Visual Distinctions of Class and Wealth in Three German Films of the Silent Era
In the German films of the Expressionist Era of 1920-1927, class and wealth distinctions between people were presented visually in a variety of ways. All the films produced in this time period were silent, so distinctions of any kind between human beings were necessarily visual. For the purposes of this paper, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Nosferatu (1922), and Metropolis (1927) will be examined in this regard. The intertitles for each of these films were originally in German. Since translation is at best problematic, the diction and grammar of speakers’ words, which are common markers of class and education, in the English intertitles will not be considered. In addition, the musical accompaniments used for films at this time were variable for screenings at different times and theatres (Thomson and Bordwell, 22), and for different versions, so any consideration of accompaniment music as an explicator of social rank is impossible. Thus, the entire stratification of personal wealth, rank, and class will be examined only in the visual arena. The directors of these films (Robert Wiene, F. W. Murnau, and Fritz Lang, respectively) were skillful at this kind of visual communication, and used a variety of shared techniques to put these stratifications on the screen, and make them intelligible to the audience. There is a basic difference between the human perception of visual images, and the perception of sound: “[T]here is a strong element of our ability to observe images, whether still or moving, that depends on learning. This, interestingly is not true to a significant extent with auditory phenomena” (Monaco, 125). The audience, to some extent, views what they want to see in a film. They may look to one part of the screen or other, whether it is the center or the sides, where the main action of the scene is taking place, or to a side or ancillary action, or to a part of the screen where no action is taking place at all, or not look at it at all. The same is not true, at least not to the same extent, of listening to the sound of a film. Hearing is largely passive, and short of complete distraction, diminished hearing, or earplugs it is very hard for a listener not to hear what is happening around him or her. Barriers of language or vocabulary may exist, but it is not the same as choosing not to look at a certain part of a screen, or choosing to disregard a character’s costume or overall appearance by focusing one’s vision on only the face or the hands of a character. Therefore, for the filmmaker to have an effective way of visually communicating something about a character, it must be done in an obvious, visually attractive (in the sense of attracting attention, not of beauty or appeal,) and very clear way. The character in question, in a silent film, cannot step forward and say, whether directly or indirectly “I am a character of high or of low social status, possessed of wealth or living in poverty”. Most this information, (aside from information passed in intertitles, which have been disregarded for the purposes of this paper, see above) in a silent film must be presented in a visual way, and must be done in a way that is easily readable and agreed-upon by the viewers. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the clothing and occasionally the gestures connoting attitude of the characters function as the primary means of showing class and wealth. The mise-en-scene, while celebrated and certainly unique (mise-en-scene defined, according to Corrigan, as “all those properties of a cinematic image that exist independently of camera position, camera movement, and editing . . . includ[ing] lighting, costumes, sets, the quality of the acting, and other shapes and characters in the scene.” (46)) functions as the major means of conveying the characters’ class and place in society. The story of the film illustrates that stratification, somewhat, but the backgrounds of each character are so very vague and almost entirely implied that they cannot be relied upon for explication. It isn’t known, for example, the occupations or sources of income for Francis or Alan, and whether they were employed, idle, or students. Jane’s status as the daughter of Dr. Olson is known, but other than that there are few clues from the story as to the financial or social arrangements of any of these characters. It could be argued that the social or economic rank of these characters is unimportant to the story, but it is also important to note that some details of these characters’ social standing were communicated to the audience, and therefore become part of the story. For example, the murder victim Alan is shown in his apartment (a garret-like artist’s or student’s residence, if ever there was one depicted in film – it is spare, clean, on an upper floor, and solitary–free of the clutter of domestic family life) in a young man’s free attitude. He has no family to care for, or parents to dominate him. He is shown rising alone, surveying the beautiful weather, and reading a book. This connotation of learning is also implying that Alan, while not wealthy, is one of the leisured or at least scholarly or artistic class, and is not obliged to spend his days in manual labor. Once Alan decides to go out, he dons a coat with an attached cape, slung over his shoulder in a jaunty manner. This is not a workingman’s coat. It has some style and is worn in a manner connoting the wearer’s individuality, and not only the utility of the warmth and protection of the garment. This also, in a few frames of film, gives us the impression of a young, free man with at least some source of independent income. Once in the carnival runway, Alan and Francis walk about in a friendly posture, surveying the sights. They lean on each other’s shoulders in a convivial way, showing long friendship and perhaps even a kind of brotherly intimacy. This also gives some clue to their social standing. These are “young men about town”, able to have leisure to see the sights, and take pleasure in each other’s company. The young men’s mutual regard for Jane, as shown in the street scene where they walk her home, also gives the viewers the impression they are gentlemen. Here, the intertitles do give us some clue as to the social rank of these men, but in a dramatic rather than linguistic way. They agree to remain friends no matter whom the lady chooses. This is a gentlemanly, chivalric code of conduct usually associated with the upper classes. It is a civilized, non-violent way of averting possible conflict in the future, over a common source of strife between people-jealousy in love. Their clothing, throughout, remains nondescript suits and gentlemanly ties and hats. They are clean-shaven, with smoothly combed hair. Their appearances, however, are contrasted with the attire of the murderer of the old woman blamed for Cesare’s crimes. His heavy boots and thick coat, and unkempt hair and beard definitely show him to be a desperate man of the working class, possibly murdering for financial gain. Perhaps this was presented to the audience in order to incite less sympathy for the wrongly accused man, and have the story continue unimpeded so that Cesare would have his chance at murdering Jane. Often, though not always, lower-class persons in films are presented in a less sympathetic light than the upper class, or at least those characters representing “upper-class” values and behaviors, such as the chivalric behavior of Alan and Francis, regardless of their own financial situation, rather than characters representing lower class values in any strata of society. Jane’s social standing and lack of occupation are clearer; it is evident she is a doctor’s daughter. She lives in a comfortable, luxurious home with a richly furnished bedroom, tall windows, and servants. She is contrasted, only briefly, with the woman who sounds the alarm for the murderer of the old woman. There is less room for costume comparison here because Jane is essentially the only woman in the film. Nosferatu presents some other challenges in categorizing the visual clues to social rank and status by appearance, for it is a story set in 1838. The costumes of the time were necessarily different from the costumes of 1922 Germany, and would have to be presented in a way understandable to the contemporary audience. This was achieved in a few ways. Harker wears a coat (incidentally similar to Alan’s in Caligari) with an attached layered shoulder-cape, and matching cap. It is quite obviously the traveling costume of a gentleman, or at least a man of gentlemanly pretensions. This is contrasted with the appearance of Harker’s putative superior, the madman Renfield, who wears ill-fitting and eccentric clothing, and has hair of the most wiry and erratic type. Harker’s hairstyle, in comparison, is fluffy and artistic-looking, and what one might expect of a young man of a scholarly or artistic bent (again, like Alan and Francis) to wear in that day and age. The oriental headdress of Count Orlak is an example of an old-fashioned headdress commonly worn by Romanian aristocracy (Ionescu.) The turban, of course, was used to conceal the vampire’s horrible pointed bat ears, but it also served a couple of other functions, providing visual cues for the viewers. Turbans were considered fashionable aristocratic affectations in that region and time period, and especially were worn in of the previous century to the time of the story, the 18th (Ionescu.) This gives a clue to the advanced age of the vampire (perhaps even his immortality,) and also is a mark of his high social rank. The attire of the women in this film, Nina and Lucy, was simple and modest dark day-dresses, noticeable and noteworthy only, perhaps, for their being made of silk. This was a somewhat luxurious fabric, but the occupation of Nina doing fine embroidery (a lady’s type of handiwork, rather than basic clothing-making or knitting for her family or for profit) speaks more to her availability of leisure time. She is never seen in any occupation other than reading or embroidery, implying she has the time and money for