Metropolis: A silent Blockbuster

By Tim Angerame
Entertainment Editor
Editor’s note: When this movie was released internationally, over 50 minutes of the movie were cut. A lot of the footage was believed to be lost until recently. The version of this movie being reviewed is taken from “The Complete Metropolis” DVD, who’s creators restored the lost footage and presented as closely as it was originally seen in Germany in 1927.
The surging popularity of the multiple award winning film “The Artist” reintroduced a lost art to the world: the silent film. In the birth of the film industry, technological limitations of the time made directors fully realize that dialogue alone cannot tell a story. In a film without any dialogue, directors and actors put special focus on emotion and physical acting to convey the story. A movie without sound is like a person who is deaf. To adapt to life and make up for the sense he or she doesn’t have, his or her other senses heighten to above average levels.
Metropolis“, directed by Fritz Lang with a screenplay by his wife Thea von Harbou, is a shining example of conveying a story with little dialogue.
Metropolis is a gigantic city. It’s huge. Really huge. Imagine Los Angeles and New York combined and the buildings are Dubai height. Ever play “Bioshock“? Well imagine the underwater city of Rapture, but above ground. Below Metropolis is the Worker’s City, where the lower class toils long unbearable hours to keep the city running.
The story centers around a young upper-class man named Freder (Gustav Fröhlich). While walking in a beautiful Metropolis garden, he sees that a beautiful worker girl named Maria (Briggite Helm) has briefly escaped and is showing the workers’ children the garden. “These are your brothers,” she says.

Stricken with Love, Freder goes into the Workers’ city to follow her and sees for himself the terrible conditions in where the workers work. Frightened, he goes to his father, the master of the city Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), in the New Tower of Babel that dominates the center of Metropolis. Joh Frederson explains that even though the workers’ hands built the city, they belong in the depths. When Freder leaves, Joh Frederson hires a spy known as the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) to spy on his son.

Freder trades places with a worker named Georgie (Erwin Biswanger) and discovers Maria to be a sort of prophet who proclaims peace and that there must be “the heart” must be a mediator between “the head” (management, the upperclass) and “the hands” (labor, the lower class). Freder agrees to be the mediator, but unfortunately Rotwang the inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) wants to take Maria and inject her presence into a robot called the Machine Man (who looks like C-3PO’s hot sister). From there he will turn his mechanical Maria into a false prophet to destroy the progress that the real Maria has made.
The cinematography and scenery look absolutely beautiful. The way the setting was presented truly made me feel like I was in a gigantic utopian city and not in a regular city staged to look like one. I actually had to keep reminding myself that this movie was made in 1927. 1927! Where sound was not even heard in movies and color was something that we were still trying to perfect. No wonder this movie’s budget was 5,100,000 Reichsmark, one of the most expensive movies of its period. I can’t translate that into today’s money because this movie is so freaking old that the currency doesn’t exist anymore, but trust me. It’s a lot of money.
A great deal of symbolism is used nicely in this movie. In one part, Maria tells the biblical story of the Tower of Babel to show the disparity between the managers and the workers. The New Tower of Babel where Frederson resides mirrors depictions of the tower of Babel. False Maria does a dancing performance for Metropolis’ upper class in a costume closely resembling the Whore of Babylon.
The acting is nothing short of phenomenal. Especially by Brigette Helm, who played Maria, the Machine-Man, the Creative Man, Death, and the Seven Deadly Sins. What really stood out to me in her acting was the way she portrayed the real Maria and the false Maria, the Machine Man in disguise. Both the real and false Maria look exactly the same, right down to the outfit. The difference is in personality. The real Maria is sweet, nurturing, human, and encourages peace and understanding. The False Maria is way more provocative, speaks of destruction, and gives little eye twitches and strange body movement to insinuate that something’s a little off.
The story is timeless. The premise of class struggle is relevant especially today. I just loved the way it handled it. The score is also excellent, building the right suspense at the right time. You may have noticed that I mentioned media like “Star Wars” and “Bioshock” throughout this review. That’s how influential this movie is.
The only thing that bothers me about this particular cut of the movie is that there is a missing scene where Joh Frederson hears of Rotwang’s disobedience towards him while he holds the real Maria captive. He bests Rotwang in a fight while Maria escapes but we never know anything about Frederson’s reaction towards meeting her in person.

Even without sound, a movie can be phenomenal and this movie is living proof. It’s like the oldest movie I’ve ever seen and I can’t recommend it enough. With its effects, storyline, and overall presentation, “Metropolis” is a movie that is truly ahead of its time.