The society of the future seen from the 1920s

The society of the future seen from the 1920s

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Title: Metropolis.

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Storage location: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek website

Contact copyright: © BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown website

Picture reference: 07-515915

© BPK, Berlin, Dist RMN-Grand Palais - Photographer unknown

Publication date: February 2008

Historical context

Metropolis a blockbuster by UFA

In the mid-1920s, Erich Pommer, the director of the UFA studios in Berlin, granted the most important German filmmaker of the moment, Fritz Lang, considerable resources to make a film capable of competing with the big American productions. . This very friendly project with imposing modernist settings, recognized today as a classic of the cinema, was at the time a commercial failure.

Image Analysis

The scientist and his double

This photograph represents the mad scientist (played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge), employed by the master of the infernal city of Metropolis, with the robot he created and to which he will give the appearance of Maria (Brigitte Helm), so messiah of the people, in order to control the mass of the oppressed raised. The beautiful contrasting light of this photograph is characteristic of the lighting used in German expressionist cinema of the early 1920s. With chiaroscuro, the play of pronounced shadows, it is a whole plastic of the scenic space that is created. then imposes to translate the anxieties and worries linked to the trauma which shook the foundations of German society after the defeat of 1918. This technique contributes to accentuate here the malefic dimension of the action of the mad scientist.



On the aesthetic level, the film is very influenced by certain contemporary artistic trends: we could thus compare Lang's humanoid robot with Raoul Hausmann's “Mechanical Head: The Spirit of Our Time” dating from 1919. This woman-robot- agitator has something of the character of Cesare, in Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919), sleepwalker used as a puppet by a funfair juggler to commit murders. In both cases, as historian Kracauer has pointed out, scholars indirectly embody the disproportionate and destructive militarism of the Reich government during WWI, while the servitude of Cesare and the mass of workers refers to the attitude of the German people who have been manipulated by this authoritarian power. But Metropolis ends with a happy ending: the insurgents find a compromise with the master of the city and everything is back to normal. The moral of this modern fable (reformist and Christian reconciliation between capital and labor), which in retrospect seems naïve to us, was ultimately in tune with the conformist ideology of the political regime of the time, the Weimar Republic.

  • Germany
  • cinema
  • modernism
  • ideologies
  • Lang (Fritz)
  • militarism
  • Weimar Republic
  • robot
  • 20s


Monkfish EISNER, Fritz Lang, Paris, Cahiers du cinema, 1984.Tom GUNNING, The Films of Fritz Lang, London, Britsh Film Institut, 2001.Siegfried KRACAUER, From Caligari to Hitler. A history of German cinema 1919-1933, Paris, Flammarion, 1987.

To cite this article

Laurent VÉRAY, "The society of the future seen from the 1920s"

Video: The 1960s Idea of The Home of 1999. Flashback. History


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