The View of the Destruction of Human Society by George Orwell and Fritz Lang, As Depicted In 1984 and Metropolis
By utilising foundational fixtures of their worlds, George Orwell’s mid-Twentieth Century novel 1984 and Fritz Lang’s early-Twentieth Century film Metropolis warp what is known to impart uncomfortable truths. In light of the Cold War’s utilitarianism and the Weimar Republic’s economic downfall, both Orwell and Lang position the reader in a climate of dystopia, wherein vulnerability in the face of social collapse is broached via Orwell’s totalitarian setting and Lang’s Heart Machine, symbolic of war-time paranoia and the economisation of humans as resources. Conversely, Winston’s symbolic death as a cell of the Ingsoc system despite rebellion illuminates the immortality of social structures, as evident in the role of Goldstein in controlling insurgence. Likewise, the plight of the workers as an allegory to the Tower of Babel illustrates a disillusionment from God, wherein despite the protest, the workers can only find salvation from Joh Frederson, an allusion to God, and are thus trapped within the religious paradigm. This incites the audiences ire, as delusions of personal power are subverted, thus leaving individuality questionable and the future bleak.
In light of the Cold War’s utilitarian outlook and the Weimar Republic’s economic collapse, both Orwell and Lang incite their audience’s outcry by utilising a climate of Dystopia to deconstruct foundational delusions. In 1984, Post-WWII fears of vulnerability in the face of greater global powers is approached via the totalitarian setting, wherein maintained war-time processes and perspectives, specifically in rationing, as noted in “boiled cabbage”, and enforced trust in the government system, as noted in the filial presentation of the political head, Big Brother, is established to create a sense of familiarity. Orwell deconstructs this via characterising the Ingsoc system as subversive to the individual, as the motif of the tele screens illustrates invasiveness, and total control is evident in “No way of shutting it off completely”; a hyperbole of war-time suspicion and paranoia. This is confronting for Orwell’s readers, as awareness of this oppression only maximises Cold War vulnerability. Thus, “ignorance is strength”, making disillusionment to preconceived structures futile; this conflicting message a cause for contention. Likewise, in Metropolis, Dystopia is translated via futuristic setting, wherein the German Expressionist portrayal of the city-scape as enormous and bold embodies the sense of powerlessness felt by Lang’s audience; overpowered by the economy and their function within it. This is apparent via the symbol of the Heart Machine, a representation of the corporatisation of human beings following the desolation of WWI, as observable in the industrial image of the workers. Similar to Orwell, Lang presents a dissonant voice; whilst technological and corporate entrapment is signified, specifically embodied by the workers as tools for the Elite’s Utopia, Lang reimagines the economic Dystopia as a spiritual one. “That people are consumed by the machine does not prove that the machines are greedy, but rather portrays the defective material of the people themselves”. Thus, Lang’s audience is presented with a foreboding image, wherein even if the “head” and “hands” meet, spiritual healing is questionable.
Hence, what is truly concerning is the transcendental nature of social structures. With Winston as a reflection of the powerless post-WWII populace, his death as a cell of the Ingsoc system in the denouement symbolises the omnipresence of larger paradigms, and the subsequent failure of human voice. This is apparent via the god-like characterisation of Big Brother as “watching”, ever-present and “large”; something insidious, which as evidenced by the betrayal of love and loss of trust between Julia and Winston, “gets inside you” and destroys disloyalty. This ultimate vulnerability is further evident in the betrayal of O’Brien and the truth behind Goldstein, wherein by “making the revolution in order to establish a dictatorship”, rebellion itself is hijacked and utilised as an extension of the government system, thus completely removing personal power. Hence Orwell’s message reveals itself to not be a conflicting one, but one of futility, wherein personal protest is a “cruel, needless misunderstanding”, and where joining the collective is “death”. Likewise in Lang’s film, a spiritual paradox is evident. Whilst the post-WWI population’s disillusionment from the religious paradigm is visible in the workers’ enslavement to the heavenly elite, observable in the workers’ questioning of their “proper place, the depths”, their reliance on Joh Frederson to find salvation, specifically as he, similar to Big Brother, acts as an allusion to god, reveals their ensnarement; a confronting truth. However, hope is still present; whilst both the human spirit and the original Tower of Babel failed, there is a “New Tower of Babel”, thus a possibility for the “head” and “hands” to meet, specifically as Freder successfully acts as the mediator, the “heart”, in the denouement. Subsequently, Lang’s audience is encouraged to have faith in preconceived spirituality, making the imposing future truth less dire; a reflection of the difference in voice between the two post-war perspectives.
In conclusion, by disvaluing definable social structures of their worlds, both Orwell’s 1984 and Lang’s Metropolis play to an audience’s sense of imbalance, therein enforcing a holistic perspective. Whilst both utilise Dystopia to offset preconceived truths, Orwell using a totalitarian setting to hyperbolise war-time fixtures and Lang using the symbol of the Heart Machine to embody the economisation of Germans during the Weimar Republic, it is the omnipresent nature of social structures that truly unsettles their audience. Winston’s death within the Ingsoc system symbolises this, illuminating rebellion as a tool against insurgence, and thus a futility in individual voice. In contrast, the hope presented in the denouements meeting of the head and hands illustrates a contrasting perspective, wherein Lang’s post WWI voice offers a salvation for its readers that the post WWII voice does not. Thus, 1984 and Metropolis offset each other, illustrating that whilst both present imposing future truths, circumstances drive whether their audiences are redeemable or not.
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