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"Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many."
It tells the story of a society divided in two, the workers on the underground and the wealthy on the exterior, how Freder, the son of the supreme ruler of the city, falls in love with a worker named Maria and the class confrontation between them fueled by Rotwang, a Mad Scientist rival of Freder's father Fredersen.
Aside from its progressive storytelling, it is also known for being heavily fragmented, the results of both heavy Bowdlerization in its trip to foreign markets, and of poor preservation techniques back in the '30s (plus a little thing called World War II).
Up to 25% of the original footage was considered lost before turning up in a museum in Argentina in 2007, albeit in inferior picture quality. The rediscovered footage was cleaned up as well as possible and integrated into the existing restored footage. The rediscovered version also confirmed the exact running order of shots, which in previous versions could only be guessed at. This new version runs only about five minutes short of the original 1927 German cut, as opposed to nearly an entire hour shorter in some versions. Unfortunately, two scenes still remained too badly damaged to restore, and were replaced by title cards. It made its big US debut at the Turner Classic Movies festival in 2009 and on television on Turner Classic Movies in November 2010. This nearly complete version was released on DVD and Blu-ray in late 2010.
This Troperiffic film is either the Trope Codifier or possible Ur Example for approximately 65.4% of science fiction tropes. Not to be confused with the anime film of the same name, which is Suggested By but not adapted from it.
Also notable is the 1984 color-tinted restoration by composer Georgio Moroder, which is only available on VHS and LaserDisc due to its controversial 80's pop soundtrack. Until now, anyway. Moroder's version is available on Netflix instant streaming (alongside the full restored cut).
Works it has inspired:
- The anime film and manga, Osamu Tezuka's Metropolis.
- Blade Runner in particular is considered a Spiritual Successor to this film.
- An Elseworlds one-shot that combined this Metropolis with Superman's.
- Singer Janelle Monae's Metropolis series of Concept Albums.
- A musical theater adaptation of the film.
- Kraftwerk's Man Machine album, which includes a track titled "Metropolis", a nod to the film.
- A mad scientist named Rotwang appears in Tiger and Bunny- complete with Robot Girl creation.
- Mechanique, a DC comics robots villainess, IS supposed to be the (time traveling) creation of Rotwang (and is obviously based on Robot!Maria.)
- The robot, before the transformation into Maria, looks quite a bit like C-3PO. Also, the transformation sequence itself was elaborated and refined in Frankenstein.
Trope Codifier, or Ur Example for the following sci-fi movie conventions:
- AI Is a Crapshoot
- Cathedral Climax
- City Noir (with giant tower with heliports on top overshadowing everything)
- Collapsing Lair
- Eternal Engine
- Evil Hand (quite possibly robotic hand)
- Evil Knockoff
- Explosive Overclocking: The Heart Machine after it is left unattended.
- Flying Car (possibly, as far as its usual sci-fi portrayal goes; the planes dashing between buildings may not look like cars, but seem to fill the same role, and similar shots remain popular today)
- Gloved Fist of Doom
- Gratuitous Japanese / English signs advertising Mega Corps
- Ludd Was Right: A human rebellion stopped when the workers realize they are dependent on the machines for their lives
- Mad Scientist with Einstein Hair (strangely enough, this was prior to most of Einstein's fame, but then again, who wants to have a trope called "Rotwang Hair?"
- Mega City
- Raygun Gothic (the future will be Art Deco)
- Ridiculously Human Robot Girl (robots in general...)
- Robot Me
- Video Phone
- You Are Number Six
Consequently, many find that Metropolis Is Unoriginal: This movie's tropes, characters, visual style, and special effects have been mimicked to the point of exhaustion. Ironically, on its release people criticized the plot for borrowing heavily from Victorian melodramas and other sci-fi stories; H. G. Wells in particular felt he'd been plagiarized. So some of it may be even older than people think.
Shows examples of:
- Absurdly Cool City: And don't you forget it.
