Monday, 19 May 2008

METROPOLIS: Class Struggle, Technology, and Society

QUITE RECENTLY, I WAS VIEWING THE FUTURE OF THE PAST; more specifically, the year 2026 as imagined by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou a century before in Weimar Republic Germany.

I first watched Metropolis a couple years ago, and became intrigued because I was dazzled by the elaborate sets and the actors' pathos. The film could be discussed in the context of political movements such as Communism and Fascism and generally related to history, or in the context of science, design, et cetera. I was also rather interested in the use of dystopias as allegories and warnings to society, having read H. G. Wells' Time Machine quite a few times, as well as Huxley's infamous Brave New World.

The general idea usually put forth in these sorts of works is the rather common worry about where technology will lead us and how the wealthy and/or powerful will do insane things to others until men become mere cogs in a machine rendered meaningless because one requires sentience to detect meaning. The first question which comes to my mind upon considering such works is usually something to do with whether their creators were giving us a prophesy of the future or a commentary on their own eras; the answer is often "both". The next question is whether such works cause us to think about consequences more carefully (as they were intended to do) or whether they inspire us to try exactly that which we were told would be disastrous (quite possible). This is a more complex question.

Much of what we see in Metropolis seems to have come to pass. One need only to walk into any of the new "Lifestyle Centers" springing up across the United States (if not a theme park or the like) to see the most obvious example. . . ladies and gentlemen dressed in the same flashy clothing (bought from the same stores), rushing about, entertaining themselves-- the vision glitters, but what stands behind it is messy machinery, large factories, and often-corrupt means. The robot Repliee, which looks so much like a woman that I nearly typed "who" instead of "which", has caused quite a bit of talk recently. Screens dominate the lives of many people: the television screen, the computer monitor. Everyone must notice how the automobile has shaped landscapes. Technology has been a wonder to us, and yet we sometimes turn it into a monster that controls or degrades us when it might have been used for Good instead.

Yes, yes, we know this. However, what Metropolis does not take into consideration is that perhaps people will not realize that they have imprisoned themselves in such a manner. This is ultimately what is most endearing about the film, I believe; that its characters may appear to be machines, and yet are not apathetic. Perhaps this is why it is well-liked by many who view it. . . it may disturb or anger, but on the other hand, it also allows the viewer to continue to feel a bit smug about humanity. I fear that it does not force us to look within ourselves unless we were already doing so to begin with. In addition, an in-depth analysis of class and class-struggle it is not, but rather, almost propagandistic in its approach. Even so, it literally sets the stage for analysis and further discussion.

This film is regarded as a masterpiece of German cinema, lavish, put together meticulously, and an expensive production at that. It is, in fact, one of the most cited films of all time. Much of it appears to be lost to time, but the most recent restoration will not disappoint: released by the F. W. Murnau Foundation in 2002, it is the most complete restoration up to date and the most true to the original, even using the original musical score. One may or may not see the present in this futuristic world from the silent-film era, but then again, I suppose we shall have to see what life will be like in 2026.


Joseph T. Richardson said...

You never did see the Authorized Restored Edition, did you? I promise, it's a different film than what you saw before, and a much better experience. It has, in addition to the reconstructed plot of the film (much of which was lost later through sloppy editing), the stunning original orchestral score. Look for it on Netflix or Amazon. Or borrow my copy.

Christina said...
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Christina said...

That is the version I watched this time (it is the F. W. Murnau restoration of which I wrote)-- it was impressive indeed and I am ever so glad that I finally saw it!