Metropolis (1927)
Directed by Fritz Lang

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Sometime in the future, men have built a fantastic city called Metropolis, where the wealthy live lives of luxury and pleasure. This breathtaking place is, however, maintained by vast hosts of suffering workers who dwell in dark, subterranean warrens. When Freder, the son of Metropolis' most prominent citizen, Joh Fredersen, sees a beautiful young woman from the working classes and falls in love with her, he becomes aware of the people's suffering and is embroiled in his father's plot to keep them submissive with the help of a robot able to assume the form of a human being.

While much of Fritz Lang's Metropolis is overdone and puerile, it is, nevertheless, a remarkable, wonderful film.


Throughout its duration, the movie is so visually striking that it is always able to captivate the viewer. The city itself is amazingly well realized. Few visions of the future have been as original or as truly awesome as is that of Metropolis. In fact, the city is perhaps the film's most interesting character and is the most prominent element in each scene, overwhelming the actors, the narrative, and everything else with its incredible presence. Every corner of the city is a marvel, from its wild spires and sumptuous gardens to its dismal underground corridors, hellish machinery, and wretched tenements. Metropolis is a place like no other.


Be this as it may, the city is not the movie's only visual triumph. The robot employed by Joh Fredersen to deceive the workers is also unique and memorable, as are the various special effects used throughout the film. The scene in which the robot is brought to life is genuinely inspired and engenders in the viewer a profound sense of strange and threatening awe. That set in the power plant, in which a huge machine is transformed into a monstrous, anthropophagous idol, is eerie and horrific, as is that set in the cathedral, in which statues of the seven deadly sins lurch threateningly out of their niches. The various street scenes, however, which are filled with airplanes, twisting bridges, and vast, monumental structures, dazzle the viewer with these miraculous future technologies and leave him feeling stunned and amazed. There is hardly a moment of the film that is not enthralling simply to look at.


Sadly, Metropolis is far less satisfying narratively. The story's resolution is frankly forced and unnecessarily didactic, and it greatly detracts from the quality of the film as a whole. The stylized acting employed does, fortunately, universalize the action to enough of a degree that the viewer is not awakened from his enjoyment of the movie by the narrative's flaws. Naturalistic acting would only have made the viewer more aware of the childish simplicity of much of the story. The stylized acting actually used, however, maintains a certain degree of abstraction that allows the narrative to be enjoyed in spite of its weaknesses.


Whatever its faults, Metropolis is so stunning visually that it manages to evoke a potent sense of awe in the viewer, enabling him to marvel at the incredible world with which he is being presented. Although not Lang's best work, Metropolis is an impressive achievement.

Review by Keith Allen

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