- Alternative Calendar: The workers' day has 20 hours (and their work takes ten), the rich people's the usual 24.
- Ambiguously Gay: Freder. It may have to do with the make-up for the b/w movie, but still.
- Or it could be the fact that he seems to have the strangest affinity for hugging and caressing every human being he comes across, gender be damned.
- Apocalypse Maiden: Robot Maria.
- Artificial Limbs: Rotwang's right hand, because for some reason creating a robotic body requires a human hand as an ingredient.
- As the Good Book Says...: Maria reinterprets the story of the Tower of Babel as a failure of labor relations. A preacher quotes Revelation Chapter 16 in a missing scene, which is later reprised in flashback during Freder's fever dream.
- Background Halo: Maria gets this quite a bit, especially as she is preaching to the workers in the catacombs.
- Bad Export for You: Up until 2003, nearly every version of this movie released in America was based on the heavily edited Channing Pollock version. And then there was the version made in The Eighties... an... interesting experiment.
- Beneath the Earth: The workers' city. And deeply so.
- Big Electric Switch: Rotwang's lab has several of them.
- The Big Guy: Grot aka the Thin Man, and the main enforcer of Fredersen's schemes.
- Big Word Shout: "MOLOCH!"
- Bizarrchitecture: Rotwang's house. With doors that open and close on their own, it's also a Mobile Maze - and noticeably Bigger on the Inside, as several reviewers pointed out.
- Brain Fever
- Burn the Witch: "Burn the witch!" On a pyre made of I-beams and burning automobiles. Too bad she's a robot.
- Character Tics: Robot-Maria's jerking her shoulders, whiplashing her neck and squinting her left eye a bit.
- Clock Tower ending (Cathedral Climax)
- Clothing Damage: Textbook male example, nearly four decades before Kirk.
- The Constant: Rotwang's house is beyond ancient, and sticks out like a sore thumb wedged in amongst the skyscrapers. It also has a secret door leading to The Catacombs.
- Cool Car: The Rumpler Tropfen-Auto. Probably a greater percentage of the total production run of them were destroyed for Metropolis than Dodge Chargers were for The Dukes of Hazzard.
- Crucified Hero Shot: With the Paternoster Machine turned into a metaphorical clock that is going backwards, all the while threatening to overload and explode.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: The upper class' city.
- Death by Childbirth: Freder's mother died giving birth to him, which is another reason Rotwang eventually decides on revenge against the Fredersens.
- Disneyfication: Fritz Lang admitted after making the movie that saying "The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart!" is too simplistic of a way to deal with labor-management relations.
- Disney Villain Death: Rotwang
- Distressed Damsel: Maria
- Ditzy Genius: Maria again. She is an amazing orator with the political will and ambition to push for equality among the upper and lower classes... and when sufficiently frightened she has a tendency to run with arms flailing away from safety, bouncing into walls along the way.
- Driven to Suicide: After he is fired, Josaphat puts a gun to his head, since he is likely to be sent down below with the workers and have all his money taken. Luckily, Freder stops him and offers him a job.
- Elves vs. Dwarves: Rich, hedonistic millionaires against poor, dirty underground workers. Basically.
- Eternal Engine: The entire underground is some sort of Steam and Flame Factory.
- Evil Plan: Initially shown to be Joh Fredersen, though it turns out that Rotwang was the real Chessmaster behind the near-destruction of Metropolis.
- Explosive Instrumentation: Apparently, if the machines(especially the heart machine) are left unwatched for just a few minutes, they blow themselves up with lots of sparks and arc lightning thrown out. The workers don't really have to do anything to successfully turn out all the power in the city.
- Eye Tropes: In Yoshiwara, during Maria's dance, there's a montage of eyes watching her.
- Fan Service: Sure, the scene of robotic Maria dancing provocatively while topless except for large pasties shows just how different she is from the real girl; but it is also definitely Fan Service, and there is even a flashback to it later it the film for no real reason.
