Fritz Lang’s expressionist film, Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s Swiftian satire Nineteen Eighty Four (1949) dramatise the impact of repressive governments upon the individual. Lang reflects the anxieties of the Weimar Republic of Germany, under the stresses following the First World War, highlighting the consequences of rapid industrialisation and the subsequent disunity between the working and upper classes. Orwell conversely reflects upon the rise of Communism and Fascism in Europe, warning against despotic governments. While Lang uses the medium of film to deliver his message, a cinematic spectacle communicated to a global audience using the latest technology, Orwell’s didactic message is communicated through the satire’s demotic voice, a voice and a vision that exposed the political manipulation of language of his time. Through exploring the ways ideas are appropriated across juxtaposing contexts, responders are able to gain a deeper understanding of the salient and enduring values of freedom, conformity and individuality as a result of their contextual experiences.
The values of the Weimar Republic set the doctrine of the film in which visual forms reveal the ironic mastery of machine and industrialisation over man. Lang uses a montage of machines cross cut with the symbol of a mechanical clock ticking to midnight to emphasise the political and social chaos in his society. Additional cuts of steam vents signify the underlying pressures that plagued the Weimar Republic by in the interwar period, but also the ideological tensions that characterized the period. Tension leads to revolution in Metropolis. The worker’s revolution is a reflection of the attitudes within Germany as it struggled to repay its debts to foreign nations, under the Treaty of Versailles. The necessity of industrialisation is represented by the verbally ironic appeal of the foreman, “If the heart machine perishes… the entire worker’s city will be laid to waste.” Lang conveys that although life is miserable in Metropolis, it is dependent on the co-existence of workers and the “Heart-Machine.” The machines are indeed the source of the workers subordination and repression, but the source of their livelihood as well. Hence, Lang examines his era in which the solution for their debt is to sacrifice the freedom of the individual for rapid industrialisation.
However, as a result of their differences in textual form, Orwell analyses the manipulation of language to control its society by destroying their ‘consciousness’ to resistance, reflecting his subversive, contextual attitudes towards Fascism and Communism. Opposing the social unification sought by Lang, Orwell’s totalitarian regime seeks the absolute subjugation of the individual. Orwell signifies the party’s perpetual ambition for power over the human psyche through the verbal irony “Freedom is Slavery. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom.” The manipulation of language reinforces Orwell’s paradoxical observations of the totalitarian societies of his time, in which criticism of the government would become linguistically controlled. Human rights are exchanged for state stability and security, represented through the breaking down of Winston’s psychological perception of his morals and identity. “He confessed… He confessed… It was easier to confess everything…” The accumulation of Winston confessions to “crimes… murders… sexual pervert…” identifies the numerous ways the individual subconscious is eroded by torture, capturing the subversive terror of regimes such as the Nazis, and the cult of personality created by Stalin in his dictatorship. While Lang’s film constructs the need for co-existence and harmony, Orwell’s satire reflects the political turmoil of his time in which governments prioritise authority over individual freedom.
Both Lang and Orwell’s texts convey societies that restrict the freedom of its citizens through political, social and economic oppression. Whilst Lang’s film illustrates socialist aspects of the Weimar Republic in creating a worker’s utopia, Orwell portrays a dystopia in which civil rights are abolished, a reflection of Stalinism and Nazism. Lang dehumanises the workers underground, segregated from the upper class through a series of high angle shots accompanied by accelerando non diegetic music. The uniformity of the worker’s choreography juxtaposed with the montage of machinery represent how the workers themselves have been integrated into parts of the machine, losing their humanity and reflecting the hardships of Germany after the First World War. Conflict between the exploited individual and controlling society results in confusion and violence. Lang draws upon a resolution that is reflective of the Dawes Plan in 1924 resulting in a subsequent political and social establishment in Weimar Germany. This is visually represented through a mis-en-scene, in which Grot shakes Fredersen’s hand through Freder, completing the extended metaphor that “the mediator between the heads and hands must be the heart.” Therefore, Lang draws the importance of the socialist republic in which the intellectual and working class compromise through social syncretism.
Orwell warns his audience against a government which abolishes civil rights and manipulates the individual through perpetual propaganda. The satire critiques the principles of Stalinism and Nazism, forms of totalitarianism that flourished across Europe in the 30s and 40s. In order to maintain power, the government exploits its citizens through the ‘two minute hate’ advocated by the party against Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston’s observation of his co-worker repeating “Swine! Swine! Swine!” demonstrates a loss of personal conviction in creating a dangerous orthodox for oppressive tyranny. The upper class allow such tyrants to assume power in which the rest of society are thus constrained to conform to. In contrast to Metropolis, whose socialist message advocates the concession of the individual and society through revolution, Orwell demands the absolute “love for Big Brother” and connotes the inability for the individual to accomplish change against tyrannous governments. This is observed through the verbal irony in the apathetic reactions between Winston and Julia after torture. “I betrayed you / All you care about is yourself” is repeated verbatim to reflect the individual’s death of resistance. Hence, both 1984 and Metropolis analyse the contextual perceptions between society’s demands for social conformity, and the role of its citizens in advocating change.
Through the comparison of these texts, the responder is able to achieve a deeper understanding of the influences of textual form as well as context in shaping meaning between texts. Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four depict the overwhelming tension between the desire of individuality and totalitarian societies. By analysing how textual form conveys similar ideologies across juxtaposing contexts, responders gain a deeper knowledge on the role of the individual to freedom or conformity.
Four things- make sure your essay focuses on the one being asked and you can take away some analysis of the points not needed. On the day, make some more up on the spot to emphasise the points they ask for
- Theme that they give us
- Textual form