Tag Archives: Alfred Abel

Rotwang or, what mad scientists will do for love

This post is a part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner

There are mad scientists, and then there’s Rotwang.

Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is a scientist and one of the primary antagonists of the 1927 silent film Metropolis (directed by Fritz Lang). All of his life he’s been in a rivalry with Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the “Master of Metropolis” because years ago they both loved the same woman, Hel. And even though Hel chose Joh, married him and bore his child (Freder), Rotwang has lived all his years since then convinced that Hel should have been his.


When Joh (reluctantly) comes to visit Rotwang to try and determine what the workers are up to in the catacombs below the city, Rotwang reveals a secret: he has found a way to “resurrect” Hel, and this time she will be his alone! “Hel” is revealed to be a robot with a feminine body (I believe in the end she was meant to resemble Hel, but the process was not finished).

How exactly Rotwang created the robot is not known, but we do find out that Rotwang sacrificed a hand in the process (replacing it with an artificial limb, to Joh’s horror). The science seen here in Metropolis would be categorized as “soft science” (the processes shown are scientific in nature, but the how and why are left unexplained)


And speaking of science, the entire scene where Maria’s likeness is transferred to the robot is unbelievably brilliant (it makes it hard to believe that this was done in 1927). To create this scene, the film had to be exposed multiple times to create the illusion of multiple rings of light.


Once Rotwang’s robot is turned loose upon the city, the increasingly unstable scientist becomes infatuated with the captured Maria and eventually convinces himself that Maria is actually Hel come back to life. He pursues Maria across the city, culminating in a chase across the roof of a cathedral. Maria’s love Freder finally intervenes and at the climax, Rotwang falls to his death. To the bitter end he believes he is pursuing his beloved Hel.

Next to Dr. Frankenstein, Rotwang is one of my favorite movie scientists. While he is unquestionably brilliant, he is also certifiably insane (and may have always been so, one wonders why Hel rejected him). He’s so convinced that this robot will serve to replace his lost love, the intensity of his passion is terrifying.

Rotwang is a memorable movie scientist, and a good addition to this blogathon, I hope you enjoyed!

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See also:

Gottfried Huppertz: The composer behind Metropolis

*All of the images are property of the film studio