metropolis and 1984

The key thing that advanced module a wants you to focus on is context. Metropolis and 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) are two great texts with a great deal of similarities to focus on this particular concept. How does context shape how composers perceive the world? How does when and where they live impact how they construct their texts? What is the purpose of their writing and how is it influenced by their context? Who is the audience when the text is created and what elements of the text are still relevant today?  In this module you want to be looking for both timely and timeless elements of a composer’s work. Remember, it is helpful to differentiate between the cultural, social and historical contexts of each text. This post will be focusing on a direct comparison between George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).

Module Key Words

Context, purpose, audience, meaning, comparing, perspectives, social, cultural, historical, language forms, language features, ideas, values, attitudes, significance

Advanced Module A: Audiences in Different Contexts


Germans after the First World War were fractured and seeking a coherent identity. After suffering an enormous currency devaluation, extremist groups on both the left and right political spectrums began to grow. In 1923, the Nazi Party attempted a coup, Hitler was arrested and instead of being shot as a traitor, Hitler was jailed for 9 months. The trial was widely publicised and is likely to have created a great deal of concern for individuals who were worried about the Nazi party getting into power. The late 1920s for Germany was a nervous and tense time when people were seeking leadership. Metropolis attempts to speak to this audience.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

In stark contrast to the hopeful message prevalent in the 1920s, Orwell is scathing in his assessment of the human condition in Nineteen Eighty-Four(1984). The great dictators of the century had crushed the spirit of the people. Both texts are cautionary tales that aim to educate populations, however, Orwell’s successful later works were vastly different to his hopeful early writing. It is important to also remember that Orwell was writing as much for himself as he was for the people of the world. He was deeply concerned by the rising power that totalitarian dictators were wielding and knew that he was dying. This was a man wholeheartedly concerned with saving humanity from the horror of itself. He just didn’t believe that it was possible. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) was a jibe at the media, powerful figures and the everyman that failed to do anything meaningful to stop the horrors from happening.  


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Metropolis and 1984 Comparison of Symbols, Ideas and Motifs 

Urban Decay VS Decay When the Proletariat Stop Working

Nineteen Eighty-Four was written after World War II, a time when vast urban cities would have been bombed out and destroyed. Orwell’s Airstrip One is a run-down “grimy landscape” without much colour and vibrancy. This type of a world exists in every facet of life for the protagonist. Although the rich in Orwell’s text have access to more material comforts, they still inhabit this dull, drab place. This is similar to the lower city in Metropolis where the workers all wear overalls and are living in utter discomfort. Where the texts differ is Lang’s upper city is beautiful and comfortable with large gardens, sporting events and essentially anything that a wealthy individual could ask for. The decay in Metropolis occurs when the poor people stop working which destroys the machine that sustains both poor and rich alike. Metropolis and 1984 both consider urban decay to be a reality of modern living but the different composers have their own reasons for why the decay occurs. 

Danger of Totalitarianism VS Romanticised Industrialisation

Fascism and totalitarian leadership wasn’t seen as quite the horrible thing that it is known as today prior to the Second World War. This is mostly due to the atrocities not having occurred yet. Hence, with Mussolini’s fascist state only being formed 2 years prior to Metropolis being released, people naturally had a view of industrialisation as some incredible force without a face. Lang’s film depicts a romanticised view of industrialisation where all parties, the leaders or ‘head’, the workers or ‘hands’ and the ‘heart’ need to co-exist peacefully to build a positive future. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four however did not posit such positivity upon industrialisation. He saw industrialised states that were run by totalitarian dictators as inherently dangerous for populations because the leaders would serve themselves and their interests before the people. The different contexts of Metropolis and 1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) provides a strong case for how time and place influences meaning.

Power and Control VS Trying to Maintain Power for the People

Orwell’s characters aim to control either themselves or others for the sake of their own personal freedom or control whereas Lang’s leadership merely aims to serve the populace and their great failing in the text is when they forget to be good to the people.

Metropolis and 1984 are two texts with powerful messages that speak to audiences both in their contexts as well as remaining socially and culturally relevant today.

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