Metropolis Might Make More Sense than it Appears To: A Few Thoughts

I know this is the “random thoughts” section, and I’m still only posting about entertainment. You might be thinking, “Man, does this guy have any sort of life outside of entertainment?”, and the answer is no, but I promise that I intend to at some point put something in the “random thoughts” that isn’t entertainment-related. I’ll get there. But while I get there, let’s talk about a movie called Metropolis.

Metropolis is a 1927 silent German film, and it is regarded as an epic, of the scifi genre. I could talk about how it’s got some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen come out of something so old, or how it’s story line is thoroughly driving, but I wanted to go a different route. The whole film seems a bit nonsensical, but I’m going to make a speculation that may give it some more cohesiveness.

The film is about Freder Fredersen (I know, but bear with me), who lives in the metropolis, which seems to be the only dwelling place for all of earth’s inhabitants. The year is 2026, and Freder’s father Joh is in charge of the metropolis. Freder, on following a pretty but lower-class school teacher, accidentally stumbles on the secret underground dwellings beneath the metropolis, where he finds millions of people being put to slave-like work in order to keep the futuristic city’s machinery running. Convicted by this new knowledge, he explores it further and eventually fights with his father, sparking a revolt and bringing the whole of Metropolis literally crumbling into ruins. But Freder gets through to his father, who in the end sees the error of his ways and agrees to work with the lower-class dwellers to rebuild the city and all live as one united people.

Along the way, Freder finds that his school teacher is also a secret prophetess, encouraging the workers at night with promises of Metropolis’ fall and the workers’ rise, which eventually comes true. Meanwhile, Joh sees a scientist friend of his, who has managed to make a robot look like a human being, resembling the prophetess exactly, and the robot goes on a masquerade as the prophetess, leading everyone astray. So what is going on in this movie?

The movie draws alot from the Bible, especially Genesis, with the Tower of Babel account. The largest tower in Metropolis, which is Joh’s office, is even called the New Tower of Babel. It seems like this is almost an alternative version of the Genesis story, in which the people of the world were successful at establishing Babel and all living together. In the Bible, they were unsuccessful, and God destroyed their tower, giving them different languages, and in that way spreading them across the earth as he had commanded them to do. But if that hadn’t happened, what would that have looked like in, say, 2026, when Metropolis takes place? Even in Genesis, God said “Together, there is nothing they can’t do”, so what if that made 2026 look like a futuristic paradise?

But the catch is that people will be people. To continue on the Biblical ideas, humankind is fallen, after the original sin of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Since that time, mankind cannot avoid doing wrong to some degree, no matter the intentions behind the actions. Metropolis leaves background information and history to the audience’s imagination, but what if humankind united in Metropolis, had some people take turns working the machinery, and eventually, as some grew richer and more powerful, they began to justify upper- and lower-class citizens? That could easily progress to masters and slaves, and if the head of Metropolis decided to shove all the machinery and workers underground to cover up what would soon be blatantly wrong, the next generation would know nothing about it, like Freder.

Even when Freder and the prophetess were doing the right thing by saving the city, the robot prophetess came along to distract everyone by partying and ignoring the problem, claiming herself as their leader. In those scenes, passages from Revelation concerning “the beast” flashed across the screen, and suddenly the prophetess versus the robot became the saviour versus the anti-saviour. In Revelation, this would be defined as Christ versus the Antichrist, and while the Antichrist misleads the world for a while, Christ will come back and reign in the end, defeating the Antichrist and evil in general. This is the same as the progression of the latter part of Metropolis. And in some small ways, to go back to the Christian theme, every time someone sins or does wrong, he is giving in to the misleading of the world and evil, but repenting to God brings salvation and forgiveness through Christ, who offers a clean slate, much like how Metropolis ended. Of course, this doesn’t permanently separate people from doing wrong, so the whole cycle starts over again. In this light, Metropolis doesn’t really have that happy of an ending, because the whole thing is going to happen all over again, maybe just manifesting in a different way. But I’m not trying to ruin the movie for you, I promise.

All of this is speculation: it might not be what the makers of Metropolis were going for at all when they made the film. But if that is the underlying theme, then it makes a ton of sense to me, being that the film itself had it’s confusing moments. Essentially, the whole film is an alternative to the Tower of Babel account combined with a symbolic take on Revelation, in order to portray how human nature tends to do wrong, but also that salvation is available. I wouldn’t call it a Christian movie, just one that heavily borrowed Christian themes. It also makes you think: alot of people have realistic expectations for world peace and unity… but what would happen if the world really was unified? Metropolis was unified, wasn’t it? Chew on that one for a while.

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