Metropolis: Silent and timeless

Utopian societies are more likely than not impossible as long as the human race is the creature dreaming of them. Each person has his or her own idea of what a perfect society is, and not every person has Boy Scout principles guiding them.

Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film “Metropolis” is set in a utopian city of the same name in the future. At first look, it truly is perfect; the economy is thriving, the community is peaceful and everyone is happy. But when Freder Fredersen (Gustav Fröhlich, “…und keiner schämte sich”) follows a beautiful and gentle young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm, “Ein idealer Gatte”) down below the city, he discovers that his perfect world is kept running by an entire society of workers who man their tasks to exhaustion, and sometimes even death.

Freder runs to inform his father, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel, “Mrs. Sylvelin”) who built and is in control of Metropolis, in hopes of aiding the people, his “brothers” underground. Joh is remorseless, and Freder decides to hatch his own plan to aid the workers.

“Metropolis” is ambitious for its time. The city, while slightly primitive, is very similar in design to futuristic societies still depicted on the big screen today – there are flying vehicles (small planes, but they are portrayed as every day vehicles that everyone has access to) giant buildings and sky high monorails that look akin to the one depicted in “Batman Begins.”

The film is also long; at just over two and a half hours in length, “Metropolis” dwarfs “The Call of Cthulhu” (a silent movie made in 2005), which is only 47 minutes long. One reason that “Cthulhu” is so short is because our generation is typically more accustomed to high end movies with computer graphics about as real as life itself, and they have sound. Holding audience attention for long in this day and age without those elements is difficult.

Surprisingly, “Metropolis” has no such difficulty in holding attention, despite being over three times as long. There are enough elements to the story to keep even the current viewer interested; love, loss, betrayal, a robot, scheming, mad scientists, showgirl dancing while nearly naked, blatant Bible allusions (as well as several direct quotes and depictions from the Book of Revelations) and even revolution.

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The use of the Book of Revelations was surprisingly well done, and added both interesting visuals, as well as provide helpful insight and foreshadowing for the overall story. Helm, who portrays the robot, Death as well as the Seven Deadly Sins in addition to the Maria character is utterly brilliant in each aspect of her part. Her transformation between roles is total, and makes the portions focused on a modernization of Revelations more iconic and vivid.

The only real drawback to “Metropolis” is the filming style of director Fritz Lang. He is fond of extended camera shots of the city, and does so in excess. He also focuses in on characters when they are gazing at one another for much longer than necessary to get the point of the scene across to the audience. “Metropolis” could possibly shave at least half an hour off its length if these shots were tightened, or some eliminated. They slow the storytelling.