- Femme Fatale: The Machine Man.
- The Film of the Book
- German Expressionism
- Gonk: In a film where everyone looks uniform, Rotwang- the Mad Scientist with fuzzy hair, bulging eyes, and a hunchback figure- really stands out.
- Gratuitous Japanese: The apparently European city contains a nightclub inexplainably called the Yoshiwara.
- The Grim Reaper: He has a statue along with the 7 deadly sins in the cathedral. When Freder falls sick, he has a dream of it coming alive, and advancing on him with it's scythe.
- I Have You Now, My Pretty: Every scene between Rotwang and Maria. Especially the one before the transformation sequence.
- Industrialized Evil
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Every version was different for decades.
- And the only full version surviving was apparently acquired by a collector before the first cuts were made, then wound up in an archive.
- Leitmotif: Pretty much each character and event.
- Laser-Guided Karma
Fredersen: I must know! Where is my son?!
- Leitmotif: Gottfried Huppertz's original score, as reconstructed and recorded in 2003 (and again in 2009), features these significantly. Freder, his father, Rotwang, Maria, Robot Maria, the machines of Metropolis, the nightclub-goers in Yoshiwara, and the uprising workers all have their own recurring themes.
- Lost Forever: The rest of the film until it turned up in Argentina.
- Love Makes You Evil: Rotwang wants to destroy the city because Freder's mother chose the city's ruler over him. And then died giving birth to said ruler's son.
- Love Makes You Crazy: The Club of the Sons members start killing themselves and each other over the Maria Machine.
- Mad Scientist: Rotwang. Again, one of the first, and the best.
- Mad Scientist Laboratory: Rotwang's house
- MacGuffin Girl: Maria
- Magic From Technology: Robot Maria's transformation. Of course, Rotwang's whole theme has all the trappings of a wizard as well as a scientist...
- Magic Versus Science: This is Rotwang's whole theme. Inside a giant future Mega City is a little thatched cottage inside of which is a pentagrammed Mad Scientist Laboratory inside of which is a man dressed in robes with a robot hand. Robot Maria's transformation makes him practically a necromancer. In fact the whole film is both a pioneer of sci fi despite being very heavy on biblical imagery.
- Male Gaze: Dramatically demonstrated with the montage of eyes watching Robot Maria during her striptease.
- Meaningful Name / Only Known by Their Nickname: "Der Schmale", meaning "the thin one" (Slender Man Mythos?)
- Milking the Giant Cow: Rotwang only loves one thing more than Hel, and that is wild gesticulation. Robot-Maria shares his liking for it, too.
- Missing Episode: Missing a third of the entire movie for many years.
- Even with the rediscovered version, there are still two missing scenes; one of which is heavily plot-relevant.
- To make matters even worse, there have been rumors that there are even more missing scenes that were cut from the film before it's German premiere to help shorten the time of the film. It may be very likely that Lang didn't destroy these scenes and there may be even more unseen footage for this film.
- Monologuing: Rotwang.
- Mobile Maze: Rotwang's house. The doors can be completely sealed at a whim, which his uses against Freder and Maria at different points.
- Morality Chain: In the novel, Hel for both Joh Frederson and Rotwang. She not only kept both men from killing each other (though you could hardly blame them, what with their love triangle and all), she also made sure both men didn't let power go to their heads.
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate: Rotwang
- The Morlocks: H. G. Wells got one up on Metropolis with this plotline, but Fritz Lang is more sympathetic.
Joh: Let the dead rest in peace, Rotwang. She's as dead for me as she is for you.
- Nightmarish Factory
- No Waterproofing in the Future: The plumbing and electrical systems are tragically intertwined.
- Notable Original Music: The original soundtrack, plus the entirely different Moroder version (see below).
