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Student Sample Essay


You can look at the student samples below as possible models as you begin working on your own essays.  Please note that these samples are not "perfect" (whatever that may mean), nor are they meant to be, but they advance an interesting thesis, support their argument with sufficient evidence and research, and are generally well written. ---- Thank you to your fellow students for allowing us to have a glimpse at their work!

Crypto-Jewish Knavery in Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Figuring Rotwang as a Malicious Rabbi Loew


Fritz Lang's (1890-1976) monumental film Metropolis (1927) bears a lot of similarities to Paul Wegener's (1874-1948) film Der Golem: wie er in die Welt kam (1920).  Both are products of German Expressionism, and Wegener and Lang are both important auteurs.  Both films make effective use of chiaroscuro lighting and both films explore the creation of a monster.

That Lang knew and was influenced by Wegener's work is indisputable.  Elsaesser calls Wegener the "outstanding figure" of Autorenfilm, and indicates that the German filmmaking community was a very tight-knit group. (141, 143).  He also points out that Lang followed Wegener's lead in using folk-tales and legends for inspiration and themes. (143)

It is in a brief look at Lang's two films in 1924, Die Niebelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache, that we can see some images borrowed from Wegener's 1920 version of Der Golem.  Perhaps the most striking is that the crypto-Jewish character Alberich has the ability to project a cinematic image for others to watch. (Levin 9-10, 123)  This is a direct borrowing from the scene in Der Golem where Rabbi Loew shows a cinematic portrayal of Jewish history to the Imperator and his court.  It is no accident that it is the crypto-Jewish character that possesses this amazing ability.  Control of the apparatus of cinematic projection, which represents not only the possession of supernatural powers (be they scientific or mystical), but also the ability to use them to manipulate others, fits right in with what Levin calls the "reigning German stereotypes of the Jewish [. . .] nature" (123).  It is not hard to find aesthetic similarities between Die Nibelungen and Lang's next film, Metropolis.  The crypto-Jewish villain has a disfigured hand, the young hero is hopelessly naïf, and pivotal scenes take place in catacombs that are in some way under the control of the crypto-Jewish villain. (Levin 123-25).  This paper asserts that Rotwang can be figured as a malevolent Rabbi Loew.  That is, it argues that a rather direct connection can be seen between Der Golem and Metropolis in the characters of Rabbi Loew and Rotwang.  This paper will also examine the evidence in Metropolis that suggests that Rotwang is a crypto-Jewish character.


The Authority Figure will refer in Der Golem to the Imperator and in Metropolis to Joh. Fredersen.  The Authority Figure is a non-Jewish political and economic leader who directly threatens the Creator Figure or for whom the Creator Figure for another reason feels some enmity.  The Creator Figure will refer in Der Golem to Rabbi Loew and in Metropolis to Rotwang.  The Creator Figure is Jewish or is a crypto-Jew, and is, at least ostensibly, trusted by the Authority Figure as a counsellor.  The Creature is the monster created by the Creator Figure to assist him in manipulating the Authority Figure.  In Der Golem, the Creature is the eponymous man of clay and in Metropolis, it is Hel, who takes the form of Maria.

Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, and the Politics of the 1920s Weimar Republic

A new wave of anti-Semitism swept across Germany as early as 1916 and intensified with the outcome of World War I and the unfortunate Treaty of Versailles. (Marcus 36)  The historian Golo Mann has stated that anti-Semitic passions "were even more rabid [during 1919-23] than during the years 1930-33 or 1933-45" (Aschheim 215).  Not only were non-Jews thinking of Jews differently, but German Jews' own sense of identity was shifting, too.  Georg Hermann stated that his Jewishness became more a part of his identity after World War I than it had been before. (Aschheim 216)

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou (1888-1954) were married in 1920, and collaborated on all of Lang's subsequent German films.  When Lang was informed in 1932 that Hitler wanted him to lead the Nazi film industry, Lang promptly left the country, eventually emigrating to the United States in 1934.  When he left Germany, he also ended his marriage with von Harbou because she was sympathetic to Nazism. (Bergstrom 196-97)  Because of von Harbou's Nazistic ideologies, some have referred to her as "that Nazi bitch" and have blamed everything bad in Lang's German work on her. (Gunning 53)  Metropolis in particular has been targeted as containing some of von Harbou's ideas that are at least susceptible to Nazism, and the thought that vilification of a crypto-Jew should be one of those ideas is not surprising. (Gunning 52)

Twisted figures that seek to gain control over society showed up from very early in the Lang/von Harbou collaboration.  In Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (1922), an evil genius seeks to hold sway over everyone around him by paranormal means. (Bergstrom 196)  This sort of scheming and manipulative character and activity can be understood as crypto-Jewish. (Levin 9-10, 123)

The Creator Figure

Rotwangresembles Rabbi Loew in some interesting ways.  First of all, in a society where people are wearing modern clothing, Rotwang is seen wearing billowing robes, not unlike those of Rabbi Loew in Der Golem, and not unlike those that can be seen in German political caricatures of Jews from the 1920s.  Rotwang walks with a carriage which resembles Rabbi Loew's sometimes halting gait, which also suggests some sort of disfigurement.

