Many silent films, although quite old, are still very enjoyable. Many critics consider the 1927 German anti-authoritarian expressionistic science fiction drama, directed by Fritz Lang (1890-1976), the best and most innovated film, whose ideas were copied in many subsequent even modern films. The film critic Roger Ebert wrote “Few films have ever been more visually exhilarating,”
Metropolis is a somewhat eerie, but arresting and thought-provoking film about a future society comprised of two classes, pampered elites living in luxuriate pleasure-filled surroundings, and an overworked workers class submersed in squalor. The country is ruled by a ruthless man devoid of feelings for the multitude of overtired workers, their wives and children.
His son, Freder, sees a beautiful woman, Maria, who brought children of workers from the catacombs where they live to see the elite. Before she and the children can be chased away, Freder is captivated by her beauty. He goes below to see her, is traumatized when he sees the degradation of the workers, and decides to help them.
Maria has not only enchanted Freder, but the entire worker population. She prophesizes that a “mediator” will soon arise who will bring the classes together.
Meanwhile, Freder’s father approaches the mad scientist, the genius Rotwang, and orders him to create a robot that looks like Maria. He tells Rotwang to use the robot to replace Maria and lead the workers to do what he wants them to do and forget about the coming of the mediator.
The film is enthralling and can be understood as an allegory. It is filled with biblical images that add depth and meaning, and spark our thinking. Maria reminds us of the biblical prophets when she speaks about the mediator who can be understood as a messiah who will solve problems. She compares the current society to the Tower of Babel where she says: people speak the same language but do not understand each other. The worker’s world is flooded in the film, as the world was flooded during the time of Noah. The Maria-robot who preaches to the people is reminiscent of the scriptural false prophets, and can also be understood as true religion being usurped by evil or misguided people. Freder’s father kills some bad workers by forcing them into the mouth of a huge face called Moloch, which is mentioned in the Bible as a Canaanite idol to whom children are sacrificed.
The director Fritz Lang, who was raised as a Catholic, was shocked when in 1934 the Nazi Joseph Goebbels called him into his office and told him that Adolf Hitler enjoyed the film so much that he was offered the position as the head of the German film studio UFA and he could be made an honorary Aryan even though his mother was Jewish before she converted to Catholicism. Goebbels said, “Herr Lang, we decide who is Jewish and who is not.” Hitler and Goebbels apparently failed to understand the anti-authoritarian theme of the film. Lang divorced his wife a year earlier because she sympathized with the Nazis. He ran from Germany that very night.
(There are many versions of this film. One should view the complete 2 ½ hour version.)