... the object, which labor produces, its product, confronts the laborer as a strange thing, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor, which fixes itself in the object, it becomes a thing, it is the objectification of labor. The "making real," or realization, of labor is its objectification. The realization of labor appears in political economy as the "making unreal," or loss of reality of, the laborer, objectification as the loss of and slavery to the object, appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.This terrifies me, the thought of a “strange thing” appearing in the hand--a version of the self lying there, made real. But we are alienated from the thing we’ve made--and still the thing turns toward us, in a weird manifestation of the story of Lot’s wife, and it looks, and turns us into objects, appropriated, disregarded, cast aside.
This kept churning in my head as I watched Metropolis, a future allegory that reaches out tentatively to Marx’s nightmare--but draws back a bit, deciding instead to hope for salvation from a Great Man--or Woman, or Automaton (better yet is Karel Capek’s word, “Robot"--Czech for “forced labor”). And then there’s the role of “the heart” as “mediator” between the head and hands. It all seems miles away from Marx’s “scientific” view of society.
But perhaps not: Once more, reading the titles becomes more a distraction than an illumination. I’d much rather trust what I see: a machine’s fairy-tale, from airy castles--New York as El Dorado--to dank dungeons--the workers’ realm, far underground, where dynamos rattle like dragon’s-breath. Fritz Lang creates a monumental future, almost single-handedly inventing a new genre with his intricate sets and untrammeled imagination. And the result was fear: of the size of things, the bursting waters, the height and depth of each structure, until I felt lost, overwhelmed--all right: alienated. But not from the movie--not entirely. I’ll admit I glossed over the more sentimental aspects of the plot--but I still allowed Lang’s cold passion and precise Babel to press upon me like gravity.
And the Maria-robot weighs most on my mind, a lidless silver manifestation of alienation, the Thing separate from us, but still us, ghastly like a corpse, yet smooth and beautiful. It holds me--as do the work-day, and the need to hope--and it grasps like a carrion-bird, hungry as the master inventor, Rotwang, for something New, something More. I’m not sure what I’m getting at--but I do know Lang has forced me to accept cinema’s lack of limits--even as he submits to the need for a story that does not upset us more than is necessary--while the images surge forward, heedless of any submission, like the Universe in Stephen Crane’s scary little poem, which, having heard a man announce, “Sir, I exist!” responds, “The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.”