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Analyzing Dystopian Fiction: How George Orwell's '1984' and Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' Explores Oppression

Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

The compelling issues of mass manipulation and political oppression as demonstrated by the posters Metropolis and 1984, have been integrated into dystopian literature. George Orwell is considered to have revolutionized the idea of political manipulation with his iconic novel, 1984. His text brilliantly demonstrates a dystopian future under a totalitarian rule, creating an intelligent interpretation of the technological and political concerns in the early 20th century. The masterpiece clearly corresponds with rudimentary predictions of dystopian futures insinuated by Fritz Lang’s film, Metropolis, despite of differing contexts. Ultimately, through form and techniques, Orwell and Lang clearly created persistently significant classics with issues that are still relevant today.

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism

— George Orwell


Who was George Orwell?

George Orwell was a prominent writer of dystopian fiction, influencing films today such as The Hunger Games and Divergent.

Orwell was a libertarian socialist famous for his critique of how thought is controlled by totalitarian societies, but also how such an outcome is achieved in supposedly free societies. He wrote about how thoughts are suppressed without the use of force, as shown through the themes of terror, repression and surveillance found within his works such as Animal Farm, 1984 and Homage to Catalonia.

Orwell’s experience of WW1, the imperialist motives of his own country England, the poverty brought by the Great Depression, witnessing the undeniable oppression of the working class and the repressive tactics of fascist regimes, are undeniable factors that shaped his political views and writing.Orwell’s critique suggests that exploitation, oppression, terror tactics and the repression of thoughts exist in our society today.

For these reasons, Orwell concluded that capitalism needed to be overthrown. This is shown through how he engaged with struggle, such as how he fought against fascist general Francisco Franco in the Spanish Revolution. This was a seven-year worker and peasant revolt that had challenged the running of Spanish capitalism that Franco attempted to end. Participating in this revolution transformed his understanding of socialism since he witnessed the profound ability of workers to create a new society.

Metropolis, you know, was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers of New York in October 1924 [...] while visiting New York, I thought that it was the crossroads of multiple and confused human forces, blinded and knocking into one another, in an irresistible desire for exploitation, and living in perpetual anxiety... At night, the city did not simply give the impression of living: it lived as illusions live. I knew I should make a film of all these impressions.

— Fritz Lang


Who was Fritz Lang?

Fritz Lang, (born December 5, 1890, Vienna, Austria-Hungary—died August 2, 1976, Los Angeles, California, U.S.) was a famous Austrian-born American motion-picture director whose films are considered masterpieces of visual composition and expressionistic suspense.

Lang had already created an impressive body of work in the German cinema before coming to the United States in 1934. He had lived during the reign of the Weimar Republic in Germany, who was a failed democratic party that was overthrown by the Nazi Party in 1929. The economic and political aftermath of World War One and the agreement created due to The Treaty of Versailles led to hyperinflation in Germany, revolts on the streets and dissatisfaction with the ruling powers.

One of his most famous films, 'Metropolis' was commissioned as propaganda for the Weimar Republic. 'Metropolis; served as a prototype for Sci-Fi films in terms of thematics, cityscapes (real and imagined),SFX and character types.

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Concerns of mass manipulation

Concerns of mass manipulation were Orwell’s reaction to industrial development as issues of science is still prevalent in today’s society. The hybrid word, ‘telescreens’ represents how he perceived the television as an instrument in dictating society’s true enemy, growing concerned for how machinery was becoming permanent fixtures in households. For instance, ‘two-minute hates’ towards Goldstein references Trotsky to demonstrate the psychological need in society to identify the enemy. This demonstrates how the manipulation of frustration drove mass hates such as the one he experienced in the Pooh.

Furthermore, ideas of ‘hates’ are pursued by the machine man’s mass manipulation of the lower class to convince them, ‘war is peace.’ Religious allusion conveyed through the romantic blurs around Maria during her film capture condones peace through speech, highlighting the issues that technology presents in regards to the human condition.

This is relevant to today’s issue of cloning, questioning like in 1984 and Metropolis how far humanity should push scientific endeavors. Thus, Lang approaches issues of the industrial evolution in religious context whilst Orwell confronts the audience of how technology could induce mass manipulation, demonstrating similarities in the forms despite of differing contexts.


Concerns of technology

Social conflict faced by Weimar Germany left Metropolis’ viewers susceptible to the eschatological narrative, creating religious issues against science. Lang conveys his perspective through the mise-en-scene of the seven deadly sins foreshadowing the complications of the Machine man’s existence. This biblical allusion draws in Germany’s predominant Christian social base to convey his concerns of the industrial revolution.

Hence, in contrast to Orwell’s creation of INGSOC to demonstrate technological manipulation, Lang uses Christian iconography to appeal to Germany. This proves to be relevant to modern society through issues of publicity that technology gives extremist groups, allowing citizens to be manipulated to their cause. Therefore, Lang uses religious context to demonstrate his warnings against industrial development, whilst Orwell uses political allusions, proving how despite differing contexts how successful both texts are.

Video SparkNotes: Orwell's 1984 Summary

Lang contradicts the issue of corrupt politics in Metropolis with submission to patriotism, a factor Orwell challenges despite similar themes. Lang juxtaposes moral disillusionment of the worker’s chaotic revolution with the rigid organisation of worker bodies kerbed in Metropolis’ conclusion to show how organisational peace would be the result of democracy. However, this is contradicted by the tight, symmetrical movements of workers since it associated with the Third Reich and movements witnessed in earlier scenes.

On the other hand, since the Spanish Civil War Orwell Orwell demonstrated his anarchic idealisms. 1984’s poster focalizes an isolated Winston who on the foreground shines in comparison to the monochrome, silhouette workers to advocate the moods of isolation. This highlights how emotional energies can be monopolised towards patriotism, enabling Orwell to create a personal connection with the audience and demonstrate his concerns of extremist regimes. In contrast, Freder’s patriotism to his ‘brothers and sisters,’ reveals Lang’s propagandist dedication to the Weimar.

Therefore, through creating a parallel world where a free country such as England was placed under a totalitarian rule Orwell was able to illustrate his political warning for today’s society to speak up against political injustice whilst Lang warns society to peacefully follow parties that are in power.

Metropolis Analysis


It is clear that 1984 and Metropolis are brilliant texts that revitalized society’s perceptions of possible dystopian futures. Both contexts comment on societal concerns that arise due to technological advancement, warning future generations that the decay in human morality may come at the price of humanity’s lust for power. Hence, although both Lang and Orwell demonstrate different political standpoints, both texts convey these issues in the interest of humanity. In summation; through the skilled use of form and incorporation of context both 1984 and Metropolis are didactic classics.

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