Metropolis á la Marxism-Leninism: Loss of Sensation (The Robot of Jim Ripl) (1935)

On this date in 1927, the great Metropolis was premiered in Germany.  Therefore today we want to talk about a 1935 Soviet film Loss of Sensation, alternately titled as The Robot of Jim Ripl (Гибель сенсации, или Робот Джима Рипль), which is a close counterpart of Metropolis within Soviet cinema – almost equally as great,  but nearly forgotten.

The Soviets took all the major elements of the German silent classic–a robot figure, class struggle, urban dystopia form–and twisted them around to fit the state ideology.

Loss of Sensation takes places in a capitalist country (which, although never clearly stated, is obviously the United States), where the proletarians are ruled and exploited by the bourgeois. Talented engineer Jim Ripl, unlike Freder from Metropolis, is too shy to act as a mediator between the workers and the rulers himself, and for these purposes creates a machine he names the Ripl’s Universal Robot, or RUR.

Maria from Metropolis is a much more elegant robot that the Soviet RUR

Maria from Metropolis is a much more elegant robot that the Soviet RUR

Behind Ripl’s project is the idea that numerous RURs will better the workers’ lot by handling the hardest jobs. According to his idealist theories, the robot labour will cause overproduction, which in turn will result in annihilation of the capitalist system. However, when capitalists realise how extremely productive the robots can be, it is decided to substitute all the human resources in industries with the RURs. The newly unemployed rebel. In order to crush the revolt, capitalists turn the RURs into the army. As Ripl sees his compliant robot-workers becoming cruel machine-monsters, emotionally disturbed, he throws himself in front of the RURs and  dies, crushed by his creations, facing the destiny of all the great demiurges.

RURs can be controlled with sound, and Ripl does it with style

The RURs can be controlled with sound, and Ripl does this with style

The finales of both Metropolis and Loss of Sensation are politically sympathetic with each other. In the Soviet film, the proletarians crack the code of how to operate Ripl’s robots and turn the weapon against the capitalists. Therefore if Metropolis ends with the mediator Freder declaring a truce between the proletarians and the bourgeois, in Loss of Sensation, the ending is taken much further: the robot-mediator is used for socialistic coup.

Capitalists, wearing top hats and bowlers to designate themselves, are cornered by the mighty RURs

Capitalists, wearing top hats and bowlers to designate themselves, are cornered by the mighty RURs

The Nazi Party was fascinated with Metropolis, but judging by what Joseph Goebbels said in one of his speeches–”The political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission“–we think they would prefer Loss of Sensation even better. We believe that the similarity between the two films is yet another converging point between the two opposing ideologies.

The Soviet Moloch Machine – less grandiose, but as deadly as the original

Those who still doubt there’s a transference between the two films will most likely be convinced after watching this industrial accident sequence that we cannot but see it as a direct reference to the grandiose Moloch Machine sequence of Metropolis. There is less technical mastery and no Expressionist overtones in the former, but the theme of the man’s submission to insatiable appetite of capitalism and its ‘production for profit‘ dogma obviously underlies both.

Heavily criticized and mercilessly cut upon its release, nowadays Metropolis is enjoying numerous restorations, discoveries of missing sequences, festival screenings and re-releases, whereas Loss of Sensation  is still in oblivion, but hopefully not for long.


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