I love my friends because sometimes they enable my movie collecting ways. Today’s movie is a good example of that. My friend Chad had apparently ordered a T-shirt and this DVD came with it and since he did not want the DVD, offered it to me. Now this is one of those movies that I have always heard about but never got around to buying so when it was offered, I jumped at the chance to own it. Long considered to be one of the early greats of the science fiction genre, it’s time to see if Metropolis lives up to the hype.
The plot: In the futuristic world of Metropolis, a subjugated working class work an maintain the city’s machines while the wealthy citizens of the city live in high-rise complexes. Freder, the son of the city’s master Joh Fredersen, is relaxing in a garden with some of the other members of the elite society and is about to kiss one of the women when the doors to the garden suddenly open. A woman named Maria walks through the doors, followed by a large group of the worker’s children. Maria wanted to show the children how the rich people live but they are quickly escorted away. Freder is fascinated by Maria and after learning that she is the daughter of one of the workers, he decides to follow her. Reaching one of the machine rooms, Freder gets distracted while watching the workers work when one of the machine explodes, Rattled by the explosion, Freder has a vision of the machine being a giant and the workers continuously walk into it’s mouth to be swallowed up. After shaking off the vision and seeing the injured workers being carried away, Freder leaves and goes to tell his father what happened. When his father hears what happened, he asks why Freder was down in the machine room and Freder tells him he wanted to see how his brothers lived. He says that the workers built this city but wonders what would happen if they decided to revolt. When the foreman arrives with some plans that were found on two of the dead men, Joh get’s angry at his assistant Joseph for not telling him about all this first and fires him. Realizing what Joseph might do after being fired, Freder goes after him and prevents him from killing himself. Freder goes back down to the machine room and catches one of the workers, Gregory, as he collapses from exhaustion. Freder switches places with Georgy, staying to work on the machine while sending Gregory to wait for him at Joseph’s apartment. Meanwhile, Joh goes to see an inventor named Rotwang, who shows Joh the robot he created which will be able to replace living workers in the machine rooms. Joh shows Rotwang the plans and he figures out they are polans to some acient catacombs beneath the city. Meanwhile, Freder is trying to read the plans when one of the workers sees him and tells him that another meeting has been called after the shift. As he continues to work the machine, Freder comments about how he didn’t know 10 hours could be torture, as he is unused to physical labor. When the shift ends, Freder follows several of the workers into the catacombs for the meeting. Meanwhile, Rotwang and Joh also head into the catacombs to see what could interest the workers down there. In the catacombs, Freder is surprised to see Maria leading the meeting, Maria tells the assembled workers that a mediator will come to unite the ruling and working class so they should try and be patient. Overhearing Maria’s speech to the workers, Joh tells Rotwang to make his robot look like Maria, then hide the real Maria in his house while the robot is sent to spread discord among the workers. Meanwhile, the meeting disperses but Freder stays behind and speaks with Maria, professing his love for her and saying that he could be the mediator she spoke of. Maria gives him a kiss on the cheek and agrees to meet with him later but after Freder leaves, she is grabbed by Rotwang. Meanwhile, Freder goes to the cathedral to meet with Maria but doesn’t see her there. As he passes Rotwang’s house, he hears Maria’s cries and goes inside but ends up being trapped inside the house. Meanwhile, Rotwang uses his machines to transform his robot into a duplicate of Maria. When the process is complete, Rotwang sends the robot to another room where Joh waits, then goes to see Freder. Joh sees the robot and tells it to go down to the workers and stir them up into doing criminal acts. Freder sees Joh with his hands on Maria and passes out in a delirium. Days later, Freder wakes up but is still plagued by his dreams in which he saw a grim reaper coming for him. Meanwhile, Rotwang tells the reall Maria that Joh is using the worker to incite violence so that he can respond in kind to the workers. The robot Maria tells the assembled workers she is tired of being patient and they should destroy everything. Joseph goes to see Freder and tells him what is going on and Freder leaves with him to try and stop it. When Freder arrives at the meeting, he tells the workers that she is not the real Maria but he is recognized as being Joh’s son and attacked but Georgy manages to save him but is killed in the process. With MAria leading them, the workers all head down to the machine rooms and begin destroying the machines. Meanwhile, the real Maria manages to escape and heads down to the lower city where the workers live and seeing it start to flood due to the damage from the machines, she works on rescuing the children, who were abandoned when all of the adults left to destroy the machines. Freder and Joseph hear Maria signalling for help and lead her and the children to an airshaft so they can escape the flood, with Freder saying that this is the real Maria. Back in his office, Joh is told about what happened and is horrified about what occurred and realizing his part in it. Maria, Freder, and Joseph take the children to the Eternal Gardens and then Maria says she will go tell the workers the children are safe. Back in the machine rooms, the workers are celebrating the destruction they caused when Grot, the guardian of the Heart Machine, makes them realize that they left their children in the city, which is now flooded. Realizing what they have done, the workers become angry at Maria and go after her. The robot Maria has gone to where the rich people live and is partying with them when they are met by the workers and she is grabbed by the angry mob. The robot Maria is taken to the middle of the city, where she is tied to a stake and set on fire. Freder tries to break through the crowd and save her but the crowd holds him at bay. As the flames envelope Maria and reveal her to be a robot, the crowd is shocked and Freder spies the real Maria being chased by Rotwang on the roof of the cathedral and goes to rescue her. Joh shows up on the street and watches as his son struggles with Rotwang on the roof of the cathedral. When Grot and the workers move to attack Joh, Joseph intercepts them and tells the crowd that Freder and Maria saved their children, causing the workers to rejoice. Freder and Rotwang continue their struggle until Rotwang loses his balance and falls to his death. Freder and Maria embrace and share a kiss and as they exit the cathedral, Freder fulfills Maria’s prophecy of a mediator by linking hands with his father and Grot, to help symbolize a union between the two classes.
Metropolis met with mixed reactions from the critics at first but has now been regarded with high praise, as shown by it’s certified fresh rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is that it is, “A visually awe-inspiring science fiction classic from the silent era.” The original cut of the film was lost so the only available copies were missing almost 25% of the movie. However, several prints have since been found so that the movie can now be seen with almost 95% of the original footage. The movie was a flop in it’s original debut as it only earned about half of what it cost to make.
The one problem I have with silent films is that you really have to pay attention in order to follow what is happening. If your mind slips, you might end up lost. That being said, this was an interesting movie to watch. It is kind of hard to judge the acting but I do think that Gustav Frolich (Freder) and Brigitte Helm (Maria/Machine Man) both did great jobs with their roles; with Gustav doing a good job portraying the various emotions during his delusions and Maria switching from the good Maria and the evil robotic counterpart. The story was ok as it seemed to showcase the struggle between the working and elite classes that is older than the movie itself. I do think there were a lot of future movies that had some inspiration, either knowing or unknowing, from this movie. A fairly recent movie that comes to mind is Land Of The Dead, which featured the wealthy people living in the highend apartment buildings while the normal people were forced to live outside in crude shelters. For the time, I guess the special effects were pretty good but I honestly can’t judge for certain on that. Personally, I think the movie fell a little short of all the hype but that could be because I have only watched one of the shorter versions of the film. I will say that it is worth watching if for no other reason than it will be something different.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5