This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media
given by Dr.
Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Use of Cinematographic devices to convey political content and intent in “All the President’s Men”

by Benjamin Premi-Reiller
POL128 Politics & Film - Ryerson University


The movie All the President’s Men portrays a real life story of the investigative reporting by two journalists, Carl Burnstein and Bob Woodward, into the burglary of Watergate. The investigation uncovers corruption at the highest levels of government. During this era, investigative reporting was conducted with minimal technology necessitating significant investment of human resources.

Using the article “Setting the scene: A theory of film and politics: by Chris and Haas”: “All the president’s men” is a film with strong political content and intent with three evident underlying themes. These include: the importance of a strong press to hold government accountable; how individuals will put their job security and safety at risk in the face of government corruption; and, the importance of social class in the application of the law and power.

In exploring the themes, this paper will identify cinematographic elements that help to convey the themes. This done by describing sound, camera shots, mood and pace.

Importance of a strong press

Politics is about power and control. This movie is about whether the public, through journalists, had the right to the information regarding the Watergate burglary. The film portrays the journalists as individuals doing the noble thing to try and hold the government accountable.  The intent of the message is clear.

The content of the movie underscores that there are two elements of a strong press; one is the allocation of resources and the other is political courage. The film portrays both as being key to the success of the journalists. When the head of the Washington Post assigns the journalists to the Watergate burglary, he takes a great risk of putting the reputation of his company on the line. This is exemplified by his skepticism of the journalist’s evidence throughout the narrative. To crack the case, the head of the Washington Post deploys the two journalists to the case for an extended amount of time. The filmmaker portrays the resource intensity of the investigation through the long hours, day and night, and the progressively exhausted look of the journalists. The head of the Washington post assigns the journalists, weighing that it is worth the opportunity costs of missing other stories. It is worth pondering what would have happened if the editor hadn’t allocated the resources to this story

Pursing this story is a risky and bold project considering they are the only newspaper agency reporting on it.  The following quote from Ben Bradley underscores how high the stakes are;  “You guys are about to write a story that says the former attorney general, the highest-ranking law enforcement officer in this country, is a crook! Just be sure you’re right”. The film maker successfully creates a mood of tension and many of the dialogues are delivered in shouting conversations. Today it is rare to see such boldness because newspaper agencies are always chasing the stories that reward the highest rating and are not willing to invest in uncertain ventures.

­­­­Personal sacrifice for the greater good

Governments hold substantial power. Throughout the movie, the government attempts to utilize this power to supress unwanted information. However the film maker shows us that certain individuals put their personal safety and job security at risk for the greater good while still attempting to protect themselves from harsh consequences.

Burnstein and Woodward spend considerable time investigating sources. While searching for sources, many people refuse to speak to them out of fear. Many doors are slammed in their faces. However all the individuals interviewed choose to give them limited information.

The first milestone in their investigation occurs when “deep throat” gives Woodward vital information to “follow the money”. It is worthy to note that he refuses to give up more information at that time. Throughout the film, Woodward returns to “deep throat” and each time is given small amounts of information to point him in the right direction.

The bookkeeper is also quite hesitant to give up information fearing for her job when the journalists pester her repeatedly, but eventually provides critical facts such as the initials of the people who participe the re-elect Nixon slush fund. Hugh Sloan has already lost his job and provides key information off the record proving that he fears for his life. Burnstein and Woodward are not deterred from pursuing their story even when they become aware that their own lives are in danger and that their apartments have been bugged. Woodward types a message to Burnstein after he turns up the classical music in Burnstein’s apartment “Deep throat says our lives may be in danger … SURVEILLANCE BUGGING”.

The film maker depicts the element of fear and tension through the mise en scène with either dark ominous lighting (deep throat conversations in parking garage), tense expressions, closing of curtains to remain hidden (bookkeeper) or raising the volume of the music to muffle the conversation (Burnstein and Woodward). 

Social Class

The film maker explores different dimensions of social class. People of higher social class have substantially more power and immunity in the application of the law. This is true of people who are affluent and of people who hold power in government and the private sector. It seems that the higher one ranks in social class, the stronger this effect of immunity becomes.

At the end of the film, the television shows the re-elect ceremony of President Nixon with patriotic American music playing, while Burnstein and Woodward are in the background finalizing the story linking Nixon and his affiliates to the Watergate scandal. The juxtaposition of the scenes are particularly effective.The scene then cuts to a type writer printing the events that follow the release of the story. The typewriter prints all of the names of the people involved and their subsequent charges. Diegetic sounds of gunshots are heard in the background from the presidential ceremony on the TV each time a new name is mentioned. The effect created in the film by the gunshots and punching of the keys really drives the point that justice has been served. The typewriter then prints a few of the names of the people sentenced to jail. Based on the time given it is quite noticeable that most of the people sentenced were given minimal jail time due to their political rank, given the laws that they broke.

The typewriter then prints that footage was found of Richard Nixon approving the cover up of Watergate and that he will not resign as president. The fact that he states that he will not resign even in light of the evidence shows that he is aware of his power as president and that he feels immune to the law because of his position. Three days later he resigns from office because of the mounting pressure from the public and almost certain impeachment. It is well known that after he resigns, the new president Gerald Ford pardons him of all his crimes. It is worthy to note that only the president of the United States would be acquitted of crimes such as these and that any regular citizen would serve a long sentence in jail.

In addition to exploring differential application of the law, the film maker also reflects the reality of the time with regard to gender and race. People of color in positions of power are almost completely absent in the movie.  Women are also regarded as submissive and are objectified. The only women who seems to be in a position of power is Sally Aikens, a female reporter, who is able to obtain key information from a spokes-person for the US president. The source of her power is only her personal sexual relationship with the spokes-person. 


The above analysis should be viewed in the context of the time it was filmed and the cinematographic style of that era. While screening this film, it was apparent that the tempo and style of the movie is dated. The pace of this movie feels very slow and plodding. This contrasts with personal experience of more modern Hollywood movies which are easy to watch, action packed and follow a more cliché story line. For example, the movie concentrates on complex detail with minimal action and an abrupt ending showing very little of the aftermath. This film is very demanding of the viewer and requires a lot of focus and concentration to understand and follow. This is partly due to the lack of technology at the time to accelerate the investigation. It was very surprising to see the journalists searching phone books to find numbers. Today these tasks would be accomplished almost instantly.

The other marked difference is that today the journalists may have been perceived as traitors by the public at large. A current day example is that of Edward Snowden who also revealed government wrong doing regarding obtaining personal information by spying. Edward was largely perceived as a traitor and was forced to flee the country. Both examples involve the political control of government information.

Overall the screening of this film was both instructive and enjoyable. It afforded an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the political and social views as well as the depiction of political content and intent in film during the 1970’s.


Haas, E., Christensen, T., & Haas, P. J. (2015). Projecting politics: Political messages in American films [Second Edition].

Pakula, A. J. (Director), & Bernstein, C., & Woodward, B. (Writers). (9 April 1976).All the President's Men [Motion picture on DVD]. United Sates: Warner Bros.

Dissection of an Evil Power. Critical Review of “The World According to Monsanto

by Adham Ghandour
POL128 Politics and Film - Ryerson University 

In 1901 the original Monsanto company was founded and with it began a century of controversy regarding the ethics and morals, that went to into its products and operations.  Monsanto is an American multinational company that specializes in agricultural biotechnology and the production of agrochemicals based in Missouri. Monsanto is regarded by many experts as one of the most unethical and inhumane companies to ever function let alone accrue billions of dollars in sales annually. However, many individuals that are part of bigger private and government run organizations support Monsanto’s downright evil methods because it provides them with a plethora of financial gain. Monsanto’s consistent efforts to cover up the truth behind its corrupt system is evident in its regular changes to documentation or announcements on their websites, after that had been found to falsely advertise and make false statements (Fedoroff, 2013). In the film “The World According to Monsanto” by Marie-Monique Robin the evil and corrupt company that is known to be Monsanto, is dissected and thoroughly analyzed with the support of experts from the point of view of those who disagree with Monsanto’s ways as well as that of the people that support Monsanto. Light is shed on the internal operations and real life personal encounters of individuals with Monsanto and its representatives. Marie- Monique Robin looked at both sides on the topic of corruption in Monsanto’s operations and their attempt at essentially poisoning and unjustly controlling the worlds food production.