such leisure activities. These, while adding to the overall tension of the story of her constantly waiting and watching for Harker, imply that the Harkers are of a somewhat leisured clerk class, on the educated end of the middle class. Metropolis takes place in another world far removed from the 1920s Germany that conceived it. However, the clothing put on the characters is very recognizable, and the costume-language shows differences between the classes that would have been easily understood by the audiences of its time. The most obvious show of rank and class in costume is Freder’s white silk shirt and tie, with matching jodhpurs. This is very obviously the outfit of a gentleman of leisure, the jodhpurs even suggesting the aristocratic “horsey set”, though no animals are seen in this completely mechanized future environment. The pale color and luxurious fabric is in direct opposition to the dark colored rough fabrics of the worker’s uniforms, and an even more stark comparison to the dark leftover rags in which the workers’ children are clothed. There is no doubt of Freder’s playboy status, even before the cavorting in the Eternal Gardens begins, simply by his clothing and manner. Also, his fair, soft-combed, fall-over-the-forehead style of haircut is very obviously a leisured man’s affectation. In addition, Freder quite obviously, more so than anyone else in the film, including Maria, wears eyeliner and lip color. Perhaps it was implied that the rich young men in Metropolis chose such affectations, hearkening back to the effeminate male styles of 17th and 18th century France. Regardless, Freder’s appearance quite obviously puts him in a leisured, moneyed class, in sharp contrast to the uniformly ill-clad workers below. Maria’s attire in Metropolis is a plain, but not shabby, modest dress. She is shown with a demure white collar, and a very modest bodice and modest-length hem. She is differentiated slightly from the workers and the children of the workers by the slightly lighter color of her plain dress, but she is not presented as above the workers in any way. The other women workers are depicted in similar costume, though they are not as neat and clean as Maria. Her attire is more evocative of her moral status (saintly, virginal) than of economic status. The clothing and appearance of characters in silent films must be made intelligible to the audience, so they may draw conclusions about how those characters fit into the hierarchy of the film’s characters, and into the hierarchy of society at large. This classification is necessary for the audience to make judgments about those characters, and become emotionally involved in the story of the film. The directors of these three films knew the visual language of clothing and appearance, and applied it to the characters in their films to achieve this effect. Works CitedThe Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir. Robert Wiene. 1919. Videocassette. Republic Pictures Silent Classics Home Video, 1991. Corrigan, Timothy. A Short Guide to Writing about Film. New York: Pearson Longman, 2004.Ionescu, Adrian Silvan. “Romanian fashion and european modernization 1830 – 1920”. [sic] Muzeul National de Istorie a Romanei. (1/6/2004): 11/18/06
Sex and Violence, Religion and Technology: Themes in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”
Shaken by the effects of World War I and forever changed by the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, 1920s Germany found itself in a dilemma: how to cope with increasingly pervasive technology and the rapid evolution present in every segment of society? With technology offering humans the ability to kill more people in less time than had ever been imagined, Modernism attempted to mediate between those in positions of power, “the Heads”, and those in positions of submission, “the Hands”. In 1926, Fritz Lang attempted to address this problem with his landmark film, “Metropolis”, set in an exaggerated, Manhattan-esque cityscape and a dystopian, divided society. In the film, Lang proposes that “The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!” While perhaps overly simplistic, Lang’s film nonetheless provides a strong commentary on technology’s effect on society, a paleomodernist use of religious motifery and symbolism, and an exploration of feminine sexuality as a parallel of technology. The film starts with a scene of the “shift change”, depicting uniform-clad workers shuffling silently to an elevator that will take them from the underground Worker’s City to the machines that power the metropolis above. Both the machine and the city served as prototypes for future science fiction films: the machine full of dials, the levers and steam, and the city portrayed as an expanse of dazzling lights and skyscrapers. We then see the vast difference between the workers and the upper class when the film moves to the Club of Sons, where young upper-class men and women – including the film’s hero, Freder Frederson – play and flirt in the Eternal Gardens. Initially blissfully unaware of the workers’ plight, Freder flirts like the rest of his friends. But when a beautiful young worker woman appears in the garden surrounded by worker children, he falls instantly in love. When the woman leaves, his love drives him to the Machine, where he witnesses firsthand the terrible conditions. Particularly stunning is a sequence in which a worker collapses from exhaustion at his station, causing the Machine to overload and explode. As Freder stares wildly at the billowing machine, it becomes a giant, gaping mouth of the monster-god Moloch, and he watches the workers shuffle into the steaming mouth like sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. Clearly, Lang presents technology as powerful and dangerous. Andreas Huyssen, in contrast, presents two opposing views of technology: an “expressionist view” that emphasizes technology’s oppressive and destructive potential, and one that describes the “unbridled confidence in technical progress and social engineering of the technology cult of the Neue Sachlichkeit” using the New Tower of Babel, which has both technological and religious symbolism. In the film, the New Tower of Babel lies at the center of the city, and at its top is the office of Joh Frederson, Freder’s father, and the ruler and architect of Metropolis. Representing the “Head of Lang” epigraph, he designs and constructs his ‘utopian’ city along strictly rational and functionalist lines. Also built into the city’s utilitarian design, however, is a “panoptical system of control,” closely related to the factory management system of Henry Ford, with Frederson at its head. In this system, the workers must function like machines, in perfect rhythm and formation, and as a consequence their individual identities and even their gender are indeterminate. They are the “Hands” of Metropolis, and, like the hand of the mad scientist Rotwang, which has been replaced by a prosthetic, they are mechanical and replaceable. In fact, Frederson too is shown as rigid and mechanical, lacking in spirit and emotion (e.g. the firing of his secretary) and thus the “Body” of Metropolis is an inanimate, mechanical result of technology. Only the mediation of the “Heart” can bring much-needed life to the city. We soon see who is to provide this mediation. Freder visits his father in the New Tower of Babel to convince him to provide better conditions for the workers, only to see his father casually dismiss his concerns. Frustrated, Freder journeys below again, this time to work the Machine himself. He convinces a worker to switch clothes with him, and after working a grueling ten-hour shift, finds a map to a secret meeting place through the underground catacombs. Following this map with many other workers, he finds himself in an underground chapel, where he sees Maria, the young woman who captured his heart in the Eternal Gardens. She leads the workers in a kind of religious service full of Christian allegory, and tells them the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. When the workers begin to express their frustration at the lack of change, she urges them to be patient, for the mediator – the “heart” – will soon come. It is at this moment that Freder realizes his destiny: to be the mediator between the Head of Metropolis, his father, and the Hands, its workers. It is also at this moment, though, that Joh Frederson has been led down the catacombs to just above the chapel by his old accomplice (and rival) Rotwang the Inventor. Rotwang has been working on a robot-man, a Maschinenmensch, which is complete save for its face. Seeing Maria’s sway over the workers, he tells Rotwang to give his robot Maria’s likeness, so that they might use her to convince the workers to revolt, giving Frederson an excuse to punish them. This robot becomes the second symbol of technology in the film, but now bears the likeness of an actual human and thus has the ability to commit far more malicious, damaging acts. Once Rotwang has kidnapped Maria and given the robot her likeness, the Robot Maria convinces the workers to riot. They storm the machine, not realizing that though the machine is the source of their oppression, it also gives them life. They destroy the machine, and in doing so cause the underground Workers’ City to flood, forgetting that their children are still there. Technology as the Robot Maria has manipulated the Hands into an out-of-control frenzy; whereas before both machine and worker existed together in a rhythmic, hypnotic state, both are now imperiled by the manic energy the Robot Maria has given them. The ordered, balanced city of Metropolis thus descends into instinct-driven chaos – out of the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak. As the workers’ revolt continues above ground, they meet an equally frenzied mass of upper-class men, who are sexually excited after having witnessed an erotic dance performed by the Robot Maria. The two mobs clash, but when the workers remember their children, they turn on the Robot Maria and Joh Frederson. After burning her at the stake, they learn that their children have been saved by Freder and the real Maria, who