M (1931 Film) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

M (1931 Film) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Symbol -- Schränker’s gloved hand thumping down over the map of Berlin

Schränker, the leader of the criminal world, thumps his gloved hand onto a map of Berlin, calling for a total surveillance over the city. The act of thumping down his hand over the city’s map symbolizes the brutality and the effectiveness of Schränker’s methods. It also symbolizes Schränker’s power over the city. Unlike the police, Schränker does not waste his time in lengthy investigation and research; he refuses to be hindered by the cumbersome legal processes. He calls for radical approaches by subjecting the city under total surveillance, thus placing the entire city under his power. The act of thumping down his hand onto the map symbolizes his ruthless determination and unscrupulous methods. The black leather gloves Schränker is wearing also bear important significance. Black leather is the favorite costume of Joseph Goebbels, a man who is about to become the Nazi propaganda minister. By donning Schränker’s hands in black leather, the director seeks to attribute fascist qualities onto him. By casting Schränker into the mould of a fascist, the director shows that the city is about to be subjected to the power of the criminals.

Symbol- Beggars and cripples

There is a large number of beggars in this film, almost a beggar at every street block. The prevalence of beggary indicates the financial hardships during the Weimar Period. During this time, German society was suffering from high inflation, mass unemployment, skyrocketing prices and violent crimes. In the film, the audience gets a glimpse of the economic hardship of this period. The streets are filled with beggars, the homeless shelters are crammed with inmates, the nightclubs are filled with prostitutes and the underworld is booming with criminal activities. A cripple with an amputated leg is particularly symbolic in the film. Many German soldiers lost their limbs from World War One. The sight of these crippled men is a powerful visual manifestation of the deep physical and emotional scars produced by the war. The image of beggars and cripples in the film symbolize the profound emotional trauma and financial hardship in post-war Germany.

Symbol -Mrs. Beckman’s subscription of serialized crime fiction

Mrs. Beckman is a subscriber to crime fiction. Her subscription symbolizes the German public’s perverse fascination with murder and crime. In Weimar Germany, the German population exhibits a deep fascination towards crimes. Serial killer is one of the favorite subjects of public discussion. Several famous German serial killers came to fame during the Weimar period. Their crimes were dutifully reported in the daily newspaper and were read by the public with absorbing interests. Spurred by the public’s general excitement over crimes, several famous serial killers during the Weimar period committed their murders out of a desire to achieve fame and notoriety. Crime becomes a mass-marketed media spectacle that feeds the imagination of the public. The German population’s fascination towards crime reveals the distorted mindset of a diseased society. It is the manifest symptoms of a volatile and rapidly disintegrating society. Violent anger, deep frustration and discontentment underpin the Weimar society. During this period of unhappiness and economic hardship, the German public seeks relief and diversion by reading the sensational accounts of murder and crime. For Mrs. Beckman, a marginalized woman whose life consists of mundane activities and dull drudgery, her only source of amusement and diversion comes from the perverse pleasures of reading crime fictions. It is this diseased mindset of German society which paves the way for Nazism.

Allegory- Inspector Lohmann as an allegory of the Weimar government

Inspector Lohmann is a living allegory of the rapidly declining Weimar government. Lohmann is a kind-hearted, benevolent and well-meaning inspector. He speaks kindly to the criminals and treats them like his own children. His appearance is not flattering. He is a corpulent man. His clothes are always slightly creased and are often in a state of disarray. His hair is slightly disheveled. His facial expression is often a little silly. Lohmann’s person is a physical embodiment of the Weimar republic in its twilight. Like Lohmann, the Weimar government is a well-meaning and law-abiding government which treats its citizens with consideration. However, due to the many challenges of its time, the Weimar government fails to bring stability and prosperity to its citizens. Lohmann’s crumpled clothes and disheveled hair reflects the fact that the government authority is in a state of decline. Just as Lohmann’s authority is being challenged by the underworld, the Weimar government’s power is being challenged by the fascist movement. Lohmann’s silly facial expressions seem to reflect the fact that the Weimar government is increasingly becoming ineffective and incompetent. M is produced in 1931, the twilight of the Weimar Republic. Two years later, the Weimar political structure will be swept aside by the Nazi party.

Motif- Clocks

This film is filled with clocks. The people in the film are constantly glancing at clocks and checking time. Mrs. Beckman repeatedly glances at the clock while waiting for Elsie to come home. The criminals repeatedly check their watches while waiting for the arrival of their leader. One criminal of the underworld alone produces seven watches out of his pocket. Clocks symbolize punctuality, order and routine. They stand for the impersonal, mechanical and monotonous existence of the city. The city people are locked into a rigid routine. They try to organize their life around an established pattern and timetable. The people in this film do not have the tendency of displaying their feelings. Most of the characters lead an emotionless life. The prevalence of the clocks emphasized the emotionally sterile existence in the city.

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