Metropolis and The Machine Stops: A Close Comparison of Two Science Fiction Stories

Metropolis is a silent science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang in 1927 Germany. After watching Metropolis, I realize that it shares similar elements to the 1909 short science fiction story “The Machine Stops” by E.M Forster. This includes its setting, plot and characters. For example, they are both set in a dystopian future in where humans are controlled by “the machine”. In Metropolis, underground workers are forced to work for the machine because their city’s “life-force” depends on it. If a worker slacks off, parts of the machine gets destroyed. Therefore, it can be assumed that every worker is vital in the stability of their city. These workers are shown to work so hard that they get physically exhausted, but continue to perform because “someone has to stay at the machine” (0:34:16). On the other hand, in “the Machine Stops”, most of the citizens of this world live underground in a community created and controlled by the machine. As a result, they do not know life without the machine and cannot live without its influence. For instance, the citizens are given technologies that accommodate their every need (3) and they are encouraged to resort to a book created by the machine for advice on common and uncommon issues.

The main characters are quite similar as well. Metropolis’ Freder Fergerson and “The Machine Stops’” Kuno both rebel against the machine after watching what it does to humans. They share a disdain for it because they value freedom over being controlled. In Metropolis, after watching a worker become exhausted from controlling part of the machine, Fergerson helps him by taking over his position so that he can experience freedom (0:35:40). In “The Machine Stops”, Kuno encourages people to live in the outside world so that they can be free from the influence of the machine. In addition to their values, both characters have similar parents. Fergerson and Kuno are sons to people who share deep beliefs in the machine. They also try to convince their parents in leaving the machine, but are unsuccessful in their attempts.

Another similarity between “The Machine Stops” and Metropolis is the characterization of the background characters. Both stories portray them as robots with no free will. In Metropolis, the workers perform their duties with exact precision (they only move the part of their body that needs to be used) and they all move at the same time (0:14:17). Furthermore, each worker is given a number and is referenced by only that number (01:12:07). While in “The Machine Stops”, “[p]eople were almost exactly alike all over the world” (8) because “[e]ach infant was examined closely at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed” (11). As a result, most humans in “The Machine Stops” are forced to follow the machine’s idea of life.

One last similarity between the two stories Is the interesting use of capitalization for the machine. In “The Machine Stops”, the word “machine” is always capitalized, but in Metropolis it is both capitalized and lower-cased.  I wonder if this is a consistency error or if it was done on purpose. If it was done on purpose, perhaps it depends on the person saying it; a person who believes in the machine would treat it as an entity and capitalize it, but a person who doesn’t believe in it would lowercase it. If this is true, I believe this small detail informs us a considerable amount on a characters beliefs and values.

2 thoughts on “Metropolis and The Machine Stops: A Close Comparison of Two Science Fiction Stories

  1. Justin Bernard

    I choose Christopher Navarrete as my People’s Choice . In Christopher’s first paragraph , I liked how has made a good similarities between ” the Machine Stops ” and ” Metropolis”. According to what you said “For example, they are both set in a dystopian future in where humans are controlled by “the machine”. In Metropolis, underground workers are forced to work for the machine because their city’s “life-force” depends on it. If a worker slacks off, parts of the machine gets destroyed. Therefore, it can be assumed that every worker is vital in the stability of their city. These workers are shown to work so hard that they get physically exhausted, but continue to perform because “someone has to stay at the machine” (0:34:16). On the other hand, in “the Machine Stops”, most of the citizens of this world live underground in a community created and controlled by the machine. As a result, they do not know life without the machine and cannot live without its influence”  

    This is to say that Machines in both stories  are providing a utopia for humanity, which leads to different consequences in the end of both stories. In Metropolis, the workers destroy the machine runs that runs the city and rebelled to the surface near the end of the movie . While in The Machine Stops , the Machine breaks down ,as humanity pershies with it in the end.

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  2. Jill Belli

    This is a fantastic blog, Christopher, and I’ve chosen to feature it as one of “Professor’s Picks” 🙂 This is an excellent, organized comparative analysis; I’m impressed by how you incorporate a discussion of “The Machine Stops” while staying grounded in this week’s text (the film Metropolis).

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