- No OSHA Compliance: Something of a plot point: The "M-Machine" that Freder stumbles upon during his trek through the underground city overheats and explodes, killing everyone in its vicinity. The dead workers are casually hauled off and a new set comes in to take their place. Witnessing this scene is what makes Freder sympathetic to the workers' plight.
- Oedipus Rex: Freder fighting his father and Rotwang with Rotwang's confusion of Maria with Hel together make a Freudian theme. Freder just thinking he's seen Maria with his father causes him instant mental collapse.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Rotwang wants to kill the Fredersens and destroy the city.
- Overclocking Attack: To destroy the Heart machine. The Foreman tries to stave off Robot-Maria with a big wrench.
- Psychotic Smirk: Robot-Maria.
- Reality Subtext: Maybe. Fritz Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, was originally married to actor Rudolf Klein-Rogge, but she had an affair with Lang and ultimately divorced Rogge. In the movie and in the original book, the woman Hel was married to Rotwang (played by Rogge) but eventually had an affair and married Joh Fredersen. As Harbou wrote the original screenplay and story, it's possible she wrote it as a parallel to her own life situation, so a lot gets made of this coincidence. But on the other hand, Lang and Rogge remained good friends and worked together until Lang left Germany, while Rogge also continued to work with Harbou on several other movies. Needless to say, there's been debate.
- Red Right Hand: Rotwang. As he says: "Isn't it worth the loss of a hand to have created the workers of the future?"
- Reluctant Mad Scientist: In some versions of the edit, Rotwang really just wants his lover back.
- Replacement Goldfish: Rotwang originally wanted the robot to replace Hel, before Joh ordered him to make it into a duplicate of Maria.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Well, the workers don't really want to kill their masters, just blow up the machines. But they don't think it through very well...
- Ridiculously Human Robot: Futura/Robotrix/Fake Hel/Fake Maria/Machine Man/etc.
- Robot Girl: Futura/Robotrix/Fake Hel/Fake Maria/Machine Man/etc.
- Say My Name: A rare silent example occurs after Maria's kidnapping, where Freder runs through the city "shouting" Maria's name via intertitle cards.
- Schizo-Tech owing mainly to Zeerust. Notable in the use of ticker-tape machines and 1920's era automobiles everywhere.
- Specifically, consultation of the ticker tape causes Fredersen to immediately contact the Foreman on a flatscreen video phone/surveillance monitor.
- Seven Deadly Sins: Fake Maria is seen as the epitome of this. Statues of the seven deadly sins are shown and even animated during a dream sequence, while she sits on top of a statue of a seven-headed dragon.
- Shout-Out: Oscar Wilde's quote "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it" on a Yoshiwara flyer.
- A Sinister Clue: Rotwang's left hand.
- Soundtrack Dissonance / Crowning Music of Awesome: Giorgio Moroder's version is a love it or hate it, cult adaptation. Featuring Jon Anderson (of Yes), Pat Benatar, Adam Ant, "Destruction" by Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler, Freddie Mercury, Cycle V and Moroder himself. Yes. Hard to find.
- Spiritual Sequel: This film was to the 20's what Blade Runner was to the 80's.
- Springtime for Hitler: Director Fritz Lang intended this film to be anti-Nazi propaganda (the party was still rising to power during the time this film was released). Ironically, the Nazi Party loved the film, causing Lang to despise his own work.
- Lang's wife Thea von Harbou, who co-wrote the Metropolis script and had written the original novel, joined the Nazi Party in the early 1930s. The couple divorced not long after that. While Lang emigrated to America soon after the Nazi takeover, von Harbou remained in Germany and made movies for the Nazis until the end of World War II also brought an end to her career.
- Standard Snippet: The "Dies Irae" theme figures heavily in the original soundtrack by Gottfried Huppertz, as does a tweaked version of the Marseillaise.
- Technicolor Science: In a black and white film no less. Rotwang's lab when he is transforming his mechanical girl has milky white liquids, transparent liquids, and dark colored liquids all boiling and bubbling away in strangely shaped glass containers.
