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Intertextual Perspectives: Metropolis & 1984

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Andrew Trist

on 8 August 2016

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Transcript of Intertextual Perspectives: Metropolis & 1984

Comparative Study of Texts and Contexts
Intertextual Perspectives: 1984 and Metropolis
Lang’s expressionist film was created in a short period of respite (1924-1929) in German history, where despite political and economic fragility, art and culture began to flourish. Lang’s film satirises the growing social desire for a utopian future with the dystopia of Germany’s pre-war predicament. In his creation of
(1927) Fritz Lang reflected upon ‘grey’ areas in history exploring the ramifications of Germany between the wars. Orwell’s text
(1949), a satirical analysis of the events of the intervening two decades, hypothesises the global implications of two world wars in relation to Stalin’s totalitarian regime; the Spanish Civil War; fascism and the emergent paranoia of the Cold War mindset. Both composers situate their personal and aesthetic contexts within competing hierarchies of class-based notions of status, privilege and social dysfunction. Each text evokes awareness that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Orwell displaying a much ‘blacker’ and nihilistic future; prophetically there has been a paradigm shift to a darker, more ominous and increasingly pessimistic society.
Intertextual Perspectives on Stylistic Movements
Composer's Purpose
The son of an architect, Lang was inspired to produce an abstract, stylistic, avant-garde film that would become a crowning achievement of German “high art”.
became the vehicle for Lang’s focus on the intrinsic qualities of his artistic repertoire – style, props, lighting and architecture. He collaborated on the film’s plot with his wife, “The main thesis was Mrs Lang’s…but I made the film”, however his passion was the film’s visual design. Lang’s detail in the types of architecture (e.g. Art Deco and Futuristic), intricate model sets (picture) and excessive prop use (e.g. 1000 unemployed people, whose heads had been shaved by 100 hairdressers for a scene that lasted less than a minute) reflect his visceral desire to create a new, modernist form of expression; in his words, “a film of titanic dimensions... one of the most eternal artworks of all times.” Modernist influences in the film echo widespread rapid industrialisation following the Great War. Further exaggerating this new industrial life, Lang literally depicted an under-class (opening montage of underground programmed workers serving the devouring machine – Moloch) enabling a life of privileged ease for an upper-class in their opulent pleasure gardens high above.
Alternatively, Orwell approached
as a literary political satirist. His treatise is unrelentingly disturbing in its ambiguity, reflective of the paranoia of the Cold War mindset, challenging the reader’s conceptions of hope within the hopelessness of absurdism, “The past was dead, the future was unimaginable”. This loss of core values is typical of postmodernist concerns in its departure from modernism, and is characterised by intertextuality, faction, pastiche and a general distrust of theories. In response to the general apathy of the time Orwell was paranoid about the possibility of a dystopic future (picture).
Intertextual Perspectives on Concerns/Focus Issues
Sociological Ramifications of Technology
During the creation of
, Lang stated in an interview, “I was very interested in machines”. It was this interest that prompted an ideological examination of modernity and technology, where Lang continues to force responders to question technology as a social force of good or evil but more importantly the social conscience of the person wielding the technology/power. In the aftermath of the Great War, where machines had been used to slaughter and maim but also to repair damaged bodies using prosthetics, Lang indicates that it’s the wielder of technology who defines its value to society (just as contemporary nuclear power can be used positively and negatively). This is demonstrated in the film by the ‘robot Maria’, which is created by Rotwang and Joh Frederson to extinguish the worker’s rebellion, but is discovered as a fake and burned at the stake. The robot’s artificial life, represented by the pulsing electrical light, is terminated by the purging pyre of natural light. Thus the thematic antinomies of artificial/natural and evil/good advocate against the misuse of such machines, drawing 21st century viewers to evaluate how powerful technology can magnify the values and actions of the people who control it. For instance, modern viewers may consider the political, economic and ecological repercussions of Iran’s nuclear program.
