Analyzing a work of art (a painting, a film or a sculpture) with the help of another work is always an interesting idea since it helps to make the necessary conclusions. Marshall McLuhan’s book “Understanding Media” serves as an important tool for understanding some key aspects of media. At the same time, some well-known media products like Lang’s film named “Metropolis” are better understood when applied studying tools to. This work will be dedicated to the analysis of “Metropolis” with the help of “Understanding Media”.
Marshall McLuhan and his "Understanding Media"
McLuhan’s book was a study of the media and its influence on the society. He proposed that the objects of study should be the media themselves and not the content that they present. His famous: “The medium is the message” (McLuhan) became a popular quote. McLuhan makes a detailed study of such media as movies, radio, television and written and spoken word.
McLuhan made an interesting theory, dividing the media into “hot” and “cool”, as based on the degree of the person’s involvement. He insisted that “hot” media usually provide participation without significant stimulus. They usually engage one sense, for example sound or sight. The “hot” media are films, lectures and radio. They are usually very low in involvement due to high definition of sense (Hot and Cold Media). On the other hand, “cool” media provide participation with significant stimulus on the part of the person. In McLuhan’s opinion, the “cool” media are television and seminars.
Fritz Lang's film “Metropolis” (Metropolis) was filmed in Germany in 1925. Its plot is futuristic, describing life in the city of Metropolis in 2026. Freder, the rich son of the city master Joh Fredersen, falls in love with Maria, a young woman from the working class area, who preaches Christian-like ideas to workers. There is a great gap and tension between the city intellectuals and industrial class, who live in poverty and endanger themselves every day, while operating huge machines. Maria predicts that a mediator between the workers and the rulers would come. She calls him “the heart between the head and the hands”. Meanwhile, Rotwang, an ingenious but crazy scientist creates a robot looking like Maria to mislead the workers and destroy the city. The workers rebel but, in the end, Freder steps in as the promised mediator and reconciles both the workers and the rulers. The prophesy is fulfilled and Freder and Maria join as a couple.
The film was made silent with regular subtext, relaying the speech of the main characters. The film was accompanied by orchestra music composed by a German composer Gottfried Huppertz with inclusions from well-known works.
Film analysis through “Understanding Media”
The idea of “Metropolis” was to find a balance between the working class and the rulers of the German society in the face of approaching economic crisis, which later manifested in Adolf Hitler’s coming to power and. As based on the devastations, caused by the French Revolution and the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, the film served as a warning to the rulers of capitalist countries, calling them to start a dialogue in order to avoid approaching havoc. The author used Biblical themes to convey his message. His work was a noble but somewhat naïve and unsuccessful attempt to draw people’s attention to avoid the outbreak of the catastrophe. However, the methods and techniques, which he used, made the film a very appealing masterpiece.
As based on the McLuhan’s approach of “hot” and “cool” media, “Metropolis”, without a doubt, can be called a “hot” medium. It definitely falls under this category, since it is a film. Besides, the fact that it is silent and uses subtext, simply stresses the idea of using just one sense – sight - to receive the information. That further proves McLuhan’s idea. Sound was not at all used for the primary purpose; it simply adds expression to the whole picture.
According to the theory stated in “Understanding Media”, the viewer participates without any significant stimulus. The film captivates and keeps the audience involved and thus, the main idea is successfully delivered to the recipient (the viewer). That, to a large degree, proves McLuhans theory that films are a good (“hot”) tool to relay any chosen idea and the viewer passively receives the information through one of his faculties, which, in this case, is sight.