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Summary of Metropolis Conversation

2009 March 18
by Laura Blankenship

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to capture this all that accurately, so please feel free to add corrections and/or additions in the comments.

There were several different threads and they all certainly speak to the movie and give us something to think about, but it’s hard to weave them together into something coherent.  There was, however, quite a bit of conversation around relationships between things and between people.  What is the relationship between the mind and the hand? What is the relationship between the classes, between the genders, between the father and the son, between the watchers and the watched, between human and machine?  It seems that these relationships could not be entirely pinned down.  The math majors offered us 3 different equation-like analyses of the relationship between the mind and the hand that seemed typical of many of the conversations.

From a social commentary perspective, there was conversation around change/revolution and whether the film advocated these kinds of changes or whether change was ultimately impossible.  We talked about this more at the end in discussion of violent vs. non-violent protest.

Interestingly, there were a few discussions that focused on the film as visual representation apart from any discussion of either relationships or social commentary.  Not that those representations weren’t themselves a form of commentary on social conditions, but some groups were simply struck by the representation itself.  As one group pointed out, there was a tension between the spectacle and the plot at times and they were wondering what that meant.    Of course, those spectacles and representations forced us to see relationship a certain way.  For example, one group noted the way robot Maria was figured as a goddess primarily through one of the most spectacular scenes in the move where she performs for the “masters”.

aalch has an interesting post up that I think asks the questions we were wrestling with in class on Monday, the idea that the film sets up all these contrasts, or oppositional relationships as I’ve discussed them here, that it doesn’t entirely resolve.  If the heart is the = sign between the head and the hand, what the heck does that mean? Did change happen or not? Is it an equal sign or a > sign?  Are humans ultimately more important, more valued than technology?  One could say that by getting rid of the robot, the film says they are, but it also seems that the workers are going back to their machines.  One doesn’t know if their conditions will change.  The film leaves this an open question, which leaves me wondering whether it’s really a Marxist critique of capitalism at all.

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