are engaged in a life-or-death battle on the roof of the great cathedral with the now completely delusional Rotwang. Freder wins, and because of his heroic act, also saves his father from an unpleasant end from the mob. Taking the hands of his father and the foreman and bringing them together, he becomes the mediator between Head and Hands. Metropolis seems to imply that this mediation is needed to resolve the split between the repressive, overly rational technological law of Frederson with the “irrational, uncanny and occult feminine technology by reintegrating a repressed feminine nature or spirit (the heart) and a masculine rationality and will (the brain).” Even on an etymological level, the lost significance of the metropolis as “mother-city” is reintegrated into the modern and functional metropolis that Frederson the Father has created. It is interesting, though, that despite these reintegrations, the main reconciliation at the film’s end seems to take place more between the Head and the Heart, rather than the Head and the Hands. In the end, the Hands are still subject to the rule of the Head, though it is a rule hopefully softened by the influence of the Heart. It is hard to know whether this was an oversight or truly the vision Lang wished to depict. Either way, given the symbolism of the New Tower of Babel as modern technology and the cathedral as an heir to the mythical Aryan Gothic tradition, the city of Metropolis is a full representation of the “dream of a mediated, aestheticized modern city.” While the images of technology’s effects provide poignant commentary on German (and Western) society of the 1920s, equally powerful are the religious motifs and symbolism that are pervasive throughout the film. Just as the film’s technology gave a dystopian, neo-modernist bend to the film, the film’s religious overtones provide it with a paleo-modernist angle. This perspective questions religion’s role in modern society and the place religious symbolism and art have in a “modern” city such as Metropolis. And, in fine paleo-modernist fashion, Lang seems to be saying that religious symbolism maintains a firm grip on modern art. Our “resident paleomodernist, Thomas Mann, with his fascination with Faust, Satan, angels and fatalism,” would be proud. At the film’s beginning, Freder exists as a blissfully ignorant flirt in the Edenic Eternal Gardens of the high reaches of the city. When Maria appears, though, Freder is infected with a taste of knowledge of something beyond the realm of his experience, much as Adam, given the apple from the Tree of Knowledge by Eve, experienced knowledge. Just as Adam was expelled from the Garden of Eden, Freder is compelled to leave the Eternal Gardens “and his position of comfort and ignorance” to pursue the taste of knowledge offered by Maria. Even early in the film, Freder and Maria are introduced as figures with Biblical qualities, and only intensifies when they meet again in the chapel. Along with Freder’s position as the mediator between the Head and the Hands, the Christian symbolism is obvious: Freder is meant to be the Christ-figure, a mediator between the Father, Joh (Jehovah) Frederson, and humanity, the workers. Thus a kind of triangle, even trinity, is established. Freder’s symbolism at this point had already been strongly hinted at when he works his ten-hour shift at the Machine. Struggling against exhaustion to keep the two hands of the control dial for the “Pater Noster” machine at the correct positions, he becomes crucified before the clock, crying out, “Father, Father! Why have you forsaken me?” – just as Jesus did during the Crucifixion. In addition to the triangle formed by Freder, Frederson and the workers, a second triangle is formed by Freder, Frederson and Maria, who is introduced as a symbolic Virgin Mary, who stands for the positive aspects of the workers/humanity. Later, as the Robot Maria, she embodies humanity’s destructive aspects. As suggested earlier, Maria seems to represent the Heart more than the Hands. It is difficult to feel as though the hands have a significant role in determining their own fate, which seems to be controlled more by the actions of Father and Son than humanity itself. The Bible also has a strong tendency to depict women as either virgins or prostitutes, with little room in between. This is certainly the case with the pure, innocent Maria, whose double, the Robot Maria, is a sexual, erotic vamp. When Freder finds Maria in the underground chapel, his “overwhelming desire to play Christ [meshes] perfectly with [Maria’s] image of the virgin mother awaiting the Savior.” In the chapel, though, Maria is already an object of male admiration, though as a maternal and soothing figure. As the Robot Maria, she becomes the opposite: the vamp who inspires lust, envy and other sins. As the Robot Maria dances before a group of dandy upper class men, Lang creates a montage of chaotically flashing images: in a room in the nearby Gothic Cathedral, statue representations of the Grim Reaper and the Seven Deadly Sins come alive, further suggesting the Robot Maria’s ability to inspire sin. Thus Lang continues the Biblical tradition of regarding feminine power as a threat, weaving it into his depiction of dangerous technology gone wild. Additionally, with the ability to create woman by himself, Rotwang, a symbol of Man, is able to live on his own, independent even of God. “The most complete technologization of nature appears as re-naturalization, as a progress back to nature. Man is at long last alone at one with himself.” The primary difference between the film and the Bible is that while Biblical virgins were held in high esteem, in Metropolis, the virgin Maria is as much a threat to Frederson as is the vamp. As the maternal virgin, Maria promotes the reign of the Heart, and thus of affection, emotion and nurturing – all of which are in opposition to Frederson’s dream of a rational, efficient working force. As the vamp, though at first obedient to Rotwang and Frederson, her sexuality soon overpowers both of them, and this out-of-control sexuality parallels Frederson’s loss of control over the technology whose creation he oversaw. Indeed, overall Lang presents a very negative opinion of men’s inner desires regarding women. In his narrative, Lang continuously simulates the male gaze with the position of the camera, which then constructs the female object as a technological artifact seen through the mechanical eye of the camera. Huyssen refers to this gaze as “an ambiguous mesh of desires: desire to control, desire to rape, and ultimately desire to kill,” the last of which ultimately finds its gratification in the burning of the Robot Maria at the stake. In a related Biblical theme, the Flood towards the film’s end, we see similar themes of out-of-control sexuality. Just before he sees Maria for the first time in the Eternal Gardens, Freder is just about to kiss a young woman by a fountain. When Maria appears, she becomes a new object of desire. At this stage, while there is some sexuality, it is also a somewhat naive desire for Maria’s virginal being that inhabits Freder, a desire that is represented by the controlled flow of water in the fountain. As the Robot Maria gains power, the flood of sin-inducing sexuality is shown by the literal flooding of the Workers’ City, caused by the vamp’s rebellion against the Machine. To further the symbolism, Freder must journey through the vaginal tunnels of the catacombs to the reach the chapel, the womb of the Virgin Mother Maria. The virginal state of femininity is thus safe. When Rotwang creates the vamp, however, he releases feminine sexuality. And, just as a girl begins to menstruate when she transitions from virgin to sexual being, the Robot Maria’s sexuality causes the Workers’ City to flood. Another powerful Biblical symbol is found in Maria’s tale of the Tower of Babel, whose destruction is caused by the inability of those at the Head to communicate with the workers at the Hands of the creative force. Language thus obstructs progress, as the workers are not speaking the same language as those in power. Lang questions the role of technology as a communicator, drawing attention to the fact that “technologies of communication present a false sense of immediacy and give rise to mere illusions of self-expression and authentic being.” Technology in Metropolis, though a great sign of progress in Frederson’s mind, is in fact an inhibitor of progress and a suppression of individuality, freedom and truth. Lang also presents the idea of abstract knowledge as inherently evil. Rotwang possesses perhaps the greatest knowledge in Metropolis, in the form of “dusty old volumes with worn pages,” yet this knowledge is deeply corrupted by the depravity of its owner. This question calls to mind the two types of experience referred to by Walter Benjamin: the first being erlebnis, the experience that happens “in the moment” of some kind of action, and the second erfahrung, the type of experience equated with knowledge. Both of these types of experience pose difficulties for language, because they have no lingual precedent. It seems that Lang’s ultimate goal was to present an expression of the modern experience, an experience which was in many ways unimaginable by societies existing just a few decades earlier. To achieve this, Lang used the technological corruption of a dystopian city, combined with paleomodernist Biblical motifs and use of feminine sexuality in conjunction with the pervasive nature of modern technology. Despite his dour imagery and somber predictions, though, Lang’s film ends on a note of hope: that with the mediation of the Heart, Head and Hands can be joined. Lang’s hope seems to be that, despite the chaos and destruction presented by modern technology, a mediator will be found to temper both humanity’s need to use technology maliciously and technology’s habit of quickly evolving beyond the control of its creators. “Metropolis” is set in the year 2026; as we approach the year 2005, it would be wise to ask ourselves whether we are headed towards the dystopia of Joh Frederson’s Metropolis, or rather towards a brighter, mediated, harmonious future.
