On Sprawls and Metropolis

The term sprawl is more commonly associated with Gibson’s Sprawl series, and his imaginings of a highly technological cityscape that swathes the populous, still hyper-Orientalised; a mixing pot of a multitude of different races dwarfed by the tall, and immense buildings, drawn straight from myth and legend. The word implies a state of messiness, an ugliness, a muddiness. Ridley Scott’s dystopic cityscape still remains as one of the most influential SF film sprawls of all time. It is difficult to watch and not notice anything Scott-ish in SF post-1982 due to the fact that Blade Runner has changed the world (whether intentionally or casually remains irrelevant). However, the future of SF was not only indebted to Scott’s Blade Runner but Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.


A City To Make Me by Scott Richard.

I am intrigued by the story of Lang visiting New York for the first time, and witnessing ‘the great metropolis of the modern world…and his alarm at a city that seemed animated by the perpetual anxiety born of universal exploitation’ (Minden, M 2000, pp. 341), something very similar to my experience when witnessing Scott’s vistas for the first time. Lang’s sprawl, like Scott’s cityscape, is inspired by the ancient; the viewer greeted by a faux recreation of an ancient Greek-styled stadium, and the upper echelon “Club of the Sons”, a slight recreation of the Garden of Eden.

New York, 1920s.

New York in the 1920’s.

In his essay ‘Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the United States’, Michael Minden claims that the metropolis is representative of its creator Joh Fredersen; a fast moving step in a technologically primitive Europe, akin to the techno-industrial world of the US (Minden, M 2000, pp. 341). He is the archetypal capitalist, his concern only for wealth, primed by greed, and gorged on the fat of his underpaid, disillusioned workers. There is an obvious counterpart to Fredersen, the elusive, mad scientist Rotwang that according to Minden represents the Promethean or Faustian figure; creator, inventor albeit tortured individual (Minden, M 2000, pp. 343). Minden goes further to state that his obsession with technology, which cost him an arm, is representative of a further tormented European technology than is both brilliant but destructive; his prosthesis indicative of the mutilation wrought in the First World War (Minden, M 2000, pp. 343).

Though my analysis of Metropolis’ sprawl may appear distant, it is through the understanding of these two opposites that the reader comes to discern the importance of Fredersen’s Metropolis—it is a sprawl born of anxieties of the antiquated, and hopes of the new. It is easy to dismiss Metropolis as the definitive “dystopian” view of the modern world (Telotte, J.P. 1996, pp. 161), and perhaps even preferred for most academics; but like the central theme of the film, the mediator between head and hands must be the heart (Lang, F 2010 [1927]), and through the journey of the romantic lead, and Fredersen’s son, Freder, Lang understands that the sprawl is not entirely negative (as per his awe during his travels to New York), but capable of human atrocity just as it is evocative of the brilliance of mankind.


Frederson, the capitalist and omnipotent creator of Metropolis, and Rotwang, the ingenious, maniacal inventor of the Maschinenmensch (the android, or simply put, robot Maria).

Though it is glib to claim that all sprawls are essentially similar in theme (and even outwardly appearance), it is prudent to understand that all sprawls are indebted to the ingenuity of Lang’s mindscape; the beauty, and the Gothicity as the industrial workers are devoured by the gaping maw of Moloch. As a SF writer, the sprawls in my vision are but mere phantasies and illusions drawn from Lang’s reveries. Though implicitly, through Lang’s masterpiece of SF, the canon is now full to the brim of post-modern SF texts, grungy sprawls and miasmic metropoles. Fredersen and Rotwang though ostensibly different are but the yin and yang of the modern sprawl.

Share This Post
Written by Dann Lewis
Writer. Real Doctor. Phony Academic. Cyberpunk. Hobby Hero.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>