Metropolis— another silent German Expressionist film from the ’20s (1927 to be exact)… this time directed by the great Fritz Lang. This film straddles the fine line between horror and science fiction, but for the intents and purposes of this project, we’ll call it horror.
The movie takes place in a futuristic city (rather reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Gotham in his two Batman movies) where the rich live on the top level, and the proletariat, who keep the city from literally collapsing (due to the way it is structured) live and labor in deplorable conditions underground. The top level leader’s son, Freder, accidentally learns of the underclass when he meets Maria, a prophetess who preaches to the people below, giving them hope and advocating a non-violent solution to their plight. Freder admiringly tells his father, Jon, of her, not knowing that he will want to destroy her. To do this, he kidnaps her and has the mad scientist, Rotwang, create a mechanical double not of Jon’s deceased wife, but of Maria in order to destroy her credibility. Chaos ensues.
A lot of truly great talent made this film possible, and the actress who played Maria and her wicked double, Brigitte Helm. Both women are completely different (even in their facial expressions and movements), and both wield a great deal of power. They are both eloquent speakers and charismatic leaders who have the power to prevent, start, and stop riots. Admittedly my knowledge of Weimar cinema is sketchy, but even in Pre-Code America, a woman wielding that kind of power (religious and political) is unusual. Also, the true Maria is never a damsel in distress. She gets kidnapped and scared, yes, but once Freder lets her out, she takes charge of the situation again while maintaining her principles of non-violence. What a woman! What a leader!