Mediation and Violence: The Relationship Between Workers and the Rich in Metropolis
From the beginning of Metropolis, there is a stark divide between the upper class and the working people. We see working people walk like soldier into huge elevators, heads hanging in clear misery, descending into what we can only assume is their version of hell, deep below the earth’s surface. Their clothes are black and the world around them is just as dark. Topside, the sons of the wealthy are dressed all in white, playing and carefree. The intertitles make it clear that these wealthy people live off the backs of the workers. When the rich women see the children of the workers, they gawk at them like foreign creatures. Freder, the son of the master of Metropolis, is enraptured by Maria and follows her into the city of the workers, where he sees them toiling away at a machine. The workers struggle to control the machine as a gauge rises, eventually causing the machine to turn into a face with a gaping mouth that swallows scores of workers alive. These workers march obediently into the mouth, giving themselves over to death by machine, death by work. This is only one of many scenes that indicates the sense of violence that reaches across the otherwise clear class distinctions in Metropolis, a film that moves from a vision of class antagonism to a possible sense of constructive optimism.
Further into the movie, the robot version of Maria describes the workers as “living food” for machines. The head disappears quite suddenly, and Freder stares in shock as bodies are wheeled away. The workers on the machine have already been replaced and are back to coordinated movement like nothing has happened. The workers are expendable, perhaps even to each other, but certainly to the wealthy men above ground. Freder asks his father, Fredersen, where the people who built the beautiful Metropolis are, to which he replies, “Where they belong.” The upper class has no respect for the workers who run their city and believe wholeheartedly that they belong out of sight. Recall the rich women who saw the workers’ children. They looked at them as if they were inhuman and with the way Fredersen spoke about them, it is likely the rest of the upper class sees them in the same light. Fredersen fires one of his employees, Josaphat, who would rather commit suicide than be condemned to become part of the working class.
Freder is visibly distraught when his father fires Josaphat, but Fredersen is entirely unmoved, his back turned on the viewer. Fredersen later refers to the people underground as “my workers”, suggesting that they are little more to him than possessions. Freder returns to the worker’s city and decides to take the place of a worker about to collapse, giving him Josaphat’s address and telling him to wait there for him. This exchange is the first time we see Freder interact closely with a member of the working class, who is identified only by a number, 11811. The simple fact that the workers are apparently identified by number and not by name is telling of the way they are thought of as expendable by the upper class. However, this exchange between 11811 and Freder is also quite telling about what the film is saying about the working class. 11811 finds money in Freder’s clothing, and instead of doing as Freder asked, goes to spend it in the pleasure district. The very first worker whose “name” is learned betrays the protagonist and steals his money. Metropolis could be saying here that if a poor person were suddenly given the power of a rich person, they would act in the same way. 11811 is given a hand up, and quickly betrays the man who helped him. The message that Metropolis seems to be sending here is that the working class can’t be trusted, but perhaps this is too fast of a judgement. As the clock moves towards the end of the work day, the hands jump back, and Freder asks if the work day will ever end. The workers are further exploited then, by being forced to work longer and longer days. Later on, Freder and a crowd of workers listen to Maria preach the story of the Tower of Babel. Coincidentally, the tower in the story has the same name as the building Fredersen works in.
The essence of the story is that the “heads” that had the idea for the tower needed the “hands” of workers to build it, but when the workers realized how they were being treated, they revolted and destroyed the tower, leaving nothing. The two classes could not understand each other, and so Maria says that the “head,” or the upper class, and the “hands,” or the working class, need a mediator which she calls the “heart.” The workers of Metropolis are growing restless, however, and grow tired of waiting for a mediator. It takes very little for the robotic version of Maria to incite violence later on. Again, it appears that Metropolis is saying the working class is untrustworthy and has the same capacity for evil as the upper class. The working class is a flood held back by a fragile dam constructed by Maria’s promise of a mediator. Metropolis shows the working class as people that need to be contained for fear of a violent revolution. Rotwang seems to be an embodiment of this violence. He creates the robot Maria to bring down Metropolis for selfish reasons, and she incites the revolution of the workers. Together, robot Maria and Rotwang are the instigators of violence, and both perish in the end.
In terms of message, Metropolis seems to condemn violent revolution and through the words of Fredersen, suggests that it simply plays into the hands of the upper class and justifies their violence against workers. This is a common argument against violent revolution and one that is still used today. Recent examples of similar situations would be police brutality and Black Lives Matter protests, as well as fascist gatherings and anti-fascist demonstrations against them. Applying the logic of Metropolis, the violence against protestors can be justified if the protest turns violent. There needs to be a mediator. As the workers revolt, they head towards the heart machine to destroy it. It’s unlikely to be coincidental that it’s called the “heart” machine, and the mediator is also meant to be the “heart.” The foreman, Grot, obeys Fredersen and allows the workers to approach the heart machine, but warns them of the destruction that will follow if they break it. The workers do so anyways, flooding the worker’s city and realizing too late that their children are still down there, trapped. In this moment of grief for the workers, both the violent workers and Fredersen who is worried about his son are humanized and given parallels. Both the working class and the upper class are capable of emotion. They both worry about the fate of their children. Luckily, both the children and Freder end up safe. The robotic Maria and Rotwang are defeated, and with them the violent revolution. Freder joins the hands of Grot who is the working class or the “hands” and Fredersen who is the upper class or “head,” fulfilling his role as the mediator “heart.” The worker Grot has been brought to the surface, and Fredersen has been brought down from the sky. All three- hands, head, and heart- are on the same level on the earth and within the frame for the first time in the movie.
Metropolis seems to be saying that both the working class and the upper class have their flaws, and both are capable of being evil, destructive, and devaluing the lives of the other class. Only by coming together and being mediated can they live in harmony. There are plenty of flaws to this way of thinking, but it is the position that Metropolis presents, and one must assume it works for their world.
Comparative study of the intertextual perspectives in Metropolis and 1984
A comparative study of the intertextual perspectives in George Orwell’s political satire Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fritz Lang’s expressionist film Metropolis provide a deeper understanding of rebellion, manipulation and power in a highly conformist society. These dystopian texts accentuate the similar values of individuals whilst facing moral decay of humanity that reflects different contextual influences. Orwell’s distaste for Hitler’s Nazi regime and Stalin’s USSR is unveiled through the individual rebellion against the totalitarian regime and the post world-war 1 hyper-inflation that reduced Germany to poverty shapes Lang’s film. The iconography in Metropolis reflects the mechanical German zeitgeist that demonizes industrialism.
The desire for liberation in 1984 is evident in response to the enigmatic presence of Big brother and the ubiquitous placement of tele screens, that create a constant atmosphere of fear and isolation. The architecture in the novel represents power as the four buildings that divide the entire apparatus of government ‘dwarf’ the other buildings. The high social control of Oceania is evident in the counterintuitive slogan ‘FREEDOM IS SLAVERY WAR IS PEACE IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH’ thus provoking the desire for liberation from the protagonist Winston Smith.
What is revealed in the comparative study in the opening sequence of Metropolis also sends a message that existing power structures are in the need of reform, as the audience views the industrial enslavement of humans. The first view of the workers is a lethargic, uniformed mass with slow, staccato movements leaving and entering a shift of labour-intensive work. This is paired with somber lighting and depressing music that mirrors the sound of machinery. The motif of the 10 hour clock represents that the workers lives are dictated and governed by their 10 hour shifts. The second sequence juxtaposes the first as the audience is introduced to the erotic playground of the rich. The biblical allusion to the ‘Edenistic’ gardens expresses the vast gulf between social classes. When Maria exposes the decadence and sensuality of the Eternal gardens to the sons of the workers, her presence threatens to destabilize the equilibrium Jon Fredersen has created.
The manifestation of manipulation as an agent of social control in Orwell’s novel is in the propaganda and information delivered in Hate Week. Hate Week escalates into anarchic behavior as the falsified atrocities committed against oceania are read aloud, perpetuating the psychological manipulation of the citizens. The population is driven to “wild beast-like roaring” as the enemy switches from Eurasia to Eastasia and “the enemy has always been Eastasia!”. Winston commits thoughtcrime through reading Goldstein’s book which further liberates him as an individual. Winston is dramatically different to the participants of Hate Week that are deliriously brainwashed, which illuminates Orwell’s view of the human condition and reflects Stalin’s effort to replace religion with devotional services to the State.
The oppressive power of the government and/or upper classes in both texts emphasizes the moral degradation of society through political allegory. Violence as a result of social control and manipulation as a catalyst of rebellion are themes integrated in the Robot Maria sequence in Metropolis. The value of the femme fatale is exacerbated in the voyuerism of the stares of the workers as the robot Maria dances, pulls back her clothing to reveal flesh and convinces the workers of rebellion. The exaggerated acting and dramatic lighting accentuates this scenes message that mechanization and the oppression of the lower class will only end in revolt. Criticism of the capitalist modernity is mirrored in the blankness and automatic character of Robot Maria.
The dehumanization of Robot Maria in Metropolis can be connected to the dehumanization of the population of Oceania in 1984. This carries a heavy warning from Orwell for readers to not be blinded by propaganda. The utopia and rebellion in 1984 is seen through the paperweight that is a symbol of Julie and Winston’s love. When the paperweight breaks and shatters to pieces it expresses how small and unachievable individual rebellion is. The futility of rebellion manifests in Orwell’s attitude of hopelessness as the ending states “He had won the war over himself. He loved Big Brother”. Orwell’s values of privacy, individuality, freedom of thought and free will are displayed in the dramatic ending that expresses that their is no hope against a totalitarian regime.
In contrast to 1984’s negative ending, Metropolis carries a message of hope and reconciliation despite the contextual Weimar period that emphasizes the large gap between social classes. The closing sequence has the workers walking up the stairs of the church in a triangular formation which represents cooperation. When the equal synergy between the rulers and those being ruled is established it fulfils the epigram, as “the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart”. The closing of Metropolis illustrates Lang’s values of hope, reconciliation, unity, cooperation and the importance of freedom from high social control. It also carries a message that the undoing of modernization will only bring destruction.
Through Metropolis and 1984 it becomes abundantly clear that despite different contexts and different values being addressed in the ending, both texts allow for a deeper insight into the desire of freedom, based on similar themes that created such unbearable conditions for humanity to survive, Both texts provide a deeper understanding of the values and attitudes of the composer, that are orchestrated through texts for the audience to engage in the moral allegory and to be aware of the dire warnings being communicated.
Discuss the link between the past and the future, in 1984 and Metropolis.
Both texts highlight and effectually foreground, the need for humanity to learn from its mistakes for its ultimate survival. The social, cultural and historical milieu of a composer’s era, significantly molds construction of their text and the ideals, values and attitudes that they choose to address within it. These influences offer a unique distinction between different texts, however, also highlighting notable commonalities. Through the implementation of dystopian fiction, in which they depict a post-apocalyptic future, arising from cultural realities that enable tyrants to exploit periods of adversities and tribulations, both texts offer didactic and implicit cautionary warnings of what will occur should present trends endure. Fritz Lang’s expressionist and overt surreal silent film, ‘Metropolis’ (1927), can be interpreted as a reaction to the rapidly fluctuating, economically unstable social milieu of Germany during the immediate post WWI era, in which the newly emerged, controversial Weimar Republic gave birth to new individual freedoms and consequent cultural diversity. Lang’s physical depiction of the segregation and dichotomy between the upper and lower classes of Metropolis prompts his audience to question the distribution of power and authority, subtly highlighting the flaws in Germany’s new government system and asserting the need for compassion in the rebuilding of a thriving society. Contrastingly, George Orwell’s dystopic novel, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (1949), is a pessimistic vision of the future, responding to the horrific totalitarian and authoritarian regimes witnessed in the years following WWI and during WWII. Orwell provides an unsettling warning of the capacities of dictatorial control systems and their ability to extend control over all aspects of an individual’s life; stifling their freedoms, dignities, morality and subsequently dehumanizing the population. Through the comparative study of both texts, we observe an evident series of commonalities and diversities in their construction, contextual influences and explored themes. Furthermore, we discern the fundamental correlation between a text and its contextual origins and how the exploration of similar content in both texts highlights their fundamental significance.
