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Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four Essay

The question
(adapted from 2014 HSC)

Rebellion and revolution are ideas which connect Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four. How do these two texts from different contexts reflect changing perspectives on this idea?

What it requires

Both texts are connected by an exploration of rebellion and revolution that have direct relevance to the composers and their audiences. Compare and contrast the similarities and differences of the way each text portrays rebellion and revolution, taking into account context, audience, language and textual form.

Prescribed texts: Metropolis (1929), directed by Fritz Lang (film)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell (novel)

Introduction begins with broader positioning of thesis, then introduces text followed by thesis statement which suggests contextual links When distribution of power in a society is too unevenly distributed, or when one group abuses their power too greatly to the detriment of others, then the oppressed often find a way to rebel or even initiate revolution. In Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four we see depictions of dystopian societies that provoke rebellion or revolution, though as each text was produced during or shortly after significantly different periods of conflict and upheaval, we ultimately see two different attitudes presented, with very different expectations for the outcome of such actions.

Topic sentence links to question

Direct reference to context

Analysis of images & sequences from the text with comparison of examples from text to reinforce topic sentence

Concluding statement links back to thesis and introduces next paragraph Throughout history, the most common social structure to provoke revolution is one with hierarchical social classes. Lang’s depiction of divided social classes in a film encouraging sympathy for the lower class has parallels with its time, being produced shortly after the German revolution in which the imperial government was replaced by a form of representative democracy (the Weimar Republic). Lang uses expressionistic imagery, and the strong contrast of light and shade characteristic of German Expressionist Cinema to distinguish the two classes inhabiting the futuristic city.

The workers are depicted in uniform black, trudging in synchronised columns into a dark tunnel to their work with the machines. Exiting, they walk at a slower pace suggesting work draws the life out of them, while montages of gears and heavy machinery construct them as part of the machine. This opening sequence is juxtaposed with the light shades and open spaces of the upper city, particularly the Eternal Garden. While workers trudge into dark tunnels, Freder, the protagonist and other sons of Metropolis’ elite run freely in leisure activities beneath towering walls and statues. This clear social divide establishes the familiar pattern for the revolution that is to come.

Connects texts with comparative phrase ‘more complex’

Contextual difference between texts

Brief summary of text links to topic sentence.

Analysis of narrative style continues line of argument

Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four explores the more complex scenario of an oppressive regime that maintains power through propaganda, subtle behavioural controls, and fear. Written 20 years after the production of Metropolis, and after the world had already seen the extremes of fascism and totalitarian regimes such as Hitler’s Nazi Party and Stalin’s regime in Russia, Orwell creates a dystopian society of satirical extremes in which every aspect of an individual’s life, including their thoughts, are the subject of control strategies implemented in the name of the oppressive figurehead known as Big Brother.

The close-framed narrative allows the reader to get inside the head of protagonist Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party of the English Socialist Party in decaying post-revolutionary London, now part of the mega-state of Oceania. His main occupation of rewriting historical records to reflect current party policy represents one extreme manifestation of totalitarian control. Through this activity, Winston introduces us to Doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your head while guiding yourself to believe the one that best fits the principles of Ingsoc, the party doctrine. To even doubt or question Ingsoc is dubbed ‘thoughtcrime’, and pursued ruthlessly by the thought police.

Contextual links reinforce thesis

Comparison of set texts and concluding statement link back to thesis

In a policy reminiscent of the great purges of Stalinist Russia or the Night of the Long Knives in Hitler’s Nazi Party, anyone accused of thoughtcrime is ‘disappeared’ in the night and presumed executed or vaporised. Unlike the clearly divided social classes of Metropolis, the climate of fear in totalitarian London, coupled with the ever-present eye of Big Brother through the telescreens and the slogan ‘Big Brother is Watching You’, encourages people to oppress themselves, as people live in fear of being accused, falsely or otherwise, and executed.

Topic sentence establishes commonality between texts before focusing on specific text

Brief synopsis, introducing biblical allusions

Detailed analysis of imagery and symbolism showing different perspectives linked to thesis

Concluding statement links to next paragraph

While both texts explore the idea of rebellion and revolution against such oppressive regimes, neither provides a single-sided view of the issue. In Metropolis, the revolution is initiated as a foolhardy act of manipulation by the ruling class. Joh Fredersen and his mad scientist companion, Rotwang, kidnap Maria, the Madonna-like figure who first entices Freder to learn the plight of the workers. After seeing Maria preaching to the workers using the oft-repeated phrase that ‘the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart’ Frederson and Rotwang replace her with a robotic doppelganger to stir up dissent and rebellion in the workers so that Fredersen can be justified in using greater force against them.

The workers who rise to robot-Maria’s call to destroy the machines are depicted as foolhardy, as they unknowingly leave their children behind in peril when their rampage causes flooding. This action symbolises the dangers of revolution, suggesting that in taking control of the present, then the future that the children represent may be sacrificed. Further folly is committed when the workers ignore the warnings of one of their own, Grot, and destroy the heart machine of Metropolis, symbolically rendering the city lifeless and in essence destroying the thing they may have hoped to claim. The epic scale of this revolution, however, is in strong contrast to the nature of rebellion in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Compares texts with ‘instead’

Developing argument with textual references and analysis of motif

Analysis of symbolism links to topic sentence

Concluding statement includes contextual links

Instead of an epic revolution, Winston’s rebellion against the party is ironic in that his rebellion is to pursue acts associated with a ‘normal’ life. Once the audience understands the concepts of thoughtcrime and doublethink, then it becomes apparent how his continued questioning of the official party story is a dangerous and rebellious act. A key motif that represents Winston’s rebellion is the repetition of the line ‘two plus two equals four’, which the audience recognises as a factual statement, but which comes to symbolise the power of the party’s control mechanisms that they might persuade someone to believe that two plus to equals five. In this way, all of Winston’s rebellions take the form of ordinary activities for the reader – a love affair, consuming real coffee and chocolate – yet the fact they are rebellious defines another aspect of life that the party has coerced and perverted as part of their drive for power. Winston’s rebellion celebrates life and his actions serve as Orwell’s warning against any system of authority in which everyday actions might be seen as questionable.

Directly compares texts with brief analysis of plot and  concluding link to thesis

It is in the resolution of the acts of rebellion and revolution that the key differences between the texts emerge. Where Metropolis ends with a sense of hope (the liberated Maria unites Grot and Federsen through the empathic figure of Freder), Nineteen Eighty-Four’s final line in which Winston proclaims his love for Big Brother is seen as a final, crushing defeat that suggests no hope exists in such a system of power.

Conclusion summarises how the question has been answered, with suggestions for further lines of inquiry arising from this essay In conclusion, it is possible to view these two texts as counterpoints to each other. While still recognising the dangers of revolution, Metropolis reflects the sense of hope that is ultimately represented by such an action while Nineteen Eighty-Four shows what such hopes can easily become. It is not insignificant then that Orwell wrote his novel after fighting directly against the fascists that would arise out of the German experience, and that he throws into question the value of the revolutionary spirit and whether or not it has ever produced an ideal, long-term outcome.


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