What does a 1927 silent German film have to do with our current situation? Maybe more than you think
This is not a new reaction. For centuries, mankind has developed a sense of fear when faced with adversity. Of course, this sense expands through multiple extremes. Fear rises before taking a midterm, interacting with a crush and in basic everyday actions. Yet fear can also become a worldwide response, especially when experiencing dramatic moments of change.
There have been crises when the fear and desire for protection was warranted. Financial crises take millions of jobs. National disasters destroyed acres of property. Unjustifiable acts of terrorism claim thousands of innocent lives.
As you sit here and read this, you are currently facing such a crisis. A pandemic is keeping you from seeing loved ones and forcing you to leave your house while wearing a mask and rubber gloves just to purchase a gallon of milk. Truly no one could have imagined such drastic measures occurring when the virus first crept into the country. At a time like this, it is hard to not expect the worst. It feels as if we are living in a dystopia of sorts.
When considering dystopia, I think of Fritz Lang’s silent film “Metropolis.” Lang is a German director and is often distinguished as one of the first exceptional filmmakers of the 20th century. His skill set was on full display in this 1927 film.
The work was developed during a time of torment in Germany — a time of political and economic frustration due to World War I. There was fear amongst the German people and a lack of trust aimed towards the ruling powers of the country. Lang took these observations and placed them in the film, developing a city, known as Metropolis, which was meant to represent a futuristic German atmosphere. The result was a city where the rich overpowered the poor, the working class was exploited and a violent revolution from the victims was near fruition.
Of course, this commentary can apply to nearly all power structures within the United States. But when dissecting the plot of this film, two themes tend to surpass the rest: consciousness and heart.
The main character, known as Freder, is the son of the city’s master. Growing up in a climate of privilege, he became aware of the mistreatment of city workers who lived in a city below Metropolis. He meets his counterpart, Maria, and they attempt to play the role of mediator between the elite and marginalized. (Spoiler, they eventually do at the end of the film).
Why is this applicable to today’s circumstances? Well, from a surface-level perspective, the film fails to be. Nevertheless, the backbone behind Freder and Maria’s journey is based upon recognizing the need for change and acting upon it.
In any case, when the world seems to be stuck in a dystopian scenario, these steps are essential. While there is little we can do in terms of eradicating the virus, we have the duty to restrict it. That means staying at home, keeping our distance and taking what state officials are requesting us to do into consideration. These are the proper steps towards abandoning the dystopia-like conditions we are facing today.
Certainly, the concepts of utopias and dystopias are overplayed. The world will always find a way to be placed in that middle ground. And whether the human population seems to be in a spot of dismay or of complete contentment, the human responsibility will always be to make our current situation better. Freder and Maria teach that. Lang teaches that. The possibility of a dystopia of greed teaches that.