powerful and disturbing film, it’s one of those titles that a lot of people are aware of but haven’t really watched and I have to admit that I’ve only seen it 3 times and each time it’s been a different cut but the darkness of the story remains constant, Regardless of HG Wells comments about the plot being “silly” it’s hard not to see how it’s a forerunner for those stark dystopian projects such as 1984 (1949), High Rise (1975-2015) and dare I even say Terminator (1984).
Opening with lavish scenes of an efficient and idealist future cityscape, the Metropolis is busy and filled with beautiful people, one of these stunning hipsters is Freder (Frohlich) his father Joh Fredersen, is a rich and powerful man who basically owns the city and runs the world above and below from his penthouse office. While Freder is playing with his friends in a pleasure garden, their playtime is interrupted when Maria (Helm) intrudes with a group of children who exist in the underground, who have come to see how the other half live, Freder is bewitched by Maria’s beauty and follows her into the depths of the city, and into a world which he’d been kept apart from all of his privileged life by this rich father who just happened to own the city..
Confused and disgusted with the plights of the people who are worked like slaves to keep the machines running Freder exchanges roles with one worker, swapping clothes, he send the man to his home and continues the 10 hour shift of physical work. Afterwards he is invited to an underground resistance meeting held by Maria, She likens Joh’s headquarters to the Tower of Babel and talks of the two classes needing a mediator to draw them together and make things more balanced.
Meanwhile Joh is slowly becoming aware of this uprising, and seeks help from a brilliant recluse called Rotwang (Klein-Rogge), they were previously in love with the same woman, Hel, but she chose Joh over Rotwang and eventually died while giving birth to Freder, Rotwang has built an advanced robot in order to resurrect Hel, Joh gives him instruction to give the machine Maria’s likeness in order to quell the rebellion. But Rotwang has other plans and a series of tragic events being to unfold.
There’s a lot of magic and biblical references in the movie, Rotwang’s mystical cottage is plastered with pentagrams, the tower of babel is a recurring image, along with the demonic transformation of the robotic Maria who’s a futuristic Whore of Babylon. This epic from the golden age of German cinema remains one of the most imaginative and monstrous grand design. In between the overdramatic New York skylines casting harsh shadows over the Bauhaus and Cubist designs, there are hints of olde gothic architecture, it’s usually these elements which old something religious or key ideas from European folklore.
The characters are often dwarfed by the magnitude of this extravagant city, but each member of the main cast has to really give it their all, but the 37,000 extras were also put through their paces. Walking in union, children dragging each other through flooded streets, it really was pushing boundaries.
With a host of different elements floating around the main story the movie begins to drive home the main idea of rich vs poor, which is often linked with political ideals such as communism, but here are the keys to ideas of robots imitating humans, machines running cities, the seven deadly sins killing men, John Doe would be proud.
With 17 months of filming, millions of Reichsmarks and having to direct 73,000 people Lang really had his work cut out for him, but it was worth it. The film manages to keep it’s viewer hooked on the ebb and flow of life in this bleak future, it’s a reminder that no matter how advanced we think we are the, it will only take one upset and people will be burning women as witches.
Even the film was considered far fetched, it’s these ideas that have and hopefully always will push the boundaries on Science Fiction. For me this remains one of the granddaddies of all the films which make me ponder the future ad despite it being 90+ years old, it still tantalizes, shocks and entertains. With its original soundtrack or new ones created in its honor its can still create chills and rush the blood. It really is one of the more eccentric and far reaching fictional projects ever.
Rating 9 /10
R: Dark City (1998), 1984 (1949-1984), High Rise (1975-2015), Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920),
L: 20 of the 1920;s, Black and White Sci Fi , 10 of my favourite Silent Movies Vol 1
5s: Fritz Lang