Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Metropolis -- need for a Mediator
Director: Fritz Lang, 1927.
Metropolis is widely acclaimed as a classic. As a silent film, it uses pantomime effectively, communicating the story with minimal dialog (shown on cards). It has influenced many famous science fiction films, including Blade Runner and Star Wars. It still remains a powerful vision of the future.
The film is set in the future where two classes of people exist. The workers wear dark clothes and live in an underground city where they tend the machines that keep society running. Theirs is a toilsome existence, working ten hours a day until they can stand no longer. They are the hands of society. The thinkers wear white clothes and live above ground where they enjoy the fruits of the workers' labors. Theirs is a life of luxury and indulgence. They are the brains of society.
When the movie opens Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), son of the society's leader Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), is playing in the Eternal Gardens. When a poor woman emerges from the elevator followed by a crowd of kids, poor shoe-less children, Freder's heart is captivated by the woman's beauty and broken by the children's plight. They are people, fellow brothers and sisters. Following them he descends into the bowels of the earth where he discovers the workers that keep Metropolis running. When he sees a worker die at his job, and then one of the machines explode, killing several, he has a vision. He sees Molech, the pagan god. And the workers are human sacrifices being fed to this hungry god by the rulers.
Returning to the good life he comes to his father to report this shocking vision. His father is at the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Metropolis looking out on the infrastructure of the city, the airplanes, trains, and cars, much as Tyrell did in the later Blade Runner. But this news is no shock to Joh. Freder is stunned that his father knows this.
Freder, whose life has been changed by this incident, determines to do right and descends once more into the depths. This time he exchanges places with one of the workers. Trading places, he has to work for the first time in his life. At the end of his shift, Freder goes with the rest of the workers into the catacombs where they hear a message by the woman he followed -- Maria (Brigitte Helm). She preaches peace and hope. A mediator will come. In fact, Freder realizes he himself is the mediator. He understands in an instant that he must bring them liberation from this class oppression.
Class oppression is an issue of social justice. Oppression has been around since the beginning of time. The Israelites experienced oppression early in their existence in Egypt where they were forced to be slave laborers by Rameses (Exod. 1:11-14). The Bible makes it clear that the poor are a distinct class of people that should not be exploited (Exod. 22:21; Lev. 25:35). Indeed, Jesus said we would always have the poor with us (Matt. 26:11); but there is a difference between presence and oppression. Exploitation and oppression are crimes against humanity and sins against God. Even classless societies, such as ideological communism, tend in practice towards class distinctives and class oppression, when the leaders become rulers and quickly oppressors. This has been the lesson of the 20th century.
Enter Rotwang the bitter and twisted inventor (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). He has constructed a machine man, a robot that became the inspiration for C-3PO in Star Wars, and offers it to Joh with a hidden agenda. Trapping Maria, Rotwang wants to give his machine her appearance. He has created man, but this first "human" is a woman. This woman, Maria, is a creepy evil temptress who tempts the rich thinkers into sin. Their descent is characterized by the seven deadly sins, and death in the form of the Grim Reaper ravages the above-ground city.
Meanwhile, this same evil Maria descends into the workers' city to sow discord. She incites them to rebel and destroy the machines. They don't understand that by killing the machines they are killing Metropolis including their underground city. And in the madness of their rage, they forget the innocent, their very own children.
Metropolis is filled with Biblical parallels. There is a clear reference early to Molech the pagan god of the Ammonites (Lev. 18:21). Rotwang acts as a god who creates man in the image of his choice, a woman (Gen. 1:26). Maria recounts the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9), when humanity spoke a common language but wanted to put themselves in the place of God. Joh has in some way put himself in this very position, in building the huge towers of Metropolis. Maria herself illustrates two different biblical "people." In the evil mechanical Maria, we see Babylon the temptress of Revelation (Rev. 17:3-6). She ushers in wickedness and leads many to their doom. In her peaceful persona she is a type of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11-12). He came as one who would point the way to the coming Messiah (Matt. 3:3). He foretold Jesus, the Mediator. This Maria looks ahead to the coming mediator of the workers. Then there is the Mediator himself.
In the climax Freder emerges clearly as the mediator. As Maria points out in one of her sermons, "There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." This is what Freder literally does, and in doing so he is a type of Christ. Jesus is the mediator between men and God (1 Tim. 2:5). Man, being sinful (Rom. 3:23), cannot approach a holy God (Lev. 19:2). We need a mediator who can bring us together, and Jesus has done this in himself, carrying our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). The love beating in the heart of God for humanity caused him to send Jesus to live as a man and die in our place (John 3:16). Freder beautifully exemplifies this mediatory work of Jesus.
In Metropolis, Joh wanted to destroy the workers' belief in the Mediator, knowing that when this belief is gone so too is their hope. And a people without hope are much easier to control and oppress. He attempted to do this by deception and the use of the false Maria. Today there are examples of countries and societies that wants to destroy people's belief in the Mediator, Jesus. These societies, too, use deception, the deception of denial of biblical truth. When truth is buried, lies emerge. And with lies come persecution of those who stand for truth. As more countries push for tolerance we will see religious intolerance in the persecution of Jesus-followers. Only the Mediator can bring the hope of a peaceful future.
Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM