"The science fiction film that started it all…" the DVD case proclaimed. For years I have seen and passed Metropolis by as I perused the discount bins; however, today I decided to splurge and dropped $6 on a DVD edition of Fritz Lang’s silent film from 1926.
Not really knowing what to expect—the last silent film I had watched being the 1930 version of "All Quiet On The Western Front"—I was both pleased and disappointed. Being an older film, Metropolis is slower paced that a contemporary movie. As a silent film it relies upon the images to tell the story; the occasional intertitles serving only to supplement the moving pictures. Given these thoughts, my expectations were met and it was the other aspects of the film that were unanticipated by me.
First let me deal with mechanical specifics of this DVD edition:
Now for some reflections on the film. Metropolis assumes the viewer has a basic understanding of Biblical imagery and facts. The film is a retelling of the story of how the Jews were suffering at the hands of the Romans, and were awaiting a saviour who would release them from Roman oppression. The first clue of this connection is the hero’s vision of workers being sacrificed to Moloch, the Canaanite God of Fire.
The movie closes with this hero being cast as a mediator who has traveled down to the physical depths (literally) where the workers live, taken on their form (wearing their uniform & doing their work), and then bridging the gap between the ruler above and the people below. If you didn’t catch the connection, the hero is a Christ-figure.
Despite the allusions to a Biblical story, this film is not presenting an evangelistic Christian message; rather it is a cry on behalf of humanism, calling out for men to allow their hearts (i.e., compassion) to moderate how those who lead cause their visions and plans to be built.
The film is neither for or against communism, capitalism, Christianity, or any other political or religious worldview. Instead, Metropolis asks that in whatever society we live, and whatever future we live in, that we would be mindful of the circumstances of those around us.
One subtext of the film appears to be that women are undervalued and are a part of the way forward into a sane and compassionate future. The manner in which the heroine became transformed into the ultimate instrument of evil also seems to suggest that simply adding women to the mix isn’t sufficient: those women must also allow their hearts to mediate their actions.
Regarding the film score: while the music may have been written for, or inspired by, the film, I found the music to be a distraction. The pace of the music was often disconnected from the unfolding of the story on the screen.
This is a film that was well worth watching. I truly hope that someone who appreciates its art will lovingly restore it. With today’s computer processing capabilities, an almost complete restoration of the images should be possible. The creation and addition of a new film score and appropriately engineered sound would open this silent film to a new generation of movie goers for whom the antiquated presentation of the original film is too foreign.
A post script: after writing this review, I did some Googling to add links to the review, I eventually determined that the film has been digitally restored; although, the goal of that restoration was to return the film to its original condition and not to enhance it to make it accessible to younger movie goers. Further information can be found on Alpha-Omega digital GmbH’s website.
For some detailed information about the original film see Augusto Cesar B. Areal's Metropolis Home Page (now defunct; I've provided a WayBack Machine link to the old site).