Metropolisand the Modernist
Metropolis, a serious, full-length, utopian feature, is arguably the first science fiction film. 1 While this genre problematises current reality and therefore belongs to modernity, it insists, against scientific reason, on the danger of the new. Seeking menace within the familiar, and educing dread in exploration of the unfamiliar, science fiction shares Gothic obsessions with the uncanny. Both invert perceptions, create ambivalence, and transgress binary oppositions by acknowledging the repressed negative within every positive.
Gothic as negative modernity expresses alienation engendered by theories and systems that undermine humanist and commonsense perception, as witnessed by the rise of Darwinism, Marxism, technology, psychoanalysis and relativity. Small wonder mad scientists feature prominently. Twentieth-century Gothic puts less emphasis on setting rational knowledge against spirituality (although residues of that tendency inform Metropolis), but posits individualism and community as threatened by regulation. At stake are psychic integrity and confidence in agency and purpose. The modernist Gothic attempts mastery by projecting new fears on to familiar forms.
Metropolis, like many Gothic texts, enters into discourses around leadership, moderation and fear of the mob. Released less than a decade after the Russian revolution and a war in which millions died under officers qualified by class privilege, it condenses social extremes in the image of the robot, who agitates the masses andtakes orders from the dictator, both of which are monstrous. Oppression and destruction, hope and liberation, are channelled in Metropolisthrough the bifurcated heroine, which focuses anxieties about woman, technology and revolutionary politics.