The documentary begins showing us farmers explaining the effects that Monsanto products have had on their business some positively and others negatively. To start off the documentary that shows that the director wanted to show both points of views before showing her personal opinion on the matter. The next scene shows Marie-Monique turning on her computer with the presence of diegetic sound coming from the start up tone on a Macintosh computer. The sound of the computer turning on signifies the beginning of Marie-Monique’s extensive research on the topic of interest, which is Monsanto. The tone also sets the mood of the documentary showing that it will be informative and based on real research in support of Marie-Monique’s personal point of view. A reoccurring scene throughout the documentary that is present between cuts is the interviewer positioned on her desk physically surfing the web, in search of information regarding a corrupt company that is gaining power at a dangerously fast rate. The sound of the mouse clicking as she does her research is always there and intensifies the importance of what she is doing and how important it is for her as a documenter as well as a person (Robin, 2008).

Throughout the documentary Marie-Monique is narrating her thought process making the audience feel like we can read her mind. Every piece of information that she learns or wants to find out, we learn and discover simultaneously. This approach for documentation makes the viewers feel more engaged almost as if they are part of her research team contributing to the research. Early on in the documentary she makes this statement “For 20 years I have travelled the globe and everywhere I have heard about this American Multinational but what I have heard hasn’t always been positive, wanting to know more I surfed the web for months to put the pieces of the puzzle together” (Robin, 2008). The previous quote ensures the idea that the creator of this documentary is truly passionate about this topic and is genuinely interested in educating herself further to justify the negative image that her and many others have towards Monsanto. She understands that many might disagree with her on her personal opinion, but she is doing her job to provide as much credible research and encounters with specialists to prove her point of view on the unethical acts performed by Monsanto. In her narration she also poses questions that are then answered by a series of different interview approaches including talking heads with people that can relate or are informed enough to provide their experiences or opinions. The questions that are narrated act as sort of an introduction to what is to come up next in the documentary.

Marie-Monique was not afraid to delve into extremely controversial topics that had to do with government organizations and personnel. She took somewhat of a hostile approach when attempting to show all of Monsanto’s wrongdoings. This method does help her prove her personal opinions against Monsanto and satisfies those who share her same belief. In the documentary she seems to focus a lot on portraying Monsanto as the evil conglomerate that it probably is, but does not keep the balance of Monsanto supporters. Although that is not necessary for her to do, since her stance towards the topic is clear, it does give those who disagree with her reason to say that her studies are potentially biased towards one side. Such claims could cause the credibility and reputation of her documentary to suffer. Marie-Monique spoke openly about the food drug administration (FDA) accepting the production of genetically modified organs (GMOs) as suggested by Monsanto although they did not meet the safety standards. One of her interviews when discussing the FDA situation was conducted with James Maryanski who headed the biotechnology department at that point. In that interview Maryanski agrees that the FDA’s decision was influenced by politics rather than following real scientific criteria. She also spoke to Dan Glickman who used to be Bill Clinton’s secretary of agriculture, in that interview he mentions that he was given orders not to question the decisions being made regarding GMOs (Robin, 2008). She really went to any extent to prove her points, even if it means that her documentary became extremely controversial.

Another aspect of the film that really brings things into perspective is the inclusion of real life video recordings of historical events and commercials into the documentary. Footage is shown of George Bush senior on a visit to Monsanto’s research labs in 1987. In the video clip Monsanto scientists are taking the former vice president through the steps of creating genetically modified organisms. A video like the one mentioned above shows the influence that Monsanto has on society to the point that the vice president of the United States paid them a visit. It amplifies the severity of Monsanto’s reach on the political system and the economy. In the film when transitioning from one topic to the other, Monsanto commercials were put in to serve what I saw to be a strong purpose. The commercial would show an actor that looks like he could not be happier to present a product and talk about all its benefits, when in reality it is actually harmful in many different ways both for plants and humans. Directly after showing the commercial the viewer would receive ample research results and interview outcomes that point out all the flaws in the product that was just shown in the commercial. It is a more creative approach to portray an opinion and falsify the opposing one. (Robin,2008)