- The Three Faces of Eve: Maria - Mother, maiden and sex machine. The Oedipal themes come free with the package.
- Thousand-Yard Stare: Josaphat's BSOD after being fired by Fredersen. He's so shocked and unable to focus that he can't find the doorknob on his way out.
- Thunderbolts and Lightning: The destruction of the machines.
- Title Drop: Rotwang talking to Joh Fredersen calls the city "your metropolis". No Name Given?
- In a restored scene, the Thin Man can be seen reading a copy of the Metropolis Courier.
- Torches and Pitchforks: Or rather wrenches and lanterns. For the workers and upper classes respectively (although the latter did not initially intend anything destructive. But once they collide with the workers...).
- The Tower: "Gigantic, unimaginably huge, looms-over-everything" variety.
- Tower of Babel: referenced, with significant alterations. Maria's retelling alters the facts and changes the moral. The hubris is inverted ("And on the pedestal these words appear: 'Great is the world and its Maker, and great is Man!'") and retribution comes from paying too much attention to the idea and ignoring the workers. There is no confusion of tongues, but another clever inversion ("The praises of one became the curses of another. Although they spoke the same language, they could not understand one another's words"). The New Tower of Babel at the heart of the city is absolutely untouched by the destruction and the divided classes are reunited.
- Two Guys and a Girl: The backstory of Rotwang, Hel, and Joh. It didn't end well.
Joh: Surely a mind like yours must be able to forget...
- Unfortunate Name: Oh, poor Rotwang. A child with a name like that was doomed to become evil. (Needless to say it probably wasn't the case when the film was made, but today...)
- Why? What's wrong with "Rotwang"? It doesn't sound too awkward for a German surname. But it does literally mean "Red-Cheek". Make of that what you will.
- Also having a character called Hel was too close to Hell for the liking of American censors, who removed all reference to her - along with several important plot-points.
- Urban Segregation: Again, almost a Trope Codifier, with the rich living in gardens and clubs high above the city, and the workers living in a poorly built underground city.
- Villainous Breakdown: Rotwang, after Joh Fredersen ambushes and beats the crap out of him.
- We Will Use Manual Labour in The Future
- In an audio commentary it is suggested that this is intentionally done by the city's leaders, so they have better control over the lower classes. In reality, machines are supposed to make life easier and be able to function without humans.
- What Could Have Been: Moroder made the rock opera version after outbidding David Bowie, among others, for the rights. God knows what he... scratch that, probably even God doesn't know what Bowie would have done with Metropolis.
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic: the whole film.
- Rule of Symbolism, for the most part. You have crucifixion imagery, giant clock face, personified Whore of Babylon, retelling of the Tower of Babel story, animated gargoyles personifying Death and the Seven Deadly Sins, a hidden church in catacombs, an inverted pentagram, talk about "brothers and sisters", the machine as Moloch...
- The Moroder lyrics add a bunch more, with Orwellian shout outs (the edition was timed to release in 1984), references to "infinite circles of snakes eating their own tails" and the like.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Georgy (11811), the worker Freder takes the place of at the dial machine, after he goes into Yoshiwara. His story was expanded on in the footage that was later cut and, until recently, Lost Forever.
- Much of the lost footage also pertains to the Thin Man, who follows Freder, Georgy, and Josaphat at Joh Fredersen's behest.
- While Rome Burns: The happy crowd from the Yoshiwara club while the city is being blacked out by the workers' revolution.
- Witch Hunt: Literally.
- Yes-Man: Josaphat. Until he fails Fredersen for the last time.
- You Are Number Six: Georgy 11811.
- You Can Leave Your Hat On: That's right. In 1927.
- Zeerust: Doubly so for the '80s New Wave soundtrack version.
- even on Youtube — apparently FW Murnau Foundation is against it, though they aren't against any other version appearing on Youtube...