The ability of each Creator Figure to manipulate the Authority Figure is similar, but their motivations are very different.  Whereas Rotwang is malicious, desiring to control Fredersen out of revenge, the pious Rabbi Loew, on the other hand, is merely trying to protect his people.  Rabbi Loew has no desire to manipulate the Imperator beyond what is necessary to get him to abrogate his edict evicting the Jews from the city and its environs.

Rabbi Loew also has the ability to control the inhabitants of the ghetto by means of his position of religious authority (which equals political authority within the ghetto).  Rotwang desires to control the masses and uses Hel to do so.  In the end, though, Rotwang's methods are discovered and the masses seek vengeance on Hel cum Maria.  Once again, we see that Rabbi Loew and Rotwang have similar abilities, but Rabbi Loew's harmless motivations stand in stark contrast to Rotwang's grand scheming.

Rotwang embodies a fair amount of sexual threat that, within the context of German society of 1927, can be understood to be crypto-Jewish.  Jews were increasingly seen as a threat to the autonomy and independence of German people (as they were perceived to be ambitiously controlling), and as the concept of a "pure" Nordic/German race arose, Jews were seen as a threat to the purity of that race.  We see the threat of Rotwang in the scene where he abducts Maria, and we see it in the way that he uses Hel as a sexual tool to control Fredersen and others of the ruling class.

That Rotwang is a crypto-Jew is also suggested by his physical disfigurement.  His mechanical hand, both grotesque and miraculous, plays into contemporary German stereotypes of Jews. (Levin 123)

The Creature

Rotwang and Rabbi Loew both possess the power to create a monster.  Rabbi Loew's methods are entirely mysterious, based on cabalistic mysticism that is related to the motions of heavenly bodies and relies on a spirit from the unseen world to deliver the key word that brings the man of clay to life.  On the other hand, Rotwang's creation is presented as more rationally conceived.  Rotwang's science is clearly influenced by mysticism, but his monster is created in a laboratory.  In addition, Rotwang's monster is a mechanical being, whereas the monster created in Der Golem is a man of clay.  However, the idea of a Jewish mystic creating a mechanical servant is not far from some versions of the myth of Rabbi Loew's Golem, which describe the creature as "a mechanical robot" (Bach 36).

Both Rabbi Loew and Rotwang create monsters that are anthromorphous, but whereas Rabbi Loew's andromorphous monster is not sexually threatening, Rotwang's gynemorphous creation is.  This plays into the idea of Jewish sexual threat explored above in the character of Rotwang.  This sexual threat is played out in a number of ways, and it is clear from Hel's introduction as the new Maria (where she is an exotic dancer) that she is to use sex appeal as a control factor.

Rotwang's monster is named for the woman that he loved and that eventually ended up with Joh. Fredersen.  He is exacting his revenge through the woman that he loved, which seems to amplify his sexual threat as a character.  It also suggests a sort of perverse manipulation of Fredersen.  In the scene where Hel and Fredersen embrace (and are then found in the act by Freder), we see Fredersen's longing for his dead wife, and we see that Rotwang has achieved a sexual power over Fredersen.

Further, Rotwang seems to have improved upon Rabbi Loew: his monster is actually mistaken for human, whereas the Golem is clearly something exotic.  In addition, his method of creation is a mystical science of the future combined with ancient lore and sorcery, but Rabbi Loew's creation is simply Cabalism that he cannot carry out without demonic assistance.

Both Creatures are created in response to the Authority Figure that is in some way at a disadvantage or is resented.  Rabbi Loew created the Golem as a response to the Imperator's order banishing all of the Jews from Prague.  The Imperator is at somewhat of a disadvantage because Rabbi Loew has done him a favour: he has saved the Emperor by his astrological predictions.  The very fact that Rabbi Loew has the powers he has, which powers the Imperator does not have nor can he hope to understand or control, makes Rabbi Loew a more powerful character.  In the case of Rotwang, he is able to manipulate Fredersen because the latter is depending on him for assistance.  The relationship between the two and the relative power that each has in relation to the other is clear when Fredersen asks Rotwang's advice, saying that all of his other advisors have failed him.  Rotwang cannot only answer Fredersen's query, but use it to his own advantage, allowing him to lay a plan to destroy his old rival.

