“Metropolis” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four”

May 13, 2019 Architecture

Question: It is not only a comparison of ideas but also textual form that develops our understanding of how context shapes the composer’s’ perspective.

A comparison of the ideas and textual forms of Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) develops our understanding of the unique political and industrial threats faced by Lang’s and Orwell’s respective societies. Differences in textual fonn vividly capture how context shapes composers’ perspectives on whether individuals can successfully challenge threats to humanity from politics and industry. Metropolis reveals economic anxieties caused by rapid industrialisation, but influenced by Weimar Germany’s Golden Years, is optimistic about social reform. However, influenced by the turbulent geopolitical climate post-WWII, Nineteen Eighty-Four offers no hope for
humanity to survive in a brutalised, totalitarian society.

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“Metropolis” uses cinema’s visual possibilities to condemn governments who exploit workers for economic gain, instead urging cooperation to achieve social equality. Lang represents fears that the rise of mass production would reduce workers to mere machines through a montage of pistons pumping and indistinguishably-costumed workers trudging into an underground factory. Lang visually juxtaposes this against the clean lines and futuristic Art· Deco architecture of the City of the Sons. This contrast reveals how film allows Lang to expose the dangers of rampant capitalism and poor working conditions in WWI. Thus, the Tower of Babel scene, which depicts. hordes of workers filling the frame and overwhelming their oppressive masters, can be read as Lang’s warning to his society that rebellion is inevitable if industry threatens to devalue and degrade workers for the gain of plutocrats. While Lang’s unnatural visual effects, when the False-Maria is created, criticise govenunents that use technology to manipulate the populace, Metropolis’ optimism for social reform that promotes equality stems from the culturally and economically flourishing Golden Years of Weimar Germany. Lang’s hopeful perspective is displayed when foreman Grot and ruler Fredersen link hands in a symbol of reconciliation of labour and capital, emphasised in the intertitle: ‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.’ Metropolis visually reflects the hope of the inter-war reconstruction period while simultaneously warning its context of industrialisation’s potential to degrade workers.

“Nineteen Eighty~Four’s” portrayal through language of an extreme totalitarian state, which psychologically controls its citizens, prompts responders to challenge erosions of political freedom. Whereas Metropolis depicts how technology entrenches economic divisions, Orwell’s stark imagery of’ 19th century houses shored up with rotting timber’ shows how stagnant industry can also threaten humanity and dignity, and develops our understanding of how totalitarian states like Stalin’s USSR shape Orwell’s polemic of how citizens are politically manipulated by propaganda. In contrast to “Metropolis”, Orwell’s novel views technology as a subsidiary yet integral part of a more pressing political threat, like how in the Cold War, the purpose of technological advancement was for political gain. Through simile of ‘the vindictiveness that flowed like an electric current’ in the ritualistic Two Minutes Hate, Orwell warns how Cold War nationalism threatened to produce societies based on political restriction of the individual, self-abasement and war-frenzy. The euphemistic Newspeak neologism ‘ unperson: you did not exist, you never existed’ cleverly uses textual form and Orwell’s control of language to display how the Party’s control of language renders rebellion impossible. Having witnessed two world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons, Orwell’s bleak predictions for the future of humanity are expressed through Goldstein’s treatise, which foreshadows a world where the ideals fought for in Metropolis are destroyed: ‘human
equality was a danger to be averted.’ O’Brien’s horrific metaphor, ‘if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever’ develops our understanding of how Orwell’s context shaped his perspective that resistance against totalitarian power is futile. Thus, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s novel form enhances our understanding of Orwell’s context’s disillusionment with political systems that restrict individual freedoms.

The triumph of Metropolis’ protagonist Freder signifies Lang’s perspective that by working together, individuals and society can bring about economic change and equality. As the privileged son of “Metropoli’s’ ruler, Freder’s realisation of immense inequality is intensified through extreme Expressionist distortions only made possibly through the film medium. A low-angle shot of Moloch, the pagan god of sacrifice, develops our understanding of how industrial threats to humanity in Lang’s context shaped his critical perspective. When Freder operates the hands of a clock, his deformed body and pained facial expressions are visually reminiscent of Christ’s crucifixion, thereby characterising his struggle as noble and heroic, Lang’s representation of Freder as a guardian of the human spirit is developed further when, after Maria implores the workers to wait for a mediator, with chiaroscuro lights in the foreground as Freder clutches his heart. Eventually Freder upholds Lang’s conservative Christian values of respect and love, and defeats the False-Maria, who is costumed in with heavy makeup as the Whore of Babylon to represent the dangers of sexual deviance, hedonism and indulgence that threatened to derail Weimar Germany’s economy. Thus the visualisation of Freder’s success, which develops our understanding of how economic concerns shaped Lang’s composition of “Metropolis”, was only possible through using film as the textual form.

However, the inevitable defeat of “Nineteen Eighty-Four’s” everyman Winston indicates Orwell’s perspective that humanity cannot endure against unprincipled political power. In contrast to “Metropolis'” outspoken hero, Winston’s omniscient narration in his diary shows how he can only silently challenge the Party’s suppression of basic human instincts: ‘always in your stomach there was a dull protest, that you were cheated of something you had a right to.’ Winston’s ideological subversion culminates in a sexual relationship with Julia, a metaphorical ‘blow struck against the Party … a political act’ which challenges how the Party, and similar dictatorships in Orwell’s context, suppress human sexuality and relationships. The moving aphorism ‘if you loved someone, when you had nothing else to give, you still gave them love’ exemplifies how Orwell’s emphasis on language in his textual form portrays Winston as a stoic defender of humanity, individuality and love. However, Orwell’s perspective that totalitarian governments· can and will ultimately sacrifice individuals for the sake of ideology is reflected in the coral paperweight, a symbol of beauty, shattering, along with Winston’s exclamation ‘so small it always was!’ This portrays “Metropolis'” glorification of humanity as idealistic and simplistic, and develops our understanding of how differences in context produce considerable differences in Lang’s and Orwell’ s perspectives. O’Brien’s insulting, degrading tone towards a broken Winston represent the defeat of humanity against political oppression, rather than its triumph: ‘You are a bag of filth. If you are human, that is humanity.’ Thus, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” novel formably demonstrates Orwell’s perspective that individuals cannot stand up to political institutions that seek power for power’s sake.

Comparing “Metropolis” and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” allows us to see how contextual fears about politics and industry shape Lang’s and Orwell’s ideas about the future of humanity. However, how they express their perspectives through markedly different textual forms develops our understanding the most. Their representations of their constructed dystopias and protagonists’ journeys allow us to see how context shapes their criticisms of and predictions for humanity and society.


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