Technology (in the text)
Orwell’s Cold War inspired paranoia equated technology with a tool of control and surveillance. The idea that a technocratic, totalitarian government was rising led him to create
, an ideological treatise on the inherent dangers of technology and power as the means of subjugating individuals. Orwell portrays a state where government monitors and controls every aspect of human life to the extent that even having a disloyal thought is against the law (thought crime). The responder discovers through Winston’s journey that in such a society there is no limit to what the government can control. Children are turned into operatives of the regime (Hitler Youth), individualism and rational thought is lost through media control (picture shows media inhibiting our ability to form our own values) and even a person’s most innermost beliefs/realities can be corrupted by the technological prowess of the government, “2 plus 2 equals 5”. Such false dogmas serve as warnings to society of the use of power and technology to control individuals. Just as media is used in
, 21st century media also shapes and manipulates the audience’s preferred societal values.
presents an equally dystopian vision of modernity; a world where humanity is divided into a ruling class and a working class, echoing the ramifications of capitalism. The opening scenes of workers moving in lockstep to their shift change are juxtaposed with the luxury experienced above by the ‘upper class’. It suggests the masses are controlled through mindless work practices, tied down by the encroaching nature of technology and must stay ‘in step’ with the requirements of their social class and demands of work. Lang constructs the film as a genuine satirical discourse on the dehumanising impact of technology and social class differentiation on the lives of the worker. The Machine (the heart) has ironically taken over the heart of society (as shown by Moloch eating the workers), a trope that extends across the text. In a modern context the encroaching nature of technology is viewed through the negative effects of the pervasiveness of media access and its impact on traditional social interactions (picture). Responders must realise how an increasing addiction to technology can produce negative outcomes for individuals and the development of a healthy society.
is a dystopian vision of society where luxury is an indulgence reserved for a limited few. Orwell creates a world where the ability to reason and analyse has been taken from individuals through mindless work and omnipresent media propaganda. Society is built on constructs of truth and mistruth (e.g. doublethink), maxims that are hollow (e.g. “Ministry of Love” an irony concerned with control) and technology that watches, exposes, listens to and dehumanises each individual. Orwell personifies the omniscient presence of the telescreen, “He [Winston] thought of the telescreen with its never-sleeping ear. They could spy upon you night and day”, to provide the enduring image of an autocratic regime that dehumanises the individual for self-benefit and maintenance of power. Extending Lang’s contextual exposé, technology has been used by a select few to identify anything that could threaten the existing differentiation of social classes. Orwell’s invasive fictional future resonates with current audiences in their day to day lives in the form of public surveillance (invasive CCTV picture), which responders realise risks governments exerting an increased possibility of influencing people’s lives, opinions and interactions for the ‘good of the state’. Responders must evaluate the pros and cons of such invasive technology for individuals and society.
, Lang’s alternate representations of Maria as the Madonna or a whore/femme fatale (picture) reflect the emerging female Hollywood stereotypes of the time. In German culture in the 1920’s, themes of American modernity were becoming increasingly popular in art, music, lifestyle and film. Thus when Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, influenced her husband to include the filmic appeal of American ideals the result was viewed favourably by audiences across Germany. However, the inclusion of the different representations of Maria can also be read as a reworking of historical developments in Germany that Lang may have regarded as a threat: the emergence of emancipated and sexually liberated women in light of the Weimar Republic’s constitution promoting female power. By clearly showing the virtue of Maria compared to her robot doppelganger, Lang seems to strengthen the idea of what women should be and a fear of what the ‘new’ type of German women may become. In a modern analysis of the prominence that is given to this duality of female roles via the media, it can be seen that despite improvements there are still inequalities. In light of emerging perspectives in a 21st century context, many audiences are opposed to the gender values portrayed in
and instead desire that representation of women should be more realistic and empowering.
