By Philip Schweier
This is it, kids. The grandfather of all science fiction films. It may not have been the very first, but its influence is so overwhelming it can’t be avoided. Upon its release, it is reported to have cost 5 million marks, which translates to approximately $200 million in today’s dollars. The film’s run time is 153 minutes, lengthy for even modern movies. But as a silent, it was beyond epic. Most feature films of the day were an hour at the most.
Freder is the son of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the architect of Metropolis, by whose design the privileged enjoy a life of luxury at the expense of those less fortunate. Freder follows Maria don into the depths of the under-city, where he witnesses first-hand the hardship and suffering of the people who make his pampered life possible. Idealistically, he approaches his father in an effort to win them some reprieve.
Fredersen, meanwhile, pays a visit to the home of Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a crazed inventor. The two were once rivals for the same woman. She chose Fredersen but died in childbirth. Rotwang shows Fredersen his automaton, and the master of Metropolis schemes to have the mechanical creature take the place of the revolutionary Maria.
Eventually, the two factions clash, but in so doing the deception is revealed. Freder challenges Rotwang in a fight atop the cathedral, and becomes the Mediator – i.e., messiah – the workers have been waiting for.
To say the film has overtones of Biblical proportions is putting it mildly. Director Fritz Lang was Jewish, though Hitler was so enamored of the film he chose to overlook the filmmaker’s Semitism. Legend has it Lang left for Paris immediately.
This particular version (on Netflix) was cobbled together from various sources, as long lost prints and negatives had been discovered in various locations over the past decade or so. Previously, audiences could only see about 60 percent of the original footage, though I can’t say very much was missing from the overall narrative.
It’s an important piece of movie history, one I recommend all film enthusiasts see, but personally I found it challenging to sit through. Though not as much as the horrible Giorgio Moroder cut of the 1980s.