Metropolis is Thea von Harbou’s novelization of the scenario for the 1926 film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang. Although the story has its origins in Lang’s vision of the city of the future and his fascination with modern industrial machinery, the main elements of the plot were devised by von Harbou.
The story concerns the efforts of Freder to mediate between the oppressed workers and the managerial elite of the city of Metropolis. As the son of Joh Fredersen, the mastermind controlling the great city, Freder leads a life of tremendous privilege until his complacency is disturbed by a young woman. As she leads a group of working-class children into the pleasure gardens of the sons of the elite, Maria reminds Freder that these emaciated waifs are his brothers and sisters. Freder descends into the machine rooms below the city and has a vision of the machines as merciless gods consuming the workers that serve them. When Freder raises the question of the plight of the workers, his father dismisses his concerns. Joh Fredersen rationalizes this by pointing out that nonintellectual laborers are inherently inefficient and must ultimately be replaced.
Dismayed by the callousness of his father’s attitude, Freder descends once more into the machine rooms. There he changes clothes with one of the workers, No. 11811, at his machine, intending to finish the work shift and experience the life of his brothers below ground. At the end of the shift, he follows the workers to a vaulted sepulcher deep below the machine rooms. There he finds Maria preaching a sermon to the workers and soothing their frustrations with the masters of Metropolis. She promises...
(The entire section is 689 words.)