• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • You already know Dokkio is an AI-powered assistant to organize & manage your digital files & messages. Very soon, Dokkio will support Outlook as well as One Drive. Check it out today!


Expressionist mise-en scene in Metropolis

Page history last edited by Kathryn Hansen 14 years, 5 months ago

German Expressionism 




This is a unique film style that developed in Weimer Germany, during the years between World War I and World War II. It's main focus was on the visual aspects on the screen meant to express emotions that would trigger more personal reactions from the audience. According to Davis Hudson, German expressionism was an exploration, "into juxtaposing light and shadow." In speaking particularly of Metropolis, he added ,"it was a descent into madness and obsession in an urban setting complete with architectural structures.(1) According to most, Metropolis is considered to be one of the last silent German expressionist films. This term continues to be useful as we look at films from this genre.(1).


Watching the film as one person in the audience really gives meaning to the previous statement. All who were there seemed to be swept away by the otherworldly visuals throughout the film.

In the past traditional and formalist critics of film described films and filming genre's in binary opposites. Such as realism was used to describe films that tried to depict real life in terms of the conventions of unified space and time. While expressionist film tried to define attempts to visualize the universe in strictly subjective view of the artist.  But recent film studies claim that there were no divisions or polarities during this time in the history of film, (2)

German Expressionism is a cinematic style defined by psychological realism, focused on more introspective, intellectual topics, and extended them onto abstract,deliberately artificial looking sets, (3).





This is a principle used in the creation and study of film. It helps interpret meaning from what happens in one single shot, rather than the relationship between two shots. to learn more about this follow the link.


Mise-en-scene in Metropolis


When Fritz Lang's Metropolis was released in 1927, Luis Bunuel wrote that ," if we look instead into the compositional and visual rather than the narrative side of the film, Metropolis exceeds all expectations and enchants as the most wonderful book of images one can in any way imagine" Hudson(1). Every scene in this film has been meticulously thought out. Of particular interest is the staging of the film. The workers live in a city deep below the surface of the earth. All the buildings in this underground city are colorless and all look the same, much as the workers do. In contrast the upper class dwell high above were beauty and opulence abound. Given to lives of luxury and decadence, blissfully unaware of the misery below.


One way Lang worked to get the visual effect of  large sets is to use drawings or miniatures up close to the camera, like a proscenium border. This process called the Schufftan process involves a mirror to incorporate the miniatures into the mise-en-scene.

 In this film the narrative supports the visual images, but also the images create the narrative.

Shift Change

In this scene the workers are synchronized almost automatised. They barely exist, let alone live. They are just an extention of the machine. This is visually expressed through the mise-en-scene.  As you watch this clip you will see the care that went into the creation of this scene. Everything from the costumes,the structure of the doorway. the lighting, all help create the feeling of oppression and the dehumanization of man. the blurring of the line between man and machine. The posture of the actors' even the way they sway back and forth as they walk, almost as if it is to great an effort, all contributes to the unfolding story.

Interpretation of time

  One great example of German Expressionist mise-en-scene is in the scene showing the two clocks. Much is encapsulated in the spatial, semiotic and geometric relations of these clocks. The two social classes exist in different zones. The bottom clock counts off the time in ten hour increments for the workers. Implying that its readers have only basic numeracy skills. They are also systematically denied the rhythms of daylight and night. The upper clock uses a 24-hour system. This is intended for use by the managers, engineers and administrators; it relies on a more sophisticated mathematical concept. the numbers are litterally higher as well, and the clock is placed higher in a position of privilege.

Finally the relative dimensions are significant. the lower clock has a greater mass. This depicts the social crisis of capitalism graphically. In order for the 'haves',( the Club Sons) to have noticeably more than the ''have nots', they must be out of balance. The placement of these two clocks symbolizes the inner workings of metropolis in miniature: a utopia  for the few on top and a dystopia for the many on the bottom. It is interesting to study the complex meanings of just one frame of Metropolis and to realize the depth of meaning that was expressed in this remarkable film.(4).














(1) http://www.spout.com/films/Metropolis/22495/default.aspx

(2) http://.www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Criticism-Ideology/Expressionism-EXPRESSIONISM-AND-FILM-HISTORY.html

(3) Scheunemann, Dietrich. (Ed.). 2003. Expressionist film: New perspectives.Camden House. Rochester, NY

(4). Kerr, John Finlay.  The Cultural Architecture of Metropolis. Screen Education,film as mText 1931-2008 issue 50.

Comments (1)

Sean Desilets said

at 12:52 am on Oct 17, 2009

* The page spends an awful lot of time defining terms that are defined elsewhere in the Wiki and awfully little with mise-en-scene in _Metropolis_.
* Need much more in the way specific reference to mise-en-scene in _Metropolis_, including images
* Research a bit thin

You don't have permission to comment on this page.