Analysis of Fritz Lang's
Metropolis (1926)

Mid-Paper: Written Communication 3: “Argumentation” (FFLCH/USP)


 1) Summary of the Movie:


The story takes place in 2026, in a cold, mechanical, industrial world. Since this movie was produced not long after the industrial revolution, it could be a foreshadowing of what the world would have been like if the industrial revolution had kept growing.


The city of Metropolis is a crowded one where people are either of the privileged elite, or of the repressed, impoverished masses. Vast numbers of the lower class live underground to run the machines that keep the above ground Metropolis in working order. The workers run the machines, but the machines run the lives of the workers through machinery and clocks. In contrast, the other portion of this futuristic world plays and delights in the gardens and stadiums.



2.a) Main Topic:


The film is about the oppression through automation in modern societies, somehow very similar to what Chaplin did in “Modern Times”. Metropolis's theme is also connected with both fascism and communism — the most powerful political ideologies of that time in Europe . The idea of the film is that masses are oppressed and the event of a revolution represents a real risk to the establishment. So, in order to justify a repression against the working class, the master of Metropolis sends a robot who, disguised as their leader (Maria), leads them to destroy the dam and flood their homes.



2.b) Author’s Positioning about the Topic:


It is obvious that the author is against the mass oppression and the lack of humanization the new industrial world was announcing, which would culminate in very oppressive regimes such as the German Nazism one.


But Lang believed the change should be done not through a revolution but by means of a “mediator”, as evidenced in the last scene. This idea of mediation was used by Hitler when he announced himself as being the Führer (guider, conductor) of the German society: this is not Lang’s fault as even Nietszche ideals of “superman” were also used by the Nazis to glorify the “purity” of Arians.


Despite his Jewish backgrounds, there are rumors that Joseph Goebbels has called Lang to his offices for a meeting in which he was informed that his most recent film (The Testament of Dr Mabuse, 1933) was being banned as an incitement to public disorder but, notwithstanding this, the Führer was so impressed by his abilities as a filmmaker in Metropolis that he was being offered a position as the head of German film studio UFA.



2.c) Author’s Arguments to Support the Topic:


First of all, it is necessary to remark that more than a quarter of the film must be regarded as irretrievable lost. And that few other films have been so systematically changed, mutilated, corrupted as this one. Shots and titles have been omitted and changed.


Although Metropolis is a silent movie, the main (ideological) arguments (or events) are present in the original script and may be synthesized in eight passages, as follows:


1.    The beautiful and evangelical Maria takes up the cause of the workers but she advises them not to start a revolution but to wait for the arrival of "The Mediator" who will unite the two halves of society;


2.    Shocked at the workers' living conditions, Fredersen’s son, Freder, becomes involved with Maria and joins her cause after experiencing the hard lifestyle of the workers;


3.    Fredersen learns of the existence of the robotic gynoid built by the scientist Rotwang and orders him to give the robot Maria's appearance as Rotwang wanted to give the robot the appearance of Fredersen's dead wife, Hel (both men had been in love with her, but in the end she had married Fredersen);


4.    By doing so, Fredersen wanted to spread disorder among the workers that would give him the pretext to carry out a retaliatory strike against them. The real Maria is imprisoned in Rotwang's house in Metropolis, while the robot Maria becomes an exotic dancer in the city's Yoshiwara nightclub, also fomenting discord among the rich young men of Metropolis (decades later, this scene originated Marilyn Monroe's famous performance in "Diamonds are a Girls' Best Friend" as well as Madonna's "Material Girl");


5.    The workers are encouraged by the robot Maria into a full-scale rebellion, and destroy the "Heart Machine", the power station of the city. However, the destruction of the machine leads to the city's reservoirs overfilling, which floods the workers' underground city and seemingly drowns their children, who were left behind in the riot;


6.    The children are in fact saved in a heroic rescue by Freder and Maria, without the workers' knowledge. When the workers realize this, they attack the upper city: the crowd breaks into the entertainment district and captures the robot Maria, whom they believe is responsible for drowning their children;


7.    They burn the robot at the stake, and when Freder sees this, he believes that it is the real Maria and despairs. However, Freder and the workers then realise that "Maria" is in fact a robot, and see the real Maria being chased by Rotwang along the battlements of the city's cathedral;


8.    Freder chases after Rotwang, resulting in a climactic scene in which Joh Fredersen watches in terror as his son struggles with Rotwang on the cathedral's roof. Rotwang falls to his death, and Maria and Freder return to the street, where Freder unites Joh and Grot, the workers' leader, fulfilling his role as the "Mediator".


However, the most convincing arguments are not properly related to the script or sequence of scenes itself but to the plastic aspect of the movie. The film features special effects and set design that still impress modern audiences with their visual impact, based on the contemporary Modernism and Art Déco, being Metropolis inspired by the high skycraps of New York City.


Also, it is important to remark the German Expressionism, especially related to acting direction and evidenced in memorable scenes where spot lights frame actor’s performances.



3) Analysis of the Argumentation in the Movie:


With an aim to make easier the understanding of the argumentation which is present in Metropolis, the eight passages previously listed will be classified as follows:


Ø    Logical Appeal (“logos”):


“The strategic use of logic, claims, and evidence to convince an audience of a certain point”;


Ø    Ethical Appeal (“ethos”):


“Used to establish the writer [or character] as fair, open-minded, honest, and knowledgeable about the subject matter. The writer creates a sense of him or herself as trustworthy and credible”;


Ø    Emotional Appeal (“pathos”):


“Not surprisingly, emotional appeals target the emotions of the reader to create some kind of connection with the writer. Since humans are in many ways emotional creatures, pathos can be a very powerful strategy in argument. For this same reason, however, emotional appeal is often misused - sometimes to intentionally mislead readers or to hide an argument that is weak in logical appeal. A lot of visual appeal is emotional in nature (think of advertisements, with their powerful imagery, colors, fonts, and symbols)”.


Considering the criteria above, the following analysis will, thus, apply:


1.    Ethical Appeal: Do not to start a revolution but wait for a mediator, instead (probably an anti-communism statement);


2.    Ethical Appeal: The future “mediator” is someone who must be shocked at the poor workers' living conditions;


3.    Emotional Appeal: Both Fredersen and Rotwang are human beings who already loved someone (Hel), despite of financing/creating “robots” (or “monsters”, just like the “vampires” of other German Expressionist films);


4.    Logical Appeal: Fredersen is a kind of co-villain as he planned to make the robot with Maria’s face to spread disorder among the workers in order to justify a further retaliation against them.


5.    Ethical Appeal: The masses can be easily manipulated and any imprudent reaction to the establishment may revert in serious damage to everybody;


6.    Emotional Appeal: The hero and future “mediator” is the one who saved all children so he has a good heart;


7.    Ethical Appeal: They burn a robot (not Maria) involved in a life of lust. Maria is fully virtuous and a victim being chased by the villain (a very moralistic issue also present in other contemporary film: Pabst’s “Pandora’s Box”);


8.    Logical Appeal: The one who killed the main villain (Rotwang), saved the heroin (Maria) and regenerated the capitalist (Fredersen) is totally qualified guide the Masses (communism).



3) C o n c l u s i o n:


Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is certainly a masterpiece of the movies and it belongs to the Mankind. Cast direction still causes impact to the public despite of the typical excesses the expressionist way of acting has. Plastic innovations are also very advanced for its time and the Special Effects are remarkable.


Notwithstanding all this, the ideology of the film is questionable even for those who had the privilege to see it in the first half of the 20th Century. Nowadays, we can easily go so far as to say that both script and arguments are totally naïf.