Marie-Monique Robin travelled across the world to become closer to the areas and individuals affected by Monsanto’s products. Amongst the many places she visited were cotton farms in India, soybean farms in Indiana and corn fields in Mexico. In each country she interviewed those directly impacted my Monsanto and allowed them to tell their story from their own point of view. By doing this she is breaking this intangible barrier that often lies between the interviewer and those being interviewed. It helps her show us that she takes pride in the issue she is discussing and will go as far as needed to retrieve sufficient evidence and information to support her argument. By getting up close and personal with the farmers she was able to show the emotions of those affected farmers. Emotions bring out other people’s emotions, which Marie-Monique needed to have the viewers feel to get them to understand the severity of the cause she is documenting and have them side with her (Hindo,2007).

In the film as the interviewer surfs the internet on her computer she often visits Monsanto’s website and other official Monsanto documentation and shows the statements that the company makes in support of their cause, as she narrates what she sees. In one scene she is looking at the Monsanto website as she narrates and highlights a piece of text that said “Our products provide significant economic benefits to both large- and small-holder growers. In many cases, farmers are able to grow higher-quality and better-yielding crops with fewer inputs and less labour” (Monsanto Company,2016). She is trying to show the viewers how Monsanto is able to get local farmers to use their products. Farmers have families to support and when promised less cost with more overall profits they will definitely want to give it a try even if they are not sure of the consequences. The fact that she uses the positivity in Monsanto’s statements to further supplement her argument against them is a powerful way to get her messages across to the masses.

As the documentary comes to a close we can hear the audio of a phone call between Marie-Monique Robin and one Cristopher Warner from Monsanto. In the audio we learn that Monsanto had refused to allow Marie-Monique to interview any current employees or directors at Monsanto. Throughout the film the viewer is flooded with an abundance of knowledge and information that opposes anything that had to with Monsanto as a producer of chemicals and GMOs as well as an establishment. The purpose of it was to raise awareness and really let the horrible acts that Monsanto has executed resonate with the audience. A scientific and fact based approach was taken by the filmmaker to convince people of the evil power that is Monsanto. A very emotional and human approach was also taken to really shake the viewers emotionally in a way that they can relate in a humane and ethical manner. Marie-Monique scrutinized every aspect of Monsanto to deliver a powerful message to millions of people around the world.


Whipple, Dan. The Futurist (Oct 1999): 10-12. 21 Oct.2016.

Iyengar, Sudarshan; Lalitha, N. Indian Journal of Agricultural Economics (Jul-Sep 2002): 459.21 Oct.2016.

Hindo, Brian. "Monsanto: Winning the Ground War." Bloomberg, 6 Dec. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Fedoroff,Nina.”Can We Trust Monsanto with Our Food?” Scientific American. Nature American Inc.,25 July 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

‘Latest Headlines.” A Sustainable Agriculture Company. Monsanto Company,n.d.Web. 21 Oct.2016.

The World According to Monsanto. Dir. Marie-Monique Robin. Perf. Marie-Monique Robin. National Film Board of Canada,2008.DVD.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Apocalypse Now: The Darkening Emotional Distress Behind War

by Viktoria Sapanovich
POL128 - Ryerson University

“In this war, things get confused out there—power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity…because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph” - General Corman, “Apocalypse Now” (1979), played by G. D. Spradlin.

Many factors play important roles in influencing our lives, and this can span from our culture and how we have been raised, socioeconomic status, our material possessions, as well as the relationships and community around us. But more predominantly, we have factors such as politics which can shape our views and beliefs on regimes in society around us. Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, “Apocalypse Now”, demonstrates the shadowy emotional distress behind war, through its subthemes of the extinction of a nation’s ethics, coupled with the depiction of madness, insanity, and detachment as a result of political wars.

An adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” novella, Francis Ford Coppola incorporates a similar storyline, encompassing the film around the Vietnam War, sending a soldier to execute a man of threat to the military. The protagonist, Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen), is sent by two army officials, Colonel Lucas (Harrison Ford) and General Corman (G.D. Spradlin), to terminate a man named Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a part of the Army Special Forces. The two men grow concerned of Kurtz’s status and operations, stating that he has supposedly become insane and now rules over his own troops, who he formed in neutral ground Cambodia. Kurtz poses as a “God” to this group of people, and this is the way in which he rules over them. The film follows the journey of Benjamin L. Willard and a group of men that travel with him to his destination, while emphasizing the confusion, violence, and fear of the Vietnam War with each scene.

When we think of morals and beliefs, we associate this in a positive light, and when reflecting on the film, distinct loss of these morals and beliefs begins to shine through, as part of the political aspects depicted. The film incorporates the ethics of surfing, provocative dancing by women, and the general association of drugs, that have been integrated into speech and scenes. In particular, looking at the introductory scene of the film, in which displays a film crew and American journalists filming soldiers, death and all the surrounding air strikes, essentially turning the war into means of crowd-pleasing entertainment for the public. As we reflect on this, we can say this is quite inhumane, turning the tragedy taking place and downgrading the importance of it, into entertainment. Simple values and morals of respect and dignity seem to lack here. Moreover, another scene in the film that strongly depicts the loss of a nation’s ethics, would be during the time where Willard and his crew make a stop at a military post, where an entertainment show was put on in the evening hours for all the men. The show consisted of playboy ladies dressed in cowboy apparel, performing rather provocative dances. While all the American soldiers hoot and yell over the women up on stage, the camera incorporates a shot of the Vietnamese villagers behaving very calmly and maturely, as they eat their rice, not being phased at all by the performers, in contrast to the soldiers. This is evident of the differing morals and ethics between the Vietnamese and Americans, showing just how foolish the soldiers had behaved during this scene in comparison. The scene concludes with the almost all the men losing any restraint on themselves, and proceeded to climb onto the stage to harass the women while Willard is shown sitting back, with facial expression in disgust. This facial expression is yet another cue integrated into the scene to send a message of the loss of ethics, demonstrating how, in fact, filthy the soldiers were. In addition, further into the film, the audience is exposed to how Willard and his boat crew trade barrels of fuel in return of receiving pleasure by the playmates. Once again, this clearly demonstrates the degrading of values, of how these men give away precious fuel in the midst of war and a long journey ahead of them, when they need it most, to receive intimate attention from a woman. This essentially depicts their priorities at the time.  These women that are integrated into the film serve as a very important symbol to give across this message. From turning the war into means of entertainment, to demonstrating the shallowness of the American soldiers when it comes to provocative entertainment, emphasizes the loss of a nation’s ethics, as well as serves to provide an interesting contract of these values to the Vietnamese, also further underlining the absurdity of them.  

As we get deeper into the psychology behind war, the film perfectly depicts the emotional and psychological deterioration of the soldiers, as well as the protagonist himself, Willard. As Willard and his crew move further upriver, they begin to experience enhanced emotional detachment with themselves as well as reality, and ultimately reach some sort of change to their persona. In various scenes, each crew member participates in this experience in their own way, with whatever they might have encountered during a specific scene. One crew member has an encounter with a tiger as he enters the jungle, which traumatizes him, leading to where he appears to no longer be himself. Following, he then slowly withdraws emotionally from the crew. Once a tragic death comes upon one of the crew members, another breaks down and experiences vast emotional distress, and so becomes an altered individual as a result. Face paint use became prominent as the film went deeper into their adventures, indicating a “change” of self as well. Ending with the protagonist, Willard, he also seems to become more obsessed with his target, Kurtz, as the voice-overs used become more persistent and analytical of Kurtz’s life and background, perhaps going overboard. Willard continues to analyze Kurtz very deeply, almost trying to get into the head of this “evil genius”, as they called him.

