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Written by Yang (Jenny) Bai
The total mobilization of society
In M, the entire city mobilizes itself in hunting down the child murderer. Every adult citizen is on the lookout for the murderer. Every city block is patrolled by beggars which puts entire city is under surveillance. The city is under the surveillance of an invisible army of spies in which every citizen is a potential informer. The various social institutions collaborate with the legal authority to hunt down the serial killer. Legal experts, scientific and medical analyst are all united under a common objective. All the modern instruments of communication including radio, telegraph and telephone are put to use in this war against the serial killer. The mobilization of the city’s population blurs class divisions and unites the entire population under a single purpose. This total mobilization in the city reflects Germany’s war time experience in the First World War. During the First World War, there was also a total mobilization of Germany’s resources on the home front. In 1931, the memories of the war still loom large in public consciousness. In M, the people of the city of Berlin channel their old wartime energy into waging a total war against the serial killer in their city. The total mobilization of the German society on the eve of Fascism provides an uncanny foreshadowing of the total mobilization of Germany’s resources in the Second World War, which will be unleashed eight years later. Mobilization and surveillance will become the defining features of Nazism.
The decline of governmental authority
In the final years of the Weimar government, there is a general erosion of public trust towards the government authority. The Weimar government, although democratic and benevolent in its spirit, proves extremely unsuccessful in protecting the citizens’ security and interests. Inflation, economic hardship, organized crimes, and political instability are the defining characteristics of this era. By 1931, the Weimar government has already fell out of favor with German people. The people of Germany are looking for alternative solutions for their problems. In M, the government’s authority is being challenged by the underworld. The underworld enters into a competition with traditional governmental authority in hunting down the serial killer. The underworld constructs its own surveillance team and its own kangaroo court, in parallel to the police investigation team and the legal court. In M, the criminal underworld far exceeds the government in competence and efficiency. In the end of the film, the victim’s mother expresses the feelings that the government cannot be trusted upon, and that the citizens must take matters into their own hands in protecting their families. The underworld’s methods reflect the German people’s increasing frustration towards the incompetency of the Weimar regime and a willingness to embrace radical solutions towards their country’s difficulties.
The destructiveness behind the bourgeois façade
In M, the serial killer is an inconspicuous, normal-looking citizen. There is nothing in his physical appearance which could give hint to the demon within him. When he is not in the mood for murder, his behavior is perfectly normal. He goes out his business, buys groceries, reads newspapers and does window-shopping. His physical attires, manners and behavior are perfectly bourgeois. Beckert can be a good and law-abiding citizen. When he is not in the mood for murder, he is even capable of compassion and remorse. However, there is a monster behind Beckert's bourgeois appearances. When the darker side of personality asserts itself, he transforms into an unscrupulous monster devoid of all human feelings. The duality of Beckert's nature indicates that human nature is complex and comprises of many different and often conflicting facets.
The scars left by war
The First World War leaves deep physical and psychological scars in German society. Tens of thousands of German men were killed and injured in that brutal conflict. Even those who were physically unscathed by war, were often the victims of deep and irreversible psychological damage. As a result of these profound emotional scars, many of the veterans simply cannot reintegrate into post-war German society once they return from the front. The presence of a large number of emotionally frustrated and psychologically damaged veterans may explain the unstable nature of post-war German society. Crimes, violence, murder and physical abuses were the defining characteristics of Weimar Germany. In M, we see that the underworld of Berlin is populated by people who fail to integrate into society. Many of these criminals of the German underworld may well have been the veterans of Frist World War. The director Fritz Lang initially plans to portray the serial killer Beckert as a war veteran who has suffered the effects of shell shock, thus to provide an explanation to the cause of his mental illness. This film indicates that the experiences of First World War had turned Germany into a physiologically diseased society prone to irrational acts of violence and frenzy. The turbulent German city in M is a physical manifestation of the damages caused by the experiences of war.
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