Oppressive capitalist plutocracies can abuse and dictate individual freedoms; employing terror, surveillance and other corrupt devices as a means of stifling their citizens and stripping them of their dignity. Fritz Lang’s expressionist, black and white film ‘Metropolis’ is a distinctive, artistic commentary on the Weimar Republic of Germany during the 1920’s; depicting the façade of superficial economic abundance during this time that cloaked the deeply ingrained flaws in the new democratic system. This can be seen in the physical depiction of the brightly lit, art-deco inspired, glamorous city of abundance that is Metropolis, reflecting the German period of industrialization and modernization, built upon the foundations of the deprivation, inequality and scarcity of the worker’s city. In Lang’s film, similarly to the unjust power structure in ‘1984’, absolute, authoritarian control is held singularly by Joh Fredersen, who is motivated primarily with ensuring a city of wealth and lavishness to the benefit of the aristocratic upper class, in ignorance and indifference to the deprived workers or ‘hands’ who toil below to achieve his vision. Frederson achieves and maintains his power through the use of fear and terror as a means of controlling his robot-like workers, stifling their individuality and freedom. A black and white long shot depicts a rigid formation of workers with heads pointing downwards moving listlessly, uniformly and expressionless through the mise en scene’s prison-like tunnels of the underground city of Metropolis; reflective of the nature of production line labor in Germany during this time. This image exudes connotations of enslavement, deprivation and indolent conformity, contrasting starkly to the opening images of sky-scrapers, spotlights and luxury inspired by the highly modernized, architecturally innovative city of New York. Frederson’s son, Freder, the Christ-like hero of the film, watches in horror as a worker’s factory explodes and transforms into the barbaric, gold-faced God of Fire, Moloch. Moloch, a biblical character alluding to the Greco-Roman tradition of child sacrifice, consumes the fatigued workers offered to him, reinforcing the fear-induced methods of power and control. Th dehumanizing, repetitive and physically demanding nature of work depicted in these scenes are indicative of the reality of assembly line production common-place during the industrial revolution of Weimar Germany post WWI, resulting in the re-introduction of the 12 hour working day with a two-hour break. Lang provokes us to question the corrupt and abusive utilization of power and its repercussions on an individual’s sense of dignity, humanity and entitlement, simultaneously making comparisons and connections to his own social, cultural and historical context. Lang’s text was considered as a ground-breaking German expressionist, silent film; providing a crucial source of inspiration for the later development of the ‘film noir’ genre. Lang’s innovative use of special effects, multi layered sets, stop motion film and his visual dichotomy between the two inner worlds of Metropolis are seminal to later dystopic, sci-fi texts, simultaneously creating a strong conceptual link to Orwell’s ‘1984’.
Individuals must place inherent and fundamental worth in their essential rights to freedom of speech, thought and individuality. If the values of these fundamental rights are neglected, then societies are prone to the all-encompassing, complete manipulation, tyranny of totalitarian control systems and subsequent dehumanization. This is clearly elucidated in George Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel ‘1984’. Similarly to Lang’s film, Orwell depicts a futuristic, dystopian setting, exploring the dangers of oppressive control systems. However, Orwell’s vision, inspired by the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin and his ‘great purges’ in Soviet Russia, and Adolf Hitler and his eradication of ‘inferior’ races in Nazi Germany, is a significantly bleaker, more pessimistic prophecy. Orwell immediately situates us in the austere, harsh setting of urban decay; ‘Airstrip One’, the parallel image of degraded, rubble-ridden London, post WWII. The clocks are ‘striking thirteen’ and the omniscient, invasive image of Big Brother ‘watching you’, is strikingly reminiscent of the image of Joseph Stalin. The anti-hero, Winston Smith is ‘smallish, frail’ and has a ‘varicose ulcer above his right ankle’. The hopeless, weak and sickening image of Winston contrasts strongly to Lang’s hero, Freder, the picture of Aryan perfection. Winston works in the ‘Ministry of Truth’, an oxymoronic title for a place that houses the constant re-writing of history to ensure that the party is always correct; ‘Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’ Language is oversimplified and ‘cut down to the bone’, resulting in a new language, ‘whose vocabulary gets smaller every year’, ‘NewSpeak’, rendering ‘thoughtcrime’ or unorthodox thinking ‘literally impossible’. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Orwell’s haunting vision is the attainable, realistic future that is depicted. Many of the party’s policies and means of control are drawn from the strategies of Hitler and Stalin in their fanatic dictatorships; Stalin himself would airbrush photos for ‘vaporised’ persons, rewriting history and frequently changing alliances with Germany, claiming to have always maintained this relationship. Orwell demands us to reassess the capabilities of totalitarian rulership, warning of the horrific possible extent of control that the rapid development of technology would allow. Both Orwell and Lang convey a genuine fear of the future in their texts, however both the medium through which these ideas are explored and the historical contexts that inspired the composers are significantly diverse and distinctive. Whilst Orwell was a critical essayist at heart, one may argue that Lang’s primary purpose was to create aesthetically innovative artistry and entertainment. Hence, though both exploring complementary concepts of power and control and the dehumanization that can emerge from them which lead to subjugation, suppression of rights and degradation of one’s human qualities, these two iconic texts differ.
Societies built on foundations of inequality and deprivation are prone to a growing discontent among citizens and eventual destruction. The continued oppression of an individual’s entitlements to freedom and expression can only be tolerated to certain extents, after which the spark of resistance and rebellion is ignited. Lang’s film was unique as it confronted the conservative German audience with the rapid change in previously rigid class structures, addressing the growing potential for a Russian-like communist rebellion. Following the signing of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, in which Germany was forced to accept entire responsibility for the destruction of WWI and agree to pay indefinite reparations to the allies, the German public retaliated in severe division, revolt and strike. The seeds of discontent and revolution are evident in Lang’s film in the ongoing subjugation of the workers. Lang depicts Maria as a virginal symbol of purity and compassion who prophesies that ‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart’; a message that extends as an ongoing motif throughout the film and elucidates the fundamental need for understanding in achieving equilibrium amidst this severely divided society. Lang’s depiction of Maria’s robot ‘doppelgänger’, who performs absurdly dramatic gestures and facial expressions, clad in dark, devilish eye makeup, offers a stark dichotomy to the pure, virginal, innocently dressed Maria. Lang’s continuous utilisation of juxtapositions; ‘light’ and ‘dark’, ‘blessed’ or ‘damned’ and ‘upper’ and ‘lower’, serve as representations of the severe divisions within German society during this period. Dramatic, pulsating drum beats and climactic violin notes are heard as the workers, ironically conforming in thoughtless mob-mentality, pack tightly into the elevators that escalate to the upper-city of Metropolis, pumping their fists violently. Lang explores the unthinking, conforming mob-mentality of rebellion, highlighting the ironic substitution for simply another means of control, complementing Orwell’s description of ‘the two minutes hate’, in which the working class are mindlessly united in the hatred of Big Brother’s enemies. Lang depicts the pure, compassionate love affair between Maria and Freder, who unite in the depths and desperately attempt to protect the grappling, fearful children from the flooding city. The film concludes optimistically with the unification of the ‘head’, Frederson, and the ‘hands’, the workers, through the mediation of Freder, ‘the heart’. Lang offers an alternative to the oppression of Frederson’s capitalist plutocracy through warm, compassionate mediation. Lang’s ending has been criticized as being abstruse and unrealistic; that despite this shaking of hands, the tyrannical rule of Frederson may well continue under a different guise. The workers still march in perfect synchronization and uniformity, the only variance is that their heads are now lifted. This could be said to reflect the ‘Stresemann era’ of Germany, in which the nation established a secure place on the global stage, once again participating in international trade and affairs. However this was merely a façade for its desperate reliance upon the American economy for its success, leading to Germany’s severe downfall during the depression. Lang draws our attention to the nature of resistance and rebellion; how the oppressive abuse of power and control and the stifling of freedoms result in this, also highlighting the chaos that can be wrought if not orchestrated in a calculated manner of one’s own accord. Lang’s unique cinematic style and exploration of fundamental themes of power and control served as an iconic source of inspiration for many artists who followed him, bringing to the fore the central importance of ‘Metropolis’ and illuminating it’s vital link to the time period in which it was created.
