See The Future

One of the benefits of subscribing to Netflix is that you can get movies that would be difficult to find locally. Last week Metropolis arrived in the mail.

Thematically and plotwise, it’s your basic industrial dystopia, albeit with a happy ending. The proletariat is kept in underground barracks and works on the machines that power the gleaming city of light of the upper classes. The upper classes live in huge monolithic towers and never see the poor proles. The whole thing is reminiscent of the vision of Wells in The Time Machine. I’d guess the world of Von Harbau is a preliminary stage to the Morlocks and the Eloi. Of course, our slightly creepy hero saves the day by being the heart that connects the head and hands. The savage vision of the future wherein the fiendish workers devour the idle classes is averted.

All old school dystopias like this never foresaw the benefits of automation. So you end up having these huge machines being tended by guys who sit and flip very large switches all day. From a modern standpoint, it’s pretty comical. The technology and the need for these vast masses of proles living underground don’t hold up well. It’s an issue with most pre-WWII science fiction. Anytime you focus too hard on the technology, it won’t hold water down the road. There’s an old Asimov story that is similar, about putting men on cruise missiles for guidance. Miniaturized electronics made the whole thing kind of absurd, although the underlying theme still works. Similarly, the idea of people working away as a cheap biological control system for huge machines seems goofy today.

However, what Fritz Lang did manage to do was present a compelling visual picture of the future. The style of Metropolis is wildly influential. A lot of the visual trappings have showed up everywhere since then. Hell, if Machine Man isn't C3PO's daddy, I'll eat a robot. Similarly, the towers and the huge cityscapes are the blueprint for every overcrowded megalopolis since then. Fritz Lang did a hell of a job given the available technology.

Some of the scenes probably had more impact in the 20s. There’s one scene where Brigitte Helm (playing the robot impersonating Maria) is doing a striptease act with tassles on her nipples. I laughed so hard I almost peed myself. The movements she was doing were so far removed from anything I would consider to be sexy the dance became ludicrous.

Overall, I can see what the fuss is all about. It’s a hugely important milestone in sci-fi cinema. Plus, you get to giggle all through the movie because a major character’s name is “Rotwang”.


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