Review: Metropolis

This seminal and pioneering science fiction epic still resonates today.

It only took me 32 years, but I finally watched this film and was blown away. It’s a predecessor to every cinematic sci-fi city landscape, from Blade Runner to The Fifth Element. Vast, impossibly tall structures surrounded by lanes of cars and people suspended by dizzying heights. Oppressive yet impressive in its technological prowess.

The film depicts a city of two halves, those living in the clouds, and those toiling in the sewers. A renegade simulacrum robot adds some spice to the proceedings and the amazing special effects cap a tour de force of directing by Fritz Lang. It’s not a complicated story, revolving around a young man, Freder Fredersen (Gustav Fröhlich) who one day meets Maria (Brigitte Helm), and follows her to the other side of city life, while his father, Joh, the creator of the city (Alfred Abel) conspires with a scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to quell a potential uprising.

The story carries elements of the famous Turing test, i.e – can you tell the difference between AI and human? When the android created by the lovesick scientist is given the face of Maria to create discord within the rebellious worker populace, hijinks ensue.

This film reminds me that cinema is still a young art form. Barely 200 years old, when other art forms like music, art and dance are so much older. And so it should not be surprising that this film uses almost every cinematic technique in the book. Packed with a variety of camera angles, special effects, transitions, adept usage of shadows, even shaky-cam makes an appearance at one point.

The characters are very simple, but strong and well defined archetypes. The film’s only flaw is that you may yearn for more substance, but dismissing the story as simplistic would do it disservice, considering the era it was released, the fact that it’s a silent film, and how there was nothing else like it at the time.

The story twists and turns and ultimately leads to an action-packed climax, that along with giving me the feeling mentioned above about cinema being young, also made me feel that we haven’t progressed much since. You could update all of the special effects, and the climax to Metropolis would be no different than the action packed climax of any modern action film.

The highlight of the film other than the fantastic direction and special effects is the performance of Brigitte Helm. Such a great role for the actor who plays a heroine, damsel in distress and villain.

Metropolis conveys a timeless story about the symbiosis of man and machine, Its visual storytelling may well be unparalleled it’s so impressive, every single shot has something going on in it. Even the depiction of workers carrying out their tasks, is choreographed in a mechanical and repetitive fashion as if they’re machines themselves.

It’s a silent film from 1927, so it’s not for everyone. But if you have a love for cinema, this is one film you must absolutely watch for the sheer spectacle of science fiction cinema being born and defined with fearless pioneering spirit.

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