A science-fiction precursor to the likes of Brazil and Dark City, this silent masterpiece from Fritz Lang is set in a dismal future when nameless workers labor beneath the streets of a towering city. Their toil enables the life of leisure enjoyed by the aristocratic class, who live in the skyscrapers that soar through multiple, leveled expressways in Lang’s astonishing cityscape. Social revolt arrives when Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the son of the city’s ruling governor, wanders into the underground factories. There he meets Maria (Brigitte Helm), who preaches to the masses about their need for a “mediator” between the ruling class and labor. Freder sees himself as that mediator. Like most of the silent masters, Lang makes the most of his images. Each frame is a precious communicative commodity. The movie opens inside the massive, synchronized factories, whose insidious dials and gears and levers must have influenced Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, which came out nine years later. Metropolis isn’t simply an industrial spectacle, however. Much of it is just plain weird. There is the mad inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), for instance, who lives in a dilapidated cottage squished between two skyscrapers and is constructing a female robot that the governor plans to use to infiltrate the workers. Rotwang uses the face of Maria for his robot, giving Helm a wild double role. As Maria, she gazes plaintively like the best silent screen siren, but as the android she snarls and gyrates, trying to whip the workers into a self-destructive frenzy. The metallic robot, before it is given a face, has become the movie’s iconic image. Like the movie, it’s a retro figure that nonetheless looks gleamingly futuristic.