Resistance and rebellion arise due to discontent and dissatisfaction with one’s reality; their rights, their freedoms and their distant memories of more prosperous times. Orwell’s ‘1984’, elucidates the intrinsic characteristic of humanity that provokes one to question the nature of their world and the distribution of power and control within it, even if this attempt is accepted and recognized as futile. Lang explores this inherent desire in his film, however, one may argue that his representation of the oppressed class possess a far more promising capacity to rebel and to succeed in establishing a better society. Contrastingly, Orwell’s anti-hero Winston knowingly accepts that his life is doomed from the moment he opens his diary and marks its pages; ‘the decisive act’. Every trait considered human is stripped from the citizens of Oceania; their humanity, their family, their dignity, their sexual instinct and their individual will to live. This is replaced by the all-encompassing fear and love of Big-Brother, elucidating the mass extent of infiltration, control and suppression of any possible rebellion. Orwell depicts Winston’s somber psychological state; he feels ‘lost in a monstrous world where he himself was the monster’ and hence his only potential resistance is his own internal contemplation. Similarly to Lang’s depiction of Rotwang’s house as ‘a relic of the dim, forgotten, past’, Orwell depicts motifs in his novel that serve as reminders of a time brighter than Winston’s present reality, elucidating the extent to which knowledge has been concealed and withheld. These motifs occur in Winston’s frequent dreams of the ‘Golden Country’, the glass paperweight and the image of the ‘St Clements Church’, which ironically is utilized as a concealed party surveillance device. Winston attempts to intellectually engage with his love interest Julia, however she is purely interested in fulfilling her own sexual pleasures in resistance to the party. Orwell frightfully illustrates a world where the totalitarian regime even orchestrates it’s own resistance, as another guise through which to ensnare ‘thought criminals’ and maintain ultimate control. The novel concludes pessimistically, with Winston indefinitely awaiting a bullet that shall end his life; having been destroyed physically and mentally. Winston occupies his remaining days sitting in the foreshadowed ‘Chestnut Tree Café’, drinking ‘Victory Gin’, practicing ‘doublethink’ and believing that ‘2+2=5’ because the Party says it does; ‘He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.’ Whilst Lang elucidates the power of the individual to overcome their oppressive rulers, Orwell highlights any attempt at resistance and rebellion devoid of purpose from the beginning. His didactic, hopeless vision serves as a haunting warning of the capacities of totalitarian rulerships that suppress the individual. Both texts are written in post-war periods, depicting a fear of the future, however whilst Lang’s film depicts a limited German experience, Orwell’s primary concern was reaching a global audience with a strong political message of democratic socialism. Both texts complement each other in conveying themes of power and control in a highly-technological society, however, they starkly differ in form, time of composition and the overriding tone with which their messages are conveyed.
Hence, through the comparative study of Fritz Lang’s expressionist film, ‘Metropolis’ (1927) and George Orwell’s dystopic novel, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (1949), we note the fundamental link between the two texts and the time period in which they were composed. This study illuminates the unique qualities of both texts but also brings to the fore the complementary similarities between them. Whilst Lang’s film is an artistic commentary on the Weimar Republic during the 1920’s and the overwhelming divisions within German society, Orwell’s text serves as a crucial warning of the dangers of totalitarian systems witnessed post WWI and during WWII. Therefore, we decipher the vital importance of these two iconic texts and their complementary overriding themes of power and control.
Humanity’s Fear: A Comparison of 1984 and Metropolis
The fear of a dystopian future that is explored in both Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four is reflective of the values of the societies at the time and the context of the authors. As authors are considered conduits of their societies and historical period, it could be said that both Nineteen Eighty Four and Metropolis are didactic pieces of history themselves. This is expressed through the ways they effectively articulate the aspects of life that were valued particularly by Weimer Republic Germany and Post-WWII England and authorial choices and themes of each that come as a direct result of the context in which both texts were contrived.
Concepts of power and authority within both Nineteen Eighty Four and Metropolis explore the values and attitudes of each of the societies from which the texts stemmed. Metropolis, conceived in the years of the Weimar Republic, alliterates the fear of a dystopian future through a corporate totalitarian regime. Germany’s move from an empire to a republic and the move away from monarchy to a presidency also promoted a fierce capitalistic push intended to boost economic profit. This is clearly visible in the absolute capitalistic rule that Joh Frederson holds over the city. Nineteen Eighty Four features a fear of absolute power in the dominance that is established throughout the novel in mentions of The Party and within the details of the hierarchical system of Oceania. Both of these speculative post war texts were created as a comment on their respective political contexts and the previous wars. Nineteen Eighty Four particularly focuses on the consequence of introducing an all-powerful government and allowing the development of socialism as Orwell’s fictitious governmental system, “Ingsoc” which stands for English Socialism and is a comment on the National Socialism Party in Germany during WWII. The content of both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four encapsulates the dystopic vision of power imbalance that was the result of the values and attitudes of the societies from which they were conceived. The rapidly evolving technology and the impact of technology on society and politics is key in both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four and is often used to represent the shortcomings of the nature of the societies of both texts. Technology is a central theme within the sci-fi genre and is extremely prominent in both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four. The post World War societies were concerned with the progressing technologies that were spurred by WWI and WWII respective to each text. The politics at work in Nineteen Eighty Four encapsulates this way of thinking in one of The Party’s slogans – “WAR IS PEACE” as war often demands retaliation in the development of technology for further advanced forms of warfare. Where technology in Nineteen Eighty Four is used to maintain the oppressive governmental regimes and absolute power of The Party, technology in Metropolis is supposedly used to better the lives of citizens. In the Moloch scene, Freder envisions the machines consuming the people, ironically displaying the real beneficiaries of the technology of the city. This is further evident later in the film when the workers strike and the city collapses into mayhem. Orwell and Lang’s contemplative visions of technology in a dystopia encapsulate the fear of the unknown, particularly with technologies that people cannot control or may lose control of in the future.
A lack of freedom and choice is represented in both texts through the extreme and dehumanising surveillance of the lower classes. This is represented through the characterisation of The Thin Man in Lang’s Metropolis and through the recurring telescreens, Big Brother slogans and institutionalised methods of torture in Nineteen Eighty Four. The lack of freedom and the constant supervision of both lower class societies examine the fear that people have of being watched and scrutinised, even in our contemporary world. This fear is epitomised in Nineteen Eighty Four and regimented more brutally than in Metropolis, where workers fear the loss of their jobs rather the loss of their lives for being caught violating the expected code of conduct. However both the incessant surveillance of every person through telescreens in every apartment in Nineteen Eighty Four and the institutionalised surveying of the workers in Metropolis are both means implemented by the upper classes in order to keep the lower classes slaves to the wishes of their superiors. Particularly evident in Nineteen Eighty Four, the role of the “thought police” demonstrates the dehumanisation and lack of freedom that is prevalent due to the excessive surveillance methods. Orwell’s post WWII context is clearly visible in the satirical way in which he plays on the Nazi Party in Germany and the policing of thoughts that were not favourable to the regimes in place.
