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Written by Yang (Jenny) Bai
The distorted human facial features
Most of the characters in M possess very unflattering physical appearances; their facial features are not only unappealing, but are often distorted and out of proportion. Some of the characters are extremely fat in their body; while others possess facial features that are slightly twisted and disproportionate, such as protruding eyeballs and heavily set features. In M, the city is populated by people who are either physically repulsive or are slightly deformed. The deformity of the human faces indicates that the city of Berlin in 1931 was an unwholesome place. The physical deformity of the characters aims to reflect the deformity of their minds. By choosing physically unappealing actors for his cast, the director reveals his hatred for such a society, of which he will soon abandon. It is the mindset of this psychologically diseased society that transfers power to the Nazi party, one of the most evil political powers in human history.
Beckert’s face framed by knives
When the serial killer Beckert goes window shopping, he stops in front of a shop window that features cutlery display. In this scene, Beckert’s face was perfectly framed by innumerable numbers of knives. By turning a harmless commercial display of housewares into a symbol of destructiveness, this shot reveals the hidden violence in the urban environment. This image presents the city of Berlin as a dangerous place where violent impulses lay hidden beneath the bourgeois facade. This image echoes historical events because Weimar Germany was indeed a violent society. Organized crime was rampant during the Weimar period. Serial killers and criminal organizations hold their sway over the frightened population. In 1931, Germany had already witnessed an epidemic of murder and violent crimes. In M, the city was presented as a place of danger where the people are gripped by a sense of uncertainty and fear.
The low-angel shot of inspector Lohmann’s body
One of the most unsightly scenes in the film is a low-angel shot of inspector Lohmann’s body. In this shot, his body is completely distorted, making him looks obese and repulsive. With the imagery of his distorted legs and his inordinately corpulent body, this shot turns the respectable police inspectator into a caricature. The imagery of Lohnmann’s undignified poise and distorted body completely take away the dignity of his position. This shot happens at the low point of his investigation, when the police lag far behind the underworld in apprehending the murderer. This undignified imagery of the police inspector Lohmann is symbolic. It shows that the dignity of the traditional legal institution is being usurped by a gang of criminals. The imagery of Lohmann’s deformed body emphasizes the government’s incompetence and inefficacy in comparison to the unscrupulous criminals. This image is a caricature of the Weimar government which seems to be incompetent when it comes to protecting the citizens.
The images of Elsie’s murder
The films of the period of 1930s do not allow the depiction of graphic violence on screens. Therefore, the audience does not witness the actual depiction of Elsie’s murder. Elsie’s murder is presented in a less explicit manner through several symbolic imageries. The images of the empty courtyard and staircase express Elsie’s absence. These empty spaces indicate that Elsie has not yet returned from school. The images of Elsie’s ball rolling away without its owner, and her balloon flying up into the air indicate that the murder has already been committed, because Elsie’s personal belongings are no longer in the owner’s hands. Even though the audience is denied of an explicit murder scene, these imageries that insinuate Elsie’s murder are much more disturbing than an actual murder scene itself, because what is not seen can often be more frightening than what is actually seen. These imageries provide the audience with lots of space for imagination.
The M mark on Beckert
The beggar who tracks down Becket’s movement slaps a chalk mark onto his shoulder. Beckert had been an anonymous person in the city. The city offers the serial killer a protective environment because he can easily disappear into the crowd after each murder. The M mark turns the previously anonymous individual into a marked man. Beckert loses his anonymity and can now be easily identified by the public. The M mark is an emblem that turns an inconspicuous man in the city into a visible target of persecution. The M mark can be compared to the Star of David emblem which the Jew people were compelled to wear under the Nazi regime.
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