Tying this all together, we can see the underlying psychological effects and the loss of precious ethics, that politics bring upon individuals and society. The Vietnam war consisted of the clash between two political beliefs, with North Vietnam being supportive of the communist regime, and the South being supportive of the democracy regime (Encyclopedia Britannia, 2016). The war between these two political systems depicts the casualties it brought upon, both death and psychological casualties in individuals throughout the duration of “Apocalypse Now”. Further back into history, we can evaluate and see that the Vietnam War can be considered as a chain reaction to the Cold War, that was once between the United States and the Soviet Union, both with differing political views on how to run a society. The tragic effects of these political battles are not only depicted in this film by the detachment and insanity of soldiers, but also the amount of casualties it has brought in history. Innocent people have lost their lives, and these political fights have changed the lives of many. Thus, war films like “Apocalypse now” are a great source of depicting how politics causes grief and insanity, as well as the deterioration of values and ethics.

Francis Ford Coppola’s incorporation of various symbols in the film such as masks, fog, darkness and the river, all serve to additionally emphasize the psychological journey Willard and his crew go through. Masks can bring upon the message of changing one’s individuality. It can depict an alteration in persona or an incorporation of a new identity in order to deal with the emotional trauma that war brings to these soldiers. During the opening scenes of the film, Willard is shown breaking the glass showing his self-reflection. This can be interpreted metaphorically as breaking his old persona. The voice-overs used during this scene further enhanced the understanding of why he is doing so, essentially underlining that his experiences in the military changed him as a man, for the worse. Towards the end of the film, numerous characters began to incorporate the use of face paint, as mentioned previously, to metaphorically camouflage into their “new” individuality. The intense fog coupled together with the river and many dark scenes, serves a message to the audience of the characters swimming further into the abyss/darkness of war, swimming towards the terrifying unexpected. The fog also adds an additional meaning of confusion and estrangement from reality to the crew, and this is evident through the scenes in which they are floating through the river and they cannot see anything. The crew members get quiet and expect the unexpected. This causes a sense of fright, shown in their facial expressions, as well as overall confusion. This heavy use of fog puts the characters in a “vulnerable” state, which further portrays fear, also shown by the use of close-ups onto facial expressions.

Cinematography was successful in this film, with the fusion of many extreme close-ups and regular close-ups, music to emphasize emotions and action build-up, eye-level shots, and many more. Extreme close-ups of character’s facial expressions allow for a deeper understanding and relation to emotions being emphasized, as discussed in class (Moura, 2016). This allowed for the audience to gain a greater understanding of what the character might be thinking in the situation, and was incorporated very well. Music in certain scenes allowed for the build-up of action, whether the tempo would be fast and dramatic, or slow and suspenseful. Certain pieces of music also served as a symbolic approach in the film, such as the music female performers danced to. It symbolized the typical American style songs which served the soldiers a memory of home they so longed for. Eye-level shots were increasingly used as well, specifically in conversation, that gives the audience the feel that they are seeing and understanding from the eyes of the character, as also examined in class (Moura, 2016). The fade-in and fade-out of scenes, especially in the opening parts of the film, made the beginning quite unique and enticing. With the use of these elements, some scenes overlapped each other, with one scene in the background showing the continuation of war, while having a faded image on top showing facial expressions and various actions. Furthermore, long shots and wide shots also played a vital role in cinematography of “Apocalypse Now”. This was most often used in shots of landscape, and flying military aircrafts. They were used to portray the whole environment of the scene. Political objects were also integrated, such as the American flag and U.S military uniforms. In addition, the first half of the film heavily unified colorful cinema with the use of various colored smoke bombs that enhanced the picture, while the second half of the film transitioned into the heavy use of fog and darker-toned colors. Overall, cinematography was integrated quite well within the film, and did a fantastic job displaying environments and emotions, and the use of rich colors.

Politics can shape who we are as individuals and our beliefs, but more predominately, shape our society and play a vital role in how a nation is run. The clash of different political views between nations has caused tragic impacts on individuals both physically and psychologically. Thus, taking Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, “Apocalypse Now”, and looking deeper into these factors, the film does a fantastic job in demonstrating the shadowy emotional distress behind war, through its subthemes of the deterioration of a nation’s ethics, coupled with the depiction of madness, insanity, and detachment as a result of political wars.



