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The fear of a dystopian future that is explored in both Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four is reflective of the values of the societies at the time and the context of the authors. As authors are considered conduits of their societies and historical period, it could be said that both Nineteen Eighty Four and Metropolis are didactic pieces of history themselves. This is expressed through the ways they effectively articulate the aspects of life that were valued particularly by Weimer Republic Germany and Post-WWII England and authorial choices and themes of each that come as a direct result of the context in which both texts were contrived.
Concepts of power and authority within both Nineteen Eighty Four and Metropolis explore the values and attitudes of each of the societies from which the texts stemmed. Metropolis , conceived in the years of the Weimar Republic, alliterates the fear of a dystopian future through a corporate totalitarian regime. Germany’s move from an empire to a republic and the move away from monarchy to a presidency also promoted a fierce capitalistic push intended to boost economic profit. This is clearly visible in the absolute capitalistic rule that Joh Frederson holds over the city. Nineteen Eighty Four features a fear of absolute power in the dominance that is established throughout the novel in mentions of The Party and within the details of the hierarchical system of Oceania. Both of these speculative post war texts were created as a comment on their respective political contexts and the previous wars.
Nineteen Eighty Four particularly focuses on the consequence of introducing an all-powerful government and allowing the development of socialism as Orwell’s fictitious governmental system, “Ingsoc” which stands for English Socialism and is a comment on the National Socialism Party in Germany during WWII. The content of both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four encapsulates the dystopic vision of power imbalance that was the result of the values and attitudes of the societies from which they were conceived. The rapidly evolving technology and the impact of technology on society and politics is key in both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four and is often used to represent the shortcomings of the nature of the societies of both texts. Technology is a central theme within the sci-fi genre and is extremely prominent in both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four. The post World War societies were concerned with the progressing technologies that were spurred by WWI and WWII respective to each text.
The politics at work in Nineteen Eighty Four encapsulates this way of thinking in one of The Party’s slogans – “WAR IS PEACE” as war often demands retaliation in the development of technology for further advanced forms of warfare. Where technology in Nineteen Eighty Four is used to maintain the oppressive governmental regimes and absolute power of The Party, technology in Metropolis is supposedly used to better the lives of citizens. In the Moloch scene, Freder envisions the machines consuming the people, ironically displaying the real beneficiaries of the technology of the city. This is further evident later in the film when the workers strike and the city collapses into mayhem. Orwell and Lang’s contemplative visions of technology in a dystopia encapsulate the fear of the unknown, particularly with technologies that people cannot control or may lose control of in the future.
A lack of freedom and choice is represented in both texts through the extreme and dehumanising surveillance of the lower classes. This is represented through the characterisation of The Thin Man in Lang’s Metropolis and through the recurring telescreens, Big Brother slogans and institutionalised methods of torture in Nineteen Eighty Four. The lack of freedom and the constant supervision of both lower class societies examine the fear that people have of being watched and scrutinised, even in our contemporary world. This fear is epitomised in Nineteen Eighty Four and regimented more brutally than in Metropolis , where workers fear the loss of their jobs rather the loss of their lives for being caught violating the expected code of conduct. However both the incessant surveillance of every person through telescreens in every apartment in Nineteen Eighty Four and the institutionalised surveying of the workers in Metropolis are both means implemented by the upper classes in order to keep the lower classes slaves to the wishes of their superiors. Particularly evident in Nineteen Eighty Four, the role of the “thought police” demonstrates the dehumanisation and lack of freedom that is prevalent due to the excessive surveillance methods. Orwell’s post WWII context is clearly visible in the satirical way in which he plays on the Nazi Party in Germany and the policing of thoughts that were not favourable to the regimes in place.
The intertextual perspectives on dystopic futures on display in Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four develop an appreciation for the contextual values and political landscapes that prompted the development of these texts within audiences. Both Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty Four depict the societal fears of unbalances in power, excessive surveillance and the uncontrollable progression of technology. Both texts provide not only insightful didactic messages from the periods from which they were contrived, but also serve as a reminder for future generations, making them ageless classic texts.
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