Movies & TV / Columns

From Under A Rock: Metropolis

December 2, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Metropolis
10
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
12345678910
Your Grade
Loading...
From Under A Rock: Metropolis  

Banner

This week’s pick is a big one, because in a way it was the birth of on-screen science fiction. I (Michael) watched this for the first time a couple years back and it has stuck with me how beautifully constructed this movie is from start to finish.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Watchmen. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Metropolis.

Metropolis
Released: March 13th, 1927
Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Thea von Harbou
Starring:
Gustav Fröhlich as Freder
Brigitte Helm as Maria and her robot double
Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen
Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang

Michael Ornelas: I’m not big into older movies usually as they don’t hold my attention. This week’s pick not only first held my attention, but I was enthralled which is rare for me, especially considering it’s silent.

Aaron Hubbard: This was definitely one of the most visually commanding movies I’ve seen in awhile. The scope of the film’s production was mindblowing.
Maria
Film as a Visual Medium
Michael: Something I noticed upon first viewing, and reaffirmed on this rewatch was the shot composition. You could pause this movie at any moment and the frame would be like a masterfully captured photograph. It’s art, pure and simple. I love the visual of the heart machine, especially when Freder sees Moloch. The skyscrapers and futurist construction of the city is a sight to behold. The tower of Babel is breathtaking. All these mesmerizing visual ideas come to fruition and it’s amazing they were executed this well 90 years ago.

Aaron: A lot of the frames are works of art. It’s easy to see that most of the wider city shots are background paintings. But each of them is beautiful and it’s a great use of the tools Fritz Lang had at his disposal. But then there’s incredible sets like the factory or the Seven Deadly Sins statues, or shots with hundreds and maybe thousands of people. The amount of work that went in is astonishing even today.

Michael: Beyond the set pieces, models, and paintings used to construct this aesthetic, there’s also the costuming, most notably when Maria’s double does her seductive (if you can call it that) dance, as well as the robot itself. These visuals are incredible and only add to an already stunning.
Seven Deadly Sins
Religion and Politics
Aaron: Hey, these are always fun. But the messages of Metropolis are hardly subtle. He writes it down for us before we ever see anything else. The basic plot is about an abused under class on the verge of revolt against the creator of the city, and how they are manipulated by various figureheads. Joh Fredersen is clearly a stand-in for the concept of God, while his son Freder is all too happy to step into the role of prophesized mediator between him and the people. Birgitte Holm plays Maria (again, hardly subtle), who serves as a prophet for the people, and later a false prophet when Rotwang disguises his automaton as Maria to lead the people to doom. Maria’s name is an obvious nod to Jesus’ mother, who is an intermediary between God and man in Catholic faith. But as the main voice of “the message” of the coming mediator and of non-violent solution, she could be interpreted as also representing the Holy Spirit. Rotwang the scientist is clearly meant to be the Devil; his robot tricks the people to giving into their base desires of revolt, which will kill their children in the process. Most Antichrist ideas revolve around the Devil using religion to appear benevolent while ultimately being destructive, so that’s pretty straightforward. Freder and Maria save the children and eventually tie the gap between God and man. So this is basically a Passion Play in a sci-fi setting, though Lang doesn’t go quite so far as killing Freder and making him a 1-to-1 Jesus allegory. With a little bit of Revelation thrown in. This was certainly an interesting aspect of the film for me, since films usually try to avoid being so on the nose today.

Michael: My favorite piece of that puzzle was Rotwang, the scientist, and his motives in the invention of the false Maria. He managed to use Joh’s wishes against him due to losing out to him in trying to win over the heart of his deceased wife Hel. He uses Maria’s likeness for the robot to destroy Maria’s reputation, as requested by Joh, but also in the process has her lead the people to destroy the machines the power Fredersen’s city. It paints Fredersen as negligent and imperfect (and petty), although that may be contextual, watching it in 2017 where I don’t view him as benevolent just for providing all these people a place to work (because they still live in poor conditions).