Vietnam War. (n.d). In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from     

Francis Ford Coppola: Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, Retrieved from    

Dirks, T. (n.d.). Apocalypse Now (1979). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Metropolis: An Illustration of the Consequences of Modernity

by April Chin
POL128 - Ryerson University

Modernization is the transition from a pre-modernistic, agrarian, to an industrialized, ‘modern’ society. Societies grow and evolve through this process, which leads to results that are beneficial and consequential. Director Fritz Lang showcases the more damaging effects that arise from this societal transformation in his silent feature film Metropolis. The city of Metropolis is highly built on industry, more specifically machinery, clearly indicative through the film’s science-fiction qualities and visually stimulating, highly industrialized sets used to tell the story to make up for the lack of dialogue. Industrialization is one of the driving forces to a city’s way to modernity, which Metropolis is no exception to, and it results in growing social disparities. The society falls victim to extreme class inequality where the elites remain in the metropolis and the workers are exiled into the underground City of Workers. A further consequence of industrialization is the rise of capitalism. In the film, Metropolis is implied to be functioning in a capitalist system where there is greater priority towards profit over morals. The president, Jon Fredersen’s ignorance towards the blatant social issues causes instability between the classes resulting in both cities’ demise. The modernization that Metropolis is built upon is a reflection of Director Lang’s underlying fear of the consequences of the process.
Metropolis resonates with the struggles in Germany back in the 1920s. The Germans’ use of cinema as an escape from the reality of the aftermath of World War I, Fritz Lang avoids the backlash of a too realistic film and creates Metropolis, allowing them to virtually experience a world that is not theirs through science fiction. Germany’s desperation to recover from the lost war led to all sorts of economic problems. In order to restore the nation’s state, the government believed the best method in doing so was to increase the productivity of the mechanical industry   to lead their economic rehabilitation (Fischer, 2005). The development of the city of Metropolis can be said to be similar of the post-war situation. Although the film lacks the mention of a war, the use of industry as a mean of economic gain is evident. This is shown through a rendition of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, told by a female preacher by the name Maria. She tells the story to make it relevant to her audience of workers with an emphasis on the disconnection between the people who envisioned the tower and the labourers who were building it for them. The story serves as a metaphor for their current situation as being the ‘hands’ responsible for keeping the city above running. They have built the tower where Joh Fredersen’s office lies, also called the Tower of Babel, and everything that Metropolis has come to be. Nonetheless, Fredersen governs the city by which the two social classes remain divided.
The significance of machinery in Metropolis emulates the rise of industry in Germany to combat the previously mentioned post-war economic struggles. The majority of the jobs available during this era were industrial so people took what they could. Therefore, a shared consequence is the formation of discontented workers. As expressed in a review on modernization by Kuthialia (1973), “during industrialization, economic pressure induces peasants to become workers, but mainly discontented ones.” This explains how Metropolis could operate on the inequality created by Fredersen. The workers may presumably be “peasants” from the previous social system and have no other qualifications for better opportunities than manual labour. Meanwhile, the elites are arguably the more intellectual, thus live in the comfort of Metropolis. The progression to modernity creates more jobs resulting in a wider range of social classes, but distinction between each still exist, suggesting the difficulty of moving up in status.
Even greater social disparities arise due to the state’s economic interest on industrialization. Metropolis show features of capitalism and exemplifies the unequal nature of such a system through the divided cities. The film ties back to the 1920s in Germany when there was “fixation on economic growth that big businesses had shown little regard of the nation’s well-being, remaining more concerned about their profits.” (Fischer, 2005). The film unravels the truth behind capitalism where only the wealthy benefits from the system while the poor continue to become poorer. The rich that live in Metropolis are those that Fredersen can profit from, ultimately allowing for the city to grow. As the president, he is capable of monopolizing the system and keeping everyone in their place resulting in the growing wealth of the elites, and the workers’ profitless and laborious prolonging lifestyle. He goes through extra measures to maintain his power over the City of Workers as he checks up on them himself since the firing of his secretary for not reporting on the commotion occurring underneath. He discovers the catacombs and witnesses a spectacle that would become problematic for him where the workers can think otherwise of rising to the top, in both literal and social context; he sees Maria giving hope to her audience about an alliance forming between both cities. He then proceeds to ruin her image and break the workers’ trust on her by creating a ‘machine-man’ in her image to wreck havoc in the underground city. This method may be fictional, yet it is still undoubtedly unethical. Fredersen’s strategy is similar to films that showcase a capitalistic theme that places profits and wealth above everything else and disregards ethics (Christensen, 2015).
