Fritz Lang and His “Metropolis” Drama Film

One of the most important areas in the history of art ‑ German expressionism ‑ started using a visual picture to convey not only the story but also the characters’ emotional state. Among the prominent representatives of German expressionism in films, there was director Fritz Lang. He can be called a humanist, ‘heir’ to the German symbolists. The expressionists introduced the motif of the man of masses, which Lang remarkably used in his legendary film Metropolis.

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Lang was born on December 5, 1890, in Vienna (Austria-Hungary), in the family of architect Anton Lang and his wife Paula. His mother was Jewish, but converted to Catholicism, and raised her son in a strict religious spirit. Since childhood, Lang was fond of drawing, so after school, he entered the architecture department of the Higher Technical School, preparing to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, already in the first semester, he realized that he was mistaken in choice. A year later, Lang entered the Vienna Academy of Graphic Arts to study painting, and three years later, the Munich Art School (McGilligan 14).

With the outbreak of World War I, the 25-year-old Lang volunteered for the Vienna Artillery Division No. 13 (Ott 22). For three years, he participated in battles and was seriously injured. Being in the hospital, Lang began to write stories that quickly attracted interest from the producers and were embodied, for example, in a film such as Hilde Warren and Death (1917). In 1918, Lang was declared unfit to continue military service and was discharged.

However, his writing talents displayed at the hospital did not go unnoticed. Shortly after demobilization, already in August 1918, the Berlin producer Erich Pommer offered Lang a full-time job as a screenwriter for the Decla film studio, and in 1919 his directorial debut began with the movie Half-Blood (Ott 25). In 1926, the 36-year-old director presented his 12th film, based on his wife’s novel ‑ the epic film Metropolis about a fictional city divided into two parts, where workers live in the underworld and the wealthy elite lives upstairs. The film became the most expensive project in the history of German silent cinema (Gunning 53), having a significant impact on the development of science fiction of the 20th century.

The name itself ‑ Metropolis ‑ means something central, a supercity. The word was designed for the film and became a concept. Metropolis is a huge city-state, growing upstairs, where airplanes fly between buildings, and deep down in the dungeon, there are terrible catacombs in which workers live, where machines smoke, which turned into a new pagan god ‑ Moloch. The film figuratively shows his face, a terrible jaw that swallows people ‑ everything is quite straightforward and expressive.

This is the manifestation of expressionism ‑ an enhanced display of slave life, how people go on command, how they go down in the elevator to some kind of working hell, where a person is turned into a screw. On top of this hill, there is the world of the rich who live there like in paradise. The director demonstrates this with the example of a magical garden of Eden with giant trees.

The film, to some extent, reflects the atmosphere and mood in Europe at that time and, in particular, in Germany. Large-scale industrial projects, in the implementation of which many people are involved, performing the role of “cogs” in strictly organized technological processes. Class contradictions were also characteristic of Germany in those years, which resulted in a sharp rise in the popularity of National Socialists and Communists.

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However, the Metropolis is unique primarily because Lang not only portrayed the sharp contradictions of the era in the artistic manner of expressionism but also to some extent not so much invented as he saw the future, seeing Nazi concentration camps in it, prisoners of Mauthausen building a giant staircase as in his Metropolis. All these doomed columns of proletarians who give their lives to the factory are associated with the rational geometry of the death factories. The chronicle of the dying Berlin of 1945 is also Metropolis. At that time, the desperate leaders of the Reich decided to flood the city metro, along with thousands of people hiding there.

It is interesting to note that Metropolis was Hitler’s favorite film, and Goebbels proposed Lang to lead German cinema (McGilligan 56). However, the director’s convictions manifested at the end of the film ‑ Maria reconciles everyone, asking the capitalist and the leader of the workers to extend their hands to each other. Here the morality arises that the mediator between the brain and hands should be the heart (as a symbol of class reconciliation and tolerance).

Lang fled from Germany to the USA; however, even though he came to the USA as a famous director, having a contract with the MGM film studio, his career did not develop there as successfully as in Germany. Lang made his last film in 1960 and passed away on August 2, 1976, in Los Angeles at the age of 85, surrounded by honors.

This great German filmmaker, for his more than forty-year-long directorial career, has shot nearly fifty films in different countries and different genres, captivating both silent and sound films with his talent. He made an invaluable contribution both to the genre and aesthetics of noir and to the genre of science fiction, enriching the cinema with magnificent techniques of expressionism.

Works Cited

Gunning, Tom. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity. British Film Institute, 2000.

McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: Nature of the Beast, A Biography. St Martins Press, 1997.

Ott, Frederick W. Films of Fritz Lang. Lyle Stuart, 1979.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Fritz Lang and His "Metropolis" Drama Film." June 27, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Fritz Lang and His "Metropolis" Drama Film'. 27 June.

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