METROPOLIS (1927) – Location as Character



Director: Fritz Lang

Screenplay: Thea von Harbou

Finally, I got around to sticking on my Metropolis Blu Ray remastered for the 2010 version of the film including an extra 25 minutes of found footage which, I believe, makes this the most complete version of the film currently available. I think we are probably all agreed that Metropolis is a masterpiece of storytelling. Other than the black and white images that move in the classic, slightly faster than average theatrical way, the film is not dated. The themes and story are timeless, the characters empathetic and interesting. I suspect many contemporary viewers may turn their nose up at the monochrome images and the “dodgy” effects, but they are missing a trick. For the record, I think the effects are stunning, especially considering the age of the film, but also the vision and ambition in the visuals. There are even a couple of points where I wonder, “how did they do that?!”

The visuals in Metropolis are what led me to this post. While watching the film for the first time in years, and certainly since taking up the art of screenwriting, it occurred to me that Metropolis does something else superbly, other than just tell a fantastic story with compelling characters. It uses “place” to great effect. The locations and settings in the story clearer mirror and reflect the human characters in the story, effectively making Metropolis a character of its own.

The pristine, “upper world” of Metropolis mirrors the naivety and privilege of Freder who lives blissfully unaware of the grime-ridden city of the workers below as well as the “vision” of his father, who does know about the under-world, but is determined to preserve the glory of Metropolis.

The underworld, city of workers perfectly illustrates the plight of those destined to work below ground, undertaking takes that they know they have to do, but perhaps are unsure why. Their simple (not easy) lives are reflected in the character of Maria, their potential saviour.

And this is important in a screenplay. It helps your viewer understand the world around your characters but also brings the world alive so that it becomes realistic and believable. Anyone can write a screenplay where you carefully describe the locations and settings in which the action occurs and this is fine, to a point. But why should be care about the locations if they don’t reflect the characters and the situations they find themselves in?

Take BURIED (2010) for example. This film would have been a lot less interesting and effective if the locations had included views of the offices of those searching for Paul. The tension built up through the use of that location would have been lost every time we cut to another perspective. The claustrophobic atmosphere would have been lost.

Even something as simple as the final shot of Planet of the Apes (1968) would have been far less effective without that particular, careful use of location.

So, when planning you latest story, take care to research your settings and locations as much as your characters, it might just make or break your story.

Do you think carefully about your settings?

Is location important for your stories?

Feel free to comment below.

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Posted on May 17, 2015, in Character, Films, theme, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I just watched this movie for the first time last month. My initial thought was “Wow, these effects are amazing, considering it’s the 1920s and they’re only a few decades from the invention of moving pictures.” In retrospect, the locations made a big impact, especially in the underground scene when the flooding starts and the children are running to Maria for safety. It really added to the tone of desperation when the simple homes began to tumble and there was no way out but up.

    Liked by 1 person

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