Sample Cinema Research Paper with Documented Outside Sources

 in MLA Style


A Troubled City


Amy Belk, Dalton State College
(Reprinted with permission)


            As one of the first science-fiction films in movie history, Metropolis, released in 1927, presents a futuristic city of fantastic magnitude.  Directed by Fritz Lang, the film transports the viewer into a new, impending world filled with towering structures and menacing machines.  Most people consider this silent film as a classic "good versus evil" tale, ending with "evil" defeated and the hero embracing the heroine.  However, there are many underlying aspects of this classic narrative, driven by Lang's artful approach to a profound humanistic dilemma.  Using remarkable visual imagery, religious symbolism, and interpersonal relationships, the director of Metropolis unfolds a story of the fight for human dignity, interlaced with the struggle between the affluent and the destitute.

            Metropolis is a medley of magnificent visual images, fluctuating between impressive architectural designs and dismal representations of shameful squalor.  The soaring, luxurious skyscrapers exhibited in the beginning scenes of the film are representative of "upper class, fortunate people [who] are mostly happy and successful, rising in power like the buildings rise to the sky" (Bowen 2).  Lang's use of these images acclimates the viewer to this new world of opulence and power.  Next, the viewer encounters a much different perspective of the city through a disturbing scene consisting of countless male workers, eerily marching together with their heads down.  The workers' movements are stiff and robotic, exemplifying a massive machine.  Lang presents the workers as slaves, laboring for some oppressive force that squashes their freedom with every gear that grinds inside the machines at which they toil.  Another alarming image is the scene that involves the transformation of the master machine into Moloch.  This image introduces the viewer to the terrible plight of the workers, who are fearful of those in power that take everything from them, but yearning for a taste of equality, dignity, and freedom.  Damien Cannon solidifies this idea in his statement that the machine  "eagerly gobble[s] up human sacrifices and demands more" (Cannon 2).  The workers are in fact sacrifices in that they relinquish every part of their lives to maintain the luxurious lifestyles of the masters living in the "metropolis" above.

            From the first few scenes in the film, the viewer becomes aware of the reality that the masters of the Metropolis live above ground, and their workers live far below the city under much worse conditions.  The lavish "Garden of Eden" above ground and the foulness underground connote a separation of two, very distinct worlds, one that is righteous and one that is infernal.  In essence, "The idea of having underground and above ground living areas is symbolic of heaven and hell" (Bowen 1).  This statement epitomizes the prosperity of Metropolis' masters and the despondency of their workers.  Lang's portrayal of the robotic Maria shows the true evil embodied within the minds of the lords of Metropolis.  Feverishly shouting and enticing the workers to revolt, the robot in disguise is symbolic of a false prophet.  As the fake Maria tells the men to destroy everything, they are too desperate for change to realize the terrible consequences associated with demolishing the machines.  Their foreman calls them fools and asks them: "Who told you to destroy your homes and thus yourselves?"  By listening to this deceitful oracle, the workers unintentionally give up their freedom to think for themselves, consequently empowering their oppressors.  Another demonstration of religious symbolism in the film is the image of Freder desperately trying to sustain the functioning of a machine.  With his arms painfully outstretched and his face turning upward, Freder calls for his father saying, "I never knew ten hours could be so hard."  Freder now represents Christ, "a Messiah who will forge a link between the ruling and working classes" (Arnold 2).  This vision informs the viewer that the workers' struggle for dignity and freedom may soon end.

            Two profoundly significant relationships portrayed in the film are those that join Freder with the human Maria and John Fredersen, the master of Metropolis, with his laborers.  While frolicking in his pleasure garden, Freder is interrupted by a virtuous young woman leading many impoverished children into his sanctuary.  Maria informs Freder that these poor youngsters are his "brothers".  Appalled but perplexed, Freder seeks to find Maria in the catacombs under his father's great city, searching for answers to many newfound questions.  The relationship between them is vital to the story in that Maria enlightens Freder to the maltreatment and injustice that his father impels upon the workers.  Howard Hobbs states, "The only flaw in this plan is that Freder has fallen in love with Maria (and she with him) and will do anything to rescue her, even destroy his former compatriots" (2).  On the contrary, their love serves as a catalyst for the truce to come.  Similarly, the association between John Fredersen and his laborers begins to develop as Freder realizes his role as a peacemaker.  Fredersen personifies iniquity and unfairness, continually dispiriting the men that ironically maintain his great city.  After the workers destroy the bowels of the city, Fredersen realizes, through the fear of losing his son, the importance and value of a human life.  Freder, acting as "the mediator between head and hands," joins his father and his men.  "Fredersen shakes hands with the head of the workers in what most viewers will see as a compromise and truce between the boss and workers" (Bowen 1).  This action genuinely signifies the union of the commanding and the meek, a release from industrial slavery, and a triumph in the battle for human dignity.

            Under close examination, the story within Metropolis provokes many questions about the treatment of people that some consider less than fortunate.  Fritz Lang's meticulous and incisive direction of the film, through stunning visual imagery, symbolism, and associations between key characters, enlightens the viewer to the problems connected with such terrible social injustices.  Freedom and self-respect should be the privileges of every human being no matter what socioeconomics status he or she holds.  People must work together as equals in order to achieve complete prosperity and contentment.  After all, "It is only through the union of head, heart, and hands that the fabric of society can be made whole" (Cannon 1). 


Works Cited*

Primary Source

Metropolis.  Dir. Fritz Lang. Kino.  1927.


Secondary Sources

Arnold, David M.  Rev. of Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang.  Internet Movie Database March 1998. 

        5 Oct. 2003 <>.

Bowen, Johnathan L.  Rev. of Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang. JLB Movies  Aug. 1996. 10 Nov. 2003

Cannon, Damian. Rev. of Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang. Movie Reviews UK 1997. 10 Oct. 2003


Hobbs, Howard. "Review of Futuristic 1926 Film Metropolis!" Rev. of Metropolis, dir. Fritz Lang.

            The Daily Republican 6 Dec. 1996 <>.


*Note: Some professors will not want you to separate primary from secondary sources.

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