The ability to use a created monster to manipulate the Authority Figure is something that the Creator Figures share, yet their intentions are very different.  Each is self-serving, but whereas Rabbi Loew means the Imperator no real harm, Rotwang is motivated by revenge and desires to destroy Fredersen.  Each Creature is presented by it's Creator Figure as something that can save the Authority Figure.

The Venues and Methods of Creation

Rotwang's house deserves some attention.  The film emphasises the importance of the space in which Rotwang lives and creates Hel by pointing out that it has remained in the city in spite of all of the development and high-rise construction.  Typically, religious structures are the ones that so remain, and Rotwang's house appears not unlike an old country synagogue in Eastern Europe.  Such synagogues were often deliberately styled to look like barns so as to draw as little attention as possible.  It's also interesting to note that all shots of the exterior of Rotwang's house make it appear to stand alone in an isolated square: walled in by high structures on all sides and far removed from the thoroughfares of the daily city life.  This is not unlike a ghetto.

This plays into the German Ostjuden myth.  Eastern European Jewry was established in the German consciousness as something pre-modern at least as early at 1822. (Aschheim 185, 187)  The age of Rotwang's house is noted in von Harbou's novel even more than in Lang's film: "Her novel speculates the house may be older than the cathedral" (Gunning 66).

Rotwang's house is also similar to Rabbi Loew's house in that it is a large, expansive space with multiple levels.  It suggests a degree of wealth, if not modern comfort.  It is almost like the makers of Metropolis were trying to imitate the space presented in Der Golem.  The creative processes and acts take place in the Creator Figures' respective houses, and the cellar or basement is used in each case for the procurement of the materials of creation: clay in the case of Rabbi Loew and Maria in the case of Rotwang.

The two films portray creation in very similar ways.  First of all, in Der Golem, the main portion of creation is mostly assumed, although we do see the beginning of the process.  The emphasis of the creation in the film, though, is on the acquisition of the secret word and the mystical final act that brings the Golem to life.  In Metropolis, the creation is introduced as it is near completion.  Essentially the only thing left for Rotwang to do is the mysterious operation by which he imprints Maria's image on Hel, and that magical process is the main emphasis of Rotwang's creation.

The Pentagram

In Der Golem, the introduction of the creation comes first in Rabbi Loew's consultation of an old book, which tells him that bringing the Golem to life is only possible when the position of Venus is just so.  The pattern of the Pentagonal Synodic Series is thus invoked, and then is emphasised as the symbol that must be attached to the Golem's chest with the secret key word is a pentacle.  When Rotwang first shows Fredersen his creation (Hel), there is a huge pentacle on the wall behind her, and it is glaringly obvious during the transfer of Maria's appearance to Hel.  In Metropolis, the pentagram also appears to be a code for Jewishness.  First of all, Jews are strongly identified with the Star of David, which is similar to the pentagram.  In addition, within the shul-like house of Rotwang, a pentagram appears on every door of the house, conspicuously suggesting mezuzoth.

Images of Deicide

Another important clue that Rotwang is a crypto-Jew comes from the easy association of Freder with Jesus Christ and Maria with the Virgin Mary.  Rotwang seeks to kill each of them, bringing to mind the age-old charge of deicide against the Jews.  Also significant is that Rotwang's attempts to kill the Christ-figure and the Mary-figure take place in a Christian sacred space: in and on top of the cathedral, thus further developing the idea of desecration of Christianity.


There are many clues in Metropolis that suggest that Rotwang is a crypto-Jewish character.  Through the similarity between Rabbi Loew and Rotwang in terms of their creative abilities and their facility in using their Creatures to manipulate the Authority Figures and society at large, combined with the strong resemblance between their characters and their living/creating spaces, it is clear that Rabbi Loew is a benign type for the malicious Rotwang.

Works Cited

Aschheim, Steven E. Brothers and Strangers: The East European Jew in German and German Jewish Consciousness, 1800-1923. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, c1982.

Bach, H.I. The German Jew: a Synthesis of Judaism and Western Civilization, 1730-1930. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1984.

Bergstrom, Janet. "Fritz Lang." Nowell-Smith 196-97.

Elsaesser, Thomas. "Gemany: The Weimar Years." Nowell-Smith 136-151.

Gunning, Tom. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision of Modernity. London: British Film Institute, 2000.

Lang, Fritz. Metropolis. New York: Kino International, c2002.

Levin, David J. Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen: The Dramaturgy of Disavowal. Princeton Studies in Opera. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, c1998

Marcus, Jacob R. The Rise and Destiny of the German Jew. Cincinnati: Dept. of Synagogue and School Extension of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1934.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. The Oxford History of World Cinema. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

Wegener, Paul. Der Golem: wie er in die Welt kam. North Hollywood, Calif.: Hollywood Select Video, c1995.

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