QUOTE: “There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”
—Maria, the leader of the underground world of the workers, calling out to her followers.
Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece set many of the ground rules for the sci-fi epics to come, not just in the way it depicted a dystopic future, but also the way it dealt with mad scientists and of course, their creations.
Depicting a world in which the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are literally divided by the Earth’s surface — the elitists living above ground and the workers living in the dark, dank caverns beneath the surface — Maria is a robot used by those in power to pry their way into the workers’ world. A silver machine created in a secret lab, Maria takes on the face and characteristics of the female leader of that underground world, the one who the workers trust and rally around. By controlling the robot, the surface-dwellers manage to control the underground populace, turning Maria’s words of uprising into words of reassurance: Get back to work, and be happy.
One of the very first big-screen depictions of a robot in this, the first great sci-fi film, is that of a mole and an imposter; of an enemy that can’t be defeated, much less identified. For so many of the movie robots to come, Maria was the defining transition from the robots of sci-fi literature to the artificial intelligence of the sci-fi movie.