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Themes in Metropolis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1011 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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Channelling a zeitgeist of Totalities, Metropolis explores how dystopic values result in loss of humanity. The reductionism of the workers, debased to mindless cattle through the stark uniformity of costuming and emotionless body language during “Shift Change”, foreshadows the deteriorating economic situation as Germany approached the Great Depression. The dehumanisation of the proletariats as they move through the Worker’s City is emphasised by the movement of intertitles down the screen. It suggests that the workers have become part of the functional elevator they are riding in, mirroring their social status as the recurring motif of inferior ‘Hands’ to the superior ‘Head’;  addressing the emerging post-war social stratification experienced by Lang’s original audience. The workers’ grim reality sharply contrasted with the gaiety and decadence of the Eternal Gardens, a twisted biblical allusion to the Garden of Eden. The gaudy courtesans and men are ironically dehumanised, as their frolicking in this utopian, idyllic setting gives them a deified yet carnal quality. Lang thus degrades their humanity until what remains is an animalistic baseness, inflated by their expressionist acting resonant of the style in post-war Weimar nightlife. Consequently, the film reveals Metropolis as a cinematic masterpiece hybridising traditional pastoral Germany and the post-war world one modernist era.

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In stark contrast, Orwell, holds a deeply pessimistic perspective, specifically positing the weakness of character in response to oppression. 1984 is a clear reaction to the prevailing 1940’s social orthodoxy which blindly lauded the totalitarian methods of the USSR, and as such, expounds the inevitable subjugation of humanity under state control. The “two minutes hate” is seen to easily avert the citizenry’s oppressed frustrations to an external inimical target, highlighting the malleability of human passion, while the heretic Goldstein’s verbosity evokes that of Soviet dissident Leon Trotsky, thus allowing Orwell to equate the Party’s despotic practices with the USSR’s. In addition, whilst the use of a third person, limited point of view allows for the comprehension of Winston’s stark individuality, the parataxis in “He loved Big Brother” is jarring, and suggests Orwell’s firm belief in the inevitable weakness of the human spirit against oppression. It is a bleak coda in contrast to that of Metropolis, thus emphasizing the inevitable overwhelming of the human spirit by oppressive forces. Furthermore, the ultimate dismantling of personal reason is illustrated in O’Brien’s self-reflexive “They got me long ago”, suggesting his previous individuality, now dismantled, with such nihilism emanating from Orwell’s own betrayal and persecution by pro-Soviet socialist comrades whilst serving during the Spanish Civil War. Further raised in the Party’s mantra “He who controls the past controls the future” this attitude emphasises the perpetual overwhelming of human expression under oppressive regimes.

Metropolis also condemns the degeneration within Langs social zeitgeist by capturing the destructive consequences of revolutions, echoing a period of instability in the rebellions against a fragile democracy. Lang reflects Hitler’s futile Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, through the biblical allusion of the construction of the Tower of Babel, foreshadows the destruction of Metropolis to didactically warn against anarchy and revolution. Fredersen’s frantic repetition of, “where is my son?!” coupled with theatrical acting in an Expressionist fashion emphasises his profound emotional turmoil, positioning audiences to align with Lang’s perspective that in the struggle to “rise against” the present, the future of ensuing generations will be compromised. By extension, the juxtaposition of Maria’s struggle to stop the flooding against Grot’s ease in initiating this change affirms Lang’s perspective that it is far more difficult to wind back revolutionary change, echoing Germany’s cataclysmic period of hyperinflation fuelled by the Ruhr uprising in 1923. Thus, Lang’s portrayal of revolution to entail destructive consequences clearly stems from contextual influence of the revolts in Weimar Germany.

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Unlike Metropolis, 1984 draws on the beliefs of the time to present an ideological critique of technology as a propagandist tool for manipulation. In keeping with his obsession with national security and through recurring motifs of surveillance, Orwell portrays technology as a means for the Party to amass unchallenged orthodoxy and fear, evident in Winston’s apprehensive tone, ” … no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any moment”, representing loss of individual agency. Embodied in the brutal personification, “you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face-for ever,” and compounded by the fact that “Minitrue’s” technology allows the past to be ” … erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.” Relaying contextual fears of a possible Stalinist regime, Orwell’s polyptoton illustrates that time and ‘truth’ can be obliterated by technology, reducing them to mere symbols of human fallibility. Furthermore, people can be “vaporised”, “You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed”, though the anaphoric use of “will” is ironic since 1984 operates as Orwell’s didactic commentary. Orwell aligned with Lang’s perspective that there is no possibility of a future when the usurpation of natural boundaries through technology as a tool for manipulation results in such a dystopic society.


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