1984 & Metropolis — An Analysis

The misuse of power by a higher authority to suppress individuality and freedom can lead to a rebellion. The novel 1984 (1949) written by George Orwell and film the Metropolis (1927) directed by Fritz Lang explores the dangers of compromising the rights of freedom and individuality through the perspectives and values of the protagonists in different contexts. Social inequality and oppression of the lower class in a futuristic city leads to an uprising; and a strict totalitarian regime that suppresses the human identity leading to a personal rebellion.

The rise of fascist leaders such as Stalin exposed Orwell to oppressive leaders who controlled citizens through the use of propaganda and violence in order to manipulate and suppress a society. It led him to create a satirical dystopian novel to exaggerate his contextual issues in order to emphasise the importance of freedom and rebellion against a higher authority. In 1984, the protagonist Winston lives in dilapidated post war Britain. Newspeak is a form of psychological control used by the Party to maintain control and suppress individuals. It uses language to restrict Winston’s individual thought, “Orthodoxy is unconsciousness”(5) The use of metaphor emphasises how the Party manipulates individuals by making heretical thought impossible, it encapsulates individuals in an pseudo orthodox reality. Winston values freedom of thought and self expression,this leads him to rebel against the Party’s values of self suppression through using language in order to maintain his sanity. He writes in his diary, theyll shoot me i don’t care theyll shoot me in the back of the neck i dont care down with big brother” (1) The lack of punctuation and repetition emphasises Winston’s heightened sense of panic and hysteria. It shows his desperation and carelessness of wanting to obtain personal freedom despite acknowledging “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death” (1) The high modality language and short syntax puts emphasis on the fatality of unorthodox thoughts and that small trivial acts of personal liberty such as writing and rebellious thought is worthy of execution. This highlights Orwell’s purpose, to warn against the dangers of suppressive authoritarian governments and to emphasise the value of freedom and individuality through Winston’s rebellion against the party.

Control over the masses is also evident in Lang’s Metropolis. Economic instability, increasing poverty and rapid industrialization in the Weimar Republic created a growing inequality gap between social classes. Lang’s film acts as a political commentary to raise awareness on the inequitable nature of capitalism and its control over the individual’s freedom . Lang illustrates the misuse of control and suppression of individuals through the hierarchical structure of Metropolis. The lower class is exploited in order to maintain the image of a futuristic and modern society. Workers trudge uniformly in mechanized movements, their shoulders slumped and their faces are an unidentifiable mass. The use of the expressionist genre, which includes dark shadows, minimal light creates a visual representation of the inner psychology of the characters; they are dehumanized and lack of any enthusiasm or emotion. Fritz Lang uses Freder’s vision of Morloch to emphasise the exploitation and oppression of individuals. In his vision, the overloading machine morphs into a ravenous demonic creature called Molorch. It is a religious allusion to the god of the ammonites who consumed sacrificed children; this emphasises that the workers are victims of the machines and are expendable parts that can be sacrificed for the development of the society. Lang’s implementation of Karl Marx theory to emphasise how individuals have been suppressed into conformity emphasises the injustices of a capitalist society. It only sees individuals as ways to increase large scale mechanized production ; workers are are not valued for their worth as an individual. Alienated, repetitive labour degraders their humanity and freedom to be an individual.

Orwell warns of a totalitarian regime that is able to resist rebellion, suppress individuals physically and mentally to eradicate rebellious spirit and lead them into conformity. In 1984, Winston’s rebellion against the Party is futile. He is captured and imprisoned inside the Ministry of Peace; and is tortured by O’Brien because of his refusal to conform into self suppression, “What are you? A bag of filth. if you are human, that is humanity.”(3.3).O’Brien uses rhetorical questions and degrading language to emphasise the futility of Winston’s rebellion. Winston does not remain rebellious and eventually in the final chapters of the novel his individuality is manipulated through torture O stubborn, self willed exile from the loving breast! He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.” Winston’s melodramatic tone; which is emphasised by his use of exclamation highlights the shallowness of his emotions, he is now part of a collective identity and lacks any individual thought or feeling. The satirical tone of Orwell is also evident in, “He had won the victory over himself” it is ironic as Winston has been conditioned and suppressed by the party to remove any self expression and any emotion that made him an individual and has in fact fallen victim to the party’ ideals and lost his identity. The loss of Winston’s freedom of expression warns the audience of the dangers of a totalitarian society where humanity does not survive and rebellion is futile and hopeless. the outcome of Winston’s rebellion acts as a warning against the power of authoritarian government and their ability to conform individuals into a passive public.

In contrast to 1984, in Metropolis, the workers rebellion against an unjust and oppressive capitalist society has a more hopeful outcome. Rotwang is a scientist, he uses Maria’s credibility and empathy to create Machine-Maria, a charismatic leader that exemplifies Hitler. Machine-Maria causes an uprising in the lower class and destroys the workers belief in Maria’s preaching of a mediator, Who feeds the machine with their own flesh? Let the machines starve, you fools — Kill them — the machines!!” Her charismatic speech, use of rhetorical questions and, personification of the machines evokes anger; and acts as a catalyst for the rebellion of the lower class. The workers act in a mob mentality and lack any individual thought , which is ironic and juxtaposes what they are originally rebelling against; fighting suppression of freedom and individuality by an authority figure. Despite this, the result of their revolution is still hopeful. A long shot shows Grot, Freder and Joh stand together holding hands, this is symbolic of their unity, “The mediator between the head and hands must be the heart” The repetition of this phrase throughout the film emphasises the importance of a capitalist leader having compassionate and humane attitudes towards workers rather than seeing them as the means of production. Joh’s positive change in attitudes as a result of the worker’s rebellion and the threat to his son further illustrates Lang’s purpose; to emphasize the value and importance of an individual’s freedom, advocate for communication and civility between the levels of a hierarchical society and reinforce that the exploitation of workers and suppression of their liberty will consequently lead to a rebellion.

Both texts 1984 and Metropolis explore through the characters in differing contexts that the suppression and control of individuals to conform them to a regime will always lead to a rebellion as individuals value their humanity and identity. The outcome of rebellion in 1984 acts as a warning against the capabilities of authoritarian governments and the outcome of Metropolis illustrates the possibilities of respect and compassion that can be achieved as a result of a rebellion.

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