“Different contexts lead to different values being explored”
Historical Contextual Catalysts
George Orwell, a product of his time, had a very traditional, masculine character which was reflected in
. He tarnished all his female characters with minimal intellect and passive minds, echoing his somewhat limited views of women and their importance in society. In a misogynistic way he portrays the novel’s main female character (Julia) as a sexual object, as she works in “minitrue” creating cheap pornography for a living. This reflects her insignificant role in the rat race of the world, as a toy among men. Orwell accentuates this limited worth by displaying Julia as having little interest in the workings of society if it doesn’t directly concern her, “she only questioned the teachings of the Party when they in some way touched upon her own life. Often she was ready to accept the official mythology”. Further, his characterisation of Julia symbolises the feminine psyche as reacting instinctively rather than intellectually. As Winston makes a scholarly commitment to Goldstein book with Julia she disconnects, “’Julia, are you awake?’ No answer. She was asleep”. Additionally, the sexless marriage between Winston and his wife mirrors the ramifications of totalitarianism, highlighting that sex has been identified as a collaborative intimacy and is a threat to the state. Women have lost their natural role in bearing and rearing children, and seemingly have lost their sense of purpose, “All children were to be begotten by artificial insemination…it fitted in with the general ideology of the Party”. In the masculinity of Orwell’s work, women are only ever congratulated when they benefit their men. For example, the only two women portrayed in an admirable light are Winston’s mother and the Prole woman, who represents a belief of reproductive virility: Winston often imagines her giving birth to a new revolutionary generation, “if there is hope it lies in the Proles”. The novel on a whole is a male paradigm and Orwell assumes that sexually active women are ‘flippantly amusing’ and only the traditional nurturing role is to be admired (picture). Yet in a modern context the two opposed female dynamics continue to be confused and misrepresented in social media, where there is an unprecedented focus on the more promiscuous female image (left of picture) than the intellectual/caring version (right of picture), forcing responders to question what values and roles women have in society and how they should be depicted.
concludes with a manipulated Hollywood utopian ending, influenced by Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, and embodied by the symbolic representation of the heart mediating the head (upper-class) and the hands (lower-class) together. Conversely,
’s final segment augments its paranoid representation of a dark, nihilistic and absurdist future. Despite many similarities in themes and ideas, both texts have very different conclusions on what the future will become. Lang’s film is ultimately intended as artistic entertainment and therefore provides a happy ending so that the audience will return to the cinema; whereas Orwell’s novel is didactic, a treatise on totalitarianism which leaves responders questioning and uncertain of the future. It is this uncertainty that leaves audiences continually questioning where their own contextual milieu will lead (picture: left to a brighter future or right to a darker one). However, our hindsight and more extensive world view ensures that contemporary audiences continue to take more to and from the intertextual dialogue between each text than either of the composers were positioned to even contemplate, allowing us to formulate a greater involvement in considering the composer’s portrayal of where society’s future will lie.
What the audience takes away from text
Will society succeed?
Or ultimately fail...
Different contexts lead to different values being explored, and a dual analysis of paired texts fosters an intertextual perspective that invites responders to evaluate similar ideas and values relevant to an audience’s current concerns. A comparative analysis of George Orwell’s novel
and Fritz Lang’s film
, demonstrates that each composer amplifies the concerns of their time and aesthetic context. This inadvertently reinforces patriarchal values through the composer’s portrayal of technology, power and gender, leading responders to an understanding that different contexts provide different ways to interrogate past values in light of current mores.
George Orwell’s novel
and Fritz Lang’s film
, influenced by their respective contexts, uniquely portray the themes of technology, power and gender throughout their texts to foster an evaluation of future society. However, an audience’s context is influenced by themes that echo their own experiences and worldview, changing their response to the composer’s desired themes and values. Therefore, context shapes the lens both through which composers address issues and responders examine the values being explored. Context between composers and their texts is not limited to the concerns of a single era but can reverberate and amplify current concerns of the responder, leading to a deeper understanding of a text’s core values.
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