The intertextual perspectives on dystopic futures on display in Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four develop an appreciation for the contextual values and political landscapes that prompted the development of these texts within audiences. Both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four depict the societal fears of unbalances in power, excessive surveillance and the uncontrollable progression of technology. Both texts provide not only insightful didactic messages from the periods from which they were contrived, but also serve as a reminder for future generations, making them ageless classic texts.
Human Form and Power: Metropolis, Left Hand of Darkness, and “The Hood Maker”
In science fiction, composers challenge traditional perspectives on humanity in order to investigate the way in human form influences power dynamics within texts, which is conveyed through the use of a variety of forms and features in response to the authors’ contextual background. This is demonstrated in Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness (Darkness) which, informed by Le Guin’s feminist background, portrays a planet inhabited by ambisexual beings. Correspondingly, the expressionist film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, and Phillip K. Dick’s short story the Hood Maker both implicate creative perspectives on human form, responding to Lang’s German political situation of the early twentieth century, and Dick’s context increasing nuclear technology during a Cold War period. All texts investigate the effect of unconventional human forms on power distribution within a fictitious society.
Authors and directors create worlds in which alternative expressions of human forms are represented, in order to critique upon aspects of the respective author’s contexts. Such is evident in Darkness, wherein at the beginning of the novel, protagonist Ai illustrates his lack of understanding for the Gethenian social orientation, and through this Le Guin skilfully demonstrates his gender prejudice. Ai explains how on Earth men and women want their virility and femininity regarded, yet on Gethen this does not exist, ‘One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.’ Le Guin employs high modal language – ‘appalling’ – which creates a somewhat satirical tone as the audience realizes the absurdity of Ai’s idea that being regarded as equal beings an appalling experience, highlighting the justness of a society in which there is only one gender. Le Guin continues to draw on her feminist background, evident through a conversation in which Ai attempts to explain the difference between men and women on Earth. In response to women completing most of the child rearing tasks, Estraven asks, ‘Equality is not the general rule, then? Are they mentally inferior?’ The idiom, ‘general rule’ illustrates the lack of equality on Earth in comparison to the normality of equality on Gethen, which is enhanced through the repetition of questioning punctuation in conjunction, as Estraven finds it difficult to grasp the differences in the treatment of different genders. Through this, Le Guin’s underlying purpose of creating an ambisexual expression of humanity can be interpreted, clearly encouraging the audience to consider gender inequalities in their own societies.
In Metropolis, the increased worth of technology results in the decreased value of human life, leading to the oppression of the workers of Metropolis in order to maintain maximum efficiency of the machines. Equivalently to Darkness, this parallels to the composer’s context, as a divide beginning to form in Lang’s society during the Weimar Period of Germany, between the proletariat and the bourgeoise. Lang utilises experimental features to represent the workers as part of a machine, evident in the introductory scene of the film, where the scene focuses on a group of workers who are all wearing matching uniforms and identical despondent facial expressions, and marching in rigid unison. The dismal semiotics of proletariats through costuming and movement demonstrates the mechanisation of humans who are visually represented within a sympathetic, pitiful manner, this leads the audience to question the value of efficiency at the cost of human life. Thus Lang responds to the technocracy of his context by employing a variety of techniques and representing humans as machinations, as Le Guin correspondingly draws on her own feminist contextual background in order to craft messages relating to gender through the use of unique forms and features.
Through the exploration of human forms which challenge the norm, composers investigate the different possibilities relating to power and ruling dynamics. In Darkness, Le Guin leads us to consider the way in which power is distributed in our own society, through Ai’s continued journey in Gethen. As he comes to recognise the startlingly equal power distribution in the ambisexual world that is non-existent on Earth, Ai states, ‘Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive.’ The accumulation of juxtaposing terms representing male and female stereotypes, contrasted by a forward slash, skilfully illustrates the power dynamics of Earth which are determined through gender, however; by using the term, ‘consider:’ the audience is lead to think in the hypothetical, of a world without these imbalances. Le Guin further explores this, ‘No child over one a year-old lives with its parent or parents, all are brought up in the Commensal Hearths. There is no rank by descent. All start equal.’ In comparison to the quote above where the power distribution of Earth is dependent on gender, it is clear from this quote that due to the lack of gender constraints, everyone starts equal. This is emphasised through the repetition of ‘all’, which continues to suggest the immense egalitarianism of Gethen, and works in conjunction with the repetition of ‘no’, which stresses the absence of exclusion or discrimination. This is further supported by the short sentence structures which suggest there is no alternative, all only start equal, overall illustrating how power dynamics in Gethenian society is different to that of our own, thus leading the audience to recognise the power discrepancies in our own society.
The exploration of power is also evident in the 1955 short story The Hood Maker. The text reflects Dick’s Cold War context, whilst reflecting his personal interest of politics, through a world which explores the power struggle, after a nuclear outbreak years ago resulted in the appearance of telepaths, or ‘teeps,’ whom are a challenge to the traditional human form by the addition of their telepathic abilities. Cutter, an individual who believes the teeps are involved in an insurgency expresses, ‘Most teeps believe they are the natural leaders of mankind. Non-telepathic humans are inferior species. Teeps are the next step up, homo superior.’ Dick utilises an idiom, ‘the next step up,’ to emphasise the way in which Cutter perceives Telepaths, whilst the italicised scientific made-up term continues to express Cutters fear of the ‘teeps’ gaining power through appealing to the audience’s ethos by appearing to present Cutter with credibility. Dick further emphasises Cutters belief that humans should not be governed by Telepaths, ‘A telepathic faculty doesn’t imply general superiority. The teeps aren’t a superior race… They’re no different from the Jacobins, the Roundheads, Nazi’s, Bolsheviks,’ the slang term, ‘teep’ continues to evoke a sense of disrespect towards the telepaths, and seems to emphasise the fact that Cutter does not view them as human beings like himself, which in concurrence of the listing of different elite ruling classes throughout history which the audience would associate with negativity, continues to emphasise the Cutter’s profoundly disapproving attitude regarding the Telepaths. Through Cutter’s beliefs surrounding the rule of humanity, Phillip K. Dick continues to illustrate that there will always be groups of people who believe they have the right to rule, and those who oppose, regardless of whether their ability may indeed mean they are the most fit to be in power. Through the texts Darkness and Hood Maker, it is clear that composers challenge the traditional human form to experiment the ways in which power distribution can be affected, which is expressed through a variety of forms and features.
Composers of science fiction texts utilise forms and features in order to depict alternative expressions of human form which challenge the norm, in order to critique upon an aspect of their own context. Such is demonstrated in Metropolis, as Lang utilises filmic techniques to depict humans in a machine-like manner in order to respond to his context of growing technocracy. Equivalently, informed by her feminist values, Le Guin crafts a world of unconventional expressions of humanity through the creation of ambisexual beings, in order to critique upon the distribution of power dependent on gender in our own society. In his work, though, Phillip K. Dick employs a variety of techniques to explore the possibilities of domination in the future through telepathic beings.