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O’Brien’s horrific O’Brien’s horrific metaphor

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1194
  • Category: Metaphor

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Throughout history, there has been ever-changing advance in technology, which can be used as a means of control wielded by those in power over the population. Differences in textual form vividly capture how context shapes composers’ perspectives on whether individuals can successfully challenge threats to humanity from politics and industry. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis, reveals economic anxieties caused by rapid industrialisation, influenced by Weimar Germany’s Golden Years, promotes optimistic views about social reform. However, influenced by the turbulent geopolitical climate post-WWII, George Orwell’s dystopic 1948 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), offers no hope for humanity to survive in a brutalised, totalitarian society. Both texts take a didactic form, warning of the dangers of control via technology and its effect upon the masses.

Lang, in his film, uses cinematic means to condemn governments who exploit workers for economic gain, instead urging cooperation to achieve social equality. Lang represents fears that the rise of mass production would reduce workers to mere machines through a montage of pistons pumping and identically costumed workers trudging into an underground factory. This fear arose due the emerging scientific management principles of Taylorism and Fordism that were increasing in prominence in the post-WWI era. Lang visually juxtaposes this against the clean, futuristic Art-Deco architecture of the City of the Sons. This contrast reveals how film allows Lang to expose the dangers of rampant capitalism and poor working conditions in WWI.

The Tower of Babel scene depicts hordes of workers filling the frame and overwhelming their oppressive masters. This can be interpreted as Lang’s warning to his society that rebellion is inevitable if industry threatens to dehumanise workers for the gain of the socialist class. While Lang’s unnatural visual effects, when the False-Maria is created, criticise governments that use technology to manipulate the population, Metropolis’s optimism for social reform that promotes equality stems from the culturally and economically flourishing Golden Years of Weimar Germany. This hopeful perspective is displayed when worker, Grot, and leader, Joh Frederson, join hands in a symbol of reconciliation between the social classes, emphasised in the intertitle: “he mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.” Metropolis visually reflects the hope of the post-WWI period while simultaneously warning its context of industrialisation’s potential to degrade the working class.

Nineteen Eighty-Four’s portrayal of an extreme totalitarian state, through language and psychologically control of its citizens, prompts responders to challenge diminishing political freedom. While Metropolis depicts how technology establishes economic divisions, Orwell’s stark imagery of “19th century houses shored up with rotting timber” shows how stagnant industry can also threaten humanity and dignity, developing our understanding of how totalitarian states like Stalin’s USSR shape Orwell’s tirade of how citizens are politically manipulated by propaganda. In contrast to Metropolis, Orwell’s novel views technology as a subordinate yet integral part of a more pressing political threat, such as in the Cold War where technological advancement was used as a means of political gain.

Through the simile of ‘the vindictiveness that flowed like an electric current’ in the ritualistic Two Minutes Hate, Orwell warns how Cold War nationalism threatened to produce societies established on political restriction of the individual and self-humiliation. The euphemistic Newspeak coinage “unperson” meaning “you did not exist, you never existed” cleverly uses textual form and control of language to quash the notion of rebellion against the Party. Having witnessed two world wars and the introduction of nuclear technology, Orwell’s bleak predictions for the future of humanity are expressed through Goldstein’s treatise, which foreshadows a world where the ideals fought for in Metropolis are destroyed: “human equality was a danger to be averted.”

O’Brien’s horrific metaphor, “if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever” advances our understanding of how Orwell’s context shaped his perspective that resistance against totalitarian power is pointless. Thus, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s novel form enhances our understanding of Orwell’s context’s disillusionment with political systems that restrict individual freedoms.

The triumph of Metropolis’s protagonist, Freder, signifies Lang’s perspective that by working together, individuals and society can bring about economic change and equality. As the privileged son of Metropolis’s ruler, Freder’s realisation of immense inequality is intensified through hyperbolic German Expressionist distortions made possible through the film medium. Biblical allusion, such as the low-angle shot of the Moloch, pagan god of sacrifice, develops our understanding of how industrial threats to humanity in Lang’s context shaped his critical perspective. When Freder operates the hands of a clock, his deformed body and pained facial expressions are visually reminiscent of Jesus’s crucifixion, emphasising the enslavement of the proletariat as well as characterising Freder’s struggle as noble and heroic. Lang’s representation of Freder as a guardian of the human spirit is developed further when, after Maria implores the workers to wait for a “mediator”, chiaroscuro shading illuminates the angelic Freder in the foreground, clutching his heart.

Eventually Freder upholds Lang’s conservative Christian values of respect and love, and defeats the False-Maria, who is costumed in with heavy makeup as the “Whore of Babylon” to represent the dangers of sexual deviance and hedonism that threatened to derail Weimar Germany’s economy. Thus, the visualisation of Freder’s success, which develops our understanding of how economic concerns shaped Lang’s composition of Metropolis, was only possible through using film as the textual form.
However, the inevitable defeat of Nineteen Eighty-Four’s ‘everyman’, Winston, indicates Orwell’s perspective that humanity cannot endure against unprincipled political power.

In contrast to Metropolis’ outspoken hero, Winston’s omniscient narration in his diary shows how he can only silently challenge the Party: “always in your stomach there was a dull protest, that you were cheated of something you had a right to.” Winston’s ideological rebellion culminates in a sexual relationship with Julia, a metaphorical “blow struck against the Party … a political act” which challenges how the Party, and similar dictatorships in Orwell’s context, suppress human sexuality and relationships. The moving aphorism “if you loved someone, when you had nothing else to give, you still gave them love” exemplifies how Orwell’s emphasis on language in his textual form portrays Winston as a. apathetic defender of humanity, individuality and love.

However, Orwell’s perspective that totalitarian governments can and will ultimately sacrifice individuals for the sake of ideology is reflected through the coral paperweight, a symbol of beauty, shattering, along with Winston’s exclamation “so small it always was!” This portrays Metropolis’ glorification of humanity as idealistic and simplistic, and develops our understanding of how differences in context produce considerable differences in Lang’s and Orwell’s perspectives.

O’Brien’s insulting, degrading tone towards a broken Winston in “you are a bag of filth. If you are human, that is humanity” represents the defeat of humanity against political oppression, rather than its triumph. Thus, Nineteen Eighty-Four’s novel form ably demonstrates Orwell’s perspective that individuals cannot stand up to political institutions that seek power for power’s sake.

Through comparing Metropolis and Nineteen Eighty-Four, contextual fears about politics and industry that shape Lang’s and Orwell’s ideas about the future of humanity become evident. However how they express their perspectives through markedly different textual forms develops our understanding the most. Their representations of their constructed dystopias and protagonists’ journeys allow us to see how context shapes their criticisms of and predictions for humanity and society.

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