Posted by: ckckred | May 21, 2012

Metropolis: The Height of German Expressionist Films

Between World War I and II, it was terrible in Germany. There was great debt and inflation, the rise of Hitler, and the start of persecution of the Jews. But if there was one good thing, one shining beam of light, it was expressionist film.

German expressionist films in the 20s represent a landmark in movie history. Not only are they some of the best films you’ll ever see, but they’re also some of the directed. Films such as Nosferatu and M usually land on many critics’ “best movies” lists.

Metropolis remains the greatest from the era, and is one of the most extraordinary films ever made. Fritz Lang directed and wrote this movie, and uses techniques later used in films such as Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, there is no full complete version of the film, and preservationists all around the world have searched for a complete copy of the film, piecing together 16 and 36 mm versions to create a reproduction.

But just recently in 2010, more footage was found, and a nearly complete version of the film was made, explaining some of the mysteries, references, and subplots moviegoers didn’t understand. Some parts remain unfound, but the story is very much intact, and the film grows even more extraordinary.

Metropolis is about a futuristic city set in the year 2026. The workers and builders of the city live below, operating the electrical machines while being mistreated by their oppressors above.

The film follows Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), son of the city’s leader Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel). One day in his gardens, Freder sees a woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm), who serves a religious leader for the workers. Freder decides to run off to the workers’ city to find her.

Frederson, meanwhile, has heard rumors of a worker rebellion. In order to stop this, he hires Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a scientist who fell in love with Frederson’s deceased wife Hel and has created a robot to try to recreate her. Rotwang is instructed by Frederson to make the robot in the appearance of Maria instead in order to manipulate the workers.

The film is full of biblical and social references. Frederson lives in the Tower of Babel, based off the story from the Bible. The worker’s rebellion may also be a reference to the Russian Revolution that just took place a decade earlier.

Lang’s depiction of the Tower of Babel in Metropolis…

…compared to a biblical painting

Lang later stated his dislike for the film, mostly stemming out to the Nazi Party’s fascination for the film, despite it being anti-authoritarian (which was Lang’s intention). But Lang interprets society needs to stop fighting between classes, and the workers and the elite need to make a truce.

But the most exciting part of the film comes from the special effects. They’re even more revolutionary than King Kong at the time. Eugen Schüfftan, who did the movie’s special effects, used mirrors and miniature effects to create gigantic buildings and futuristic vehicles. This must have surely inspired director Ridley Scott, whose futuristic L. A. in the movie Blade Runner pays homage too.

Lang did the movie so vigorously; he must have made Stanley Kubrick look like Clint Eastwood. Many shots feature hundreds of extras, and one features many people rushing and climbing on elevators.

Like Citizen Kane, Metropolis received its widespread praise in later years. Its impact on the science fiction genre is as great as E.T., 2001, or Star Wars. It’s technologically advanced, terrifically written, well acted, and remains one of the greatest achievements in film history.



  1. It’s hard to get in the mood for a 2 1/2 hour silent film sometimes, but it truly is a masterpiece and a technological marvel. Great post!

    • Thanks! It’s definitely a film that never bored me during its entire span. It’s as well directed as Kane and 2001 too.

  2. […] few months ago I wrote a review for Metropolis.  About a week later I then wrote a review on M.  Ever since then I have always been arguing […]

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