Thursday, 18 November 2010


Last night I went to see Metropolis as part of the Leeds International Film Festival.

It's an early, black and white, silent, science fiction movie, made in Germany in 1927.  It seems to have had a big influence on many later sci-fi movies, including Star Wars and Blade Runner (for more info see here).  It was also the most expensive silent film ever made!

I guess there can't have been too many science fiction films around in 1927 and when it was first released it must have made a huge impact with it's strange vision of a hi-tech dystopian future.  Like most science fiction films though, it connects with its audience by dealing with themes that are common to our daily lives and experience.

Metropolis is a futuristic city, where everything is powered by machines which are built and tended to by the workers.  The workers work long hours and are forced to live menial lives underground, while the managers and planners, along with their families, live above ground in luxury in the city which the workers have built and keep running.

The first thing that struck me about this arrangement was the starkness of the injustice and how shocking it appears on screen.  The second was how similar it is to many aspects of real life which we're all a part of and often either don't notice or deliberately turn a blind eye to.  In particular it made me think about how much Western capitalism is built on the exploitation of the developing/under-developed world, both through trade agreements which reward producers with a pittance for their crops, materials and manufactured goods, and through cheap labour where workers are frequently forced to work long hours for minimum rewards in unpleasant and unsafe surroundings - to produce goods for consumers like us, most of whom live in (at least comparative) luxury!

Apart from strong social themes, the film also contains a lot of religious imagery.  One of the central characters, Maria, tells the story of the Tower of Babel (taken and adapted somewhat from the Old Testament book of Genesis) and compares it with Metropolis.  Hel, the evil female robot who exploits people's moral weaknesses and brings death and destruction wherever she goes is compared with the Whore of Babylon in the New Testament book of Revelation.  The robot is first shown with her head in front of a Satanic star, where Maria, who counsels the workers to wait for a peaceful solution to their problems, is shown in an underground church surrounded by crosses as she presents her case.

WARNING - THIS PARAGRAPH CONTAINS A PLOT SPOILER.  When Joh Fredersen, the ruler of the city, learns of Maria and her influence over the workers, he decides to sow discord among them and so he employs the help of Rotwang - a mad inventor and the creator of the robot Hel.  Fredersen orders Rotwang to make the robot look like Maria so he can turn the workers against her whilst manipulating them to his own ends.  This reminded me so strongly of all the ways in which the God I worship has been and is misrepresented - such that people are oppressed in His name, or forced or inspired to do terrible things, or learn to hate Him based on the false impressions they've received.  The workers go from being incited to violence by the false Maria, to hating her for the things she's made them do, while all the time the real (and now misunderstood) Maria is working tirelessly and peaceably on their behalf...


  1. Wow! That's a cracking film summary and theological statement all in one - inspiring, as ever - thanks for sharing that Dan :)

  2. Thanks James - very nice of you to say so!

    The film summary is tailored to the issues I wanted to discuss and so shouldn't be treated as a complete overview - I've actually completely missed out the main character, though to be honest I don't think it makes all that much difference to the plot!


If you don't have an account, and you want to leave your name, select "Name/URL" from the "Comment as" drop list below. Then just enter your name (you don't have to supply a URL) and click "Continue".