Aaron: Ah, well here is where things get tricky with using metaphors, since Fritz is obviously trying to send a political message as well. It’s about bridging the gap between heartless politicians or dictators and the oppressed people. It condemns authorial negligence and violent revolt, proposing instead that the only viable solution is a peaceful discussion, with what amounts to the Church as mediator. I don’t subscribe to any of that, and casting science as Satan rubs me the wrong way, but it is a viable viewpoint and Fritz Lang presented his argument in a really compelling way. I do think it’s interesting that the film was beloved by Adolf Hitler, who probably saw some of the film as a blueprint for making his empire workable. In that sense, perhaps Metropolis never stops being about a dystopia.
Robot
The Reach of Influence
Michael: It’s not often that you get to watch a film that has had such a profound impact on what has come after it. From Star Wars, (just look at Rotwang’s robot — it’s a clear influence on C-3PO) to Blade Runner, and even just the idea of what a “future city” would look like in art and animation, Metropolis’ influence is far-reaching.

Aaron: This is one reason I love going back through old films to discover movies like this. Fritz Lang’s M similarly defines the murder mystery format that set the blueprint for film noir. King Kong and its special effects, The Wizard of Oz with its color… those landmark films deserve to stay in our collective conscience. But what this film most reminded me of was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, another 1920’s film with insanely creative and striking visuals that stand out almost a century later.

Michael: I’d go so far as to say without The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, we wouldn’t have had The Babadook, which is my favorite movie of the past 5 years. But Metropolis’ influence may be the greatest of those mentioned just because it had such a specific vision that has been copied or replicated countless times, whereas The Wizard of Oz was the first to color, but that was always going to happen regardless.

Ratings:
Aaron: This movie is both fascinating and phenomenal. It captivated me with its visuals, gave me a lot of ideas to chew on, and set the groundwork for science fiction in film. It’s a masterpiece well worth going out of your way to see.

A+

Michael: Any movie this beautiful deserves perfect marks, and it excels in every aspect. Visually, it’s a masterpiece, but the allegories and plot execution have secured its place among the true classics.

A+

Aaron: This is probably the most fascinated I’ve been with one of our picks since Seven Samurai. Thank you for picking it.

Michael: You know, sometimes I have a sophisticated pallette…

What’s your favorite influential film?

Next week:

Aaron: You know, I don’t usually do “guilty pleasure” picks. We’re overdue.
Knight's Tale
Michael: I’m not super excited, but I like Heath Ledger, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Aaron: Heath is fun but it’s Paul Bettany who steals this movie.

What’s one of your favorite movies that doesn’t really have merit outside of being fun?

E-mail us at [email protected]
Follow us! @FUARockPodcast
Like us on Facebook!
And follow Michael on Twitter! @TouchButtPro

Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, The Incredible Hulk, A Clockwork Orange, Chicago, Seven, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, The Room, Chinatown, Jaws, Unforgiven, RoboCop, The Legend of Korra – Book One: Air, Ghostbusters, Spider-Man 2, Prometheus, Scarface, Gattaca, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Equilibrium, City of God, The Graduate, Face/Off, Snowpiercer, The Exorcist, Hellboy, Village of the Damned, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Idiocracy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Fly (1986), Under the Skin, Die Hard, Dredd, Star Wars Holiday Special, A Christmas Story, Snakes on a Plane, The Big Lebowski, Bulworth, Raging Bull, Thank You for Smoking, John Wick, Mulholland Drive, The Karate Kid, Lucky Number Slevin, The Searchers, Black Dynamite, Labyrinth, Rick & Morty, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Abyss, Seven Samurai, Bio-Dome, Memento, L.A. Confidential, Tangled, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Wonder Woman, The Way Way Back, Rebel Without a Cause, Predator, Before Sunrise, Evil Dead II, Planet of the Apes, Wet Hot American Summer, Tombstone, The Core, American Graffiti, León: The Professional, Steel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Logan, Tusk, Ghost in the Shell, Twin Peaks, The Artist, The Thing, Little Shop of Horrors, Day of the Dead, Them!, Borat, The Handmaiden, Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, Watchmen, Metropolis

Aaron is now on Letterboxd!
Check me out here to see my star ratings for over 950 films. Recent reviews include the Toy Story sequels and Murder on the Orient Express.

10
The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Metropolis is a landmark movie that influenced science fiction in film to an almost unfathomable degree. But it's also as visually arresting and thematically rich a film as any we've covered on this column. Almost a century later, the film still holds up as a masterpiece.
legend

Loading...