            Fredersen’s dictatorship eventually causes the downfall of both cities, implicative of the consequence of an unstable society. Prior to overseeing Maria in the catacombs, he discovers the machine-man, a recent invention by a prototypical mad scientist, Rotwang. Fredersen gets Rotwang to agree on making machine-Maria and orders him to command the machine-Maria to deceive the workers and cause chaos in Workers City. Fredersen wants to anger them into wrongdoings so he can claim the right to use force against them. However, he receives a backlash as Rotwang commands machine-Maria to cause mayhem everywhere rather than just Workers City alone. Machine-Maria shatters the idea of a mediator, the workers’ only hope for a better life, and incites an uprising. As mentioned by Fischer (2005), “the principle champions of resistance are the working-class masses”, Fredersen faces an angered resistance group that sought out to destroy the machines that kept his beloved city operating. The resistance also faces a backlash after the machine annihilation that has caused flooding in the underground city where they left their children behind. Fortunately the children were saved, but beforehand the group was too preoccupied rejoicing to the wrecked machinery. Kuthiala (1973) states in their review where “discontented groups form among workers in the occurrence of modernizing aristocracy, which aristocrats bring about their own destruction”, can be said in Fredensen’s situation. His ambition to improve Metropolis exclusively was not going to work with how the city is being operated through the social inequality he built and tried to maintain. The discontented workers would eventually no longer be passive with the terrible working and living conditions he has given them. The decision to use machine-Maria as a manipulation tool, driven by his anxiety over power, was in fact the trigger to empowering the workers. The downfall of Metropolis could also be considered his own.
A society’s translation to modernity shows its acceptance to the advancement of science and technology. However, Director Lang decides to exhibit the flaws of modernization in Metropolis and this critical review focuses on the social outcomes of industrialization present in the movie. Social division could not be any clearer than the extreme isolation of the workers, being forced to live and work in an underground city, away and out-of-sight from the higher society that lies on the surface. In addition, the leadership that puts self-interest first will only cause the system to crumble. Such issues shown in the film can be found in the twenty-first century. Fritz Lang’s predictions of the future are not entirely wrong since they are current issues in certain parts of the world; meanwhile, it would be unfitting to dismiss the multitude of benefits found in a modern society.
Metropolis may have represented what a modern society is today after the joining forces of Metropolis and Workers City, with the help of the mediator. This solution could have come sooner if the president did not blatantly ignore all the problems wrong with Workers City and its existence overall. Although, it is possible for the film to end without the formation of the alliance, and to Metropolis’ doom, if not for the person who fills role of the mediator to be the president’s son, Freder. No one else would be able to convince Fredersen to join alliances with the workers; therefore, only Freder could be the mediator that brings peace between the two social classes and minimize the division. This circumstance seems to follow the trend in American films during the 1920s mentioned in Projecting Politics, “heroic workers and sympathetic portraits of workers became rare.” (Christensen, 2015). Metropolis cannot conclude with a ‘heroic worker’; Freder’s role is necessary for the development of the plot and of other characters, and he happens to be outside the working class—a high-standing hero. Despite his status, he fits the role and manages to make the industry and labour cooperate.


Christensen, T., Haas, E., & Haas, P. (2015). Projecting Politics: Political Messages in American Films Second Edition. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from

Fischer, C. (2005). Scoundrels without a Fatherland? Heavy Industry and Transnationalism in Post-First World War Germany. Contemporary European History, 14(4), 441–464. doi: 10.1017/S0960777305002717.

Kuthiala, S. K. (1973). Review [Review of the book The Political Consequences of Modernization]. Contemporary Sociology, 2(3), 312-314. Available from, E. (Producer), & Lang, F. (Director). (1927). Metropolis [Motion picture]. Germany: Universum Film.