What defines a character as a hero or a villain? A cape and tights? An evil plot? This is not necessarily the case in what contributes to this distinction between the two. In both “Metropolis” and “Citizen Kane”, a narrative of heroism and villainy is presented and developed. These films address these topics of heroism and villainy, are defined by the people who experience the hero or villain. In some aspects, it is clear who is the hero in the story and who is not. Whereas in others, characters cannot be discussed as purely heroic or villainous, due to the complexity of the character and how that situation around them shifts.
Each film provides a narrative of the relationship between this idea of a hero and villain and how the distinction may be clear between the two words or how they blend into each other. One of the most glaring distinguishes between heroism and villainy is the two Marias in “Metropolis”. The human Maria, undoubtedly a reference to the Biblical Mary, is introduced to the viewer in a shot through the Eternal Garden’s doorway. To emphasize her virtuous nature, she is dressed in simple, modest attire with little to no makeup on, and is circled by a group of children while framed in a soft halo of light around her head.
She is often surrounded by religious artifacts including multiple crosses and candles throughout the scene within the catacombs, with her arms outstretched as if in reference to her as a cross in religion. When her arms are not outstretched they are clasped together as if in prayer, again associating the human Maria to religious artifacts and heroism. Many look up to her as savior and a way to escape from continuously working on the machine. The workers believe that she will be the one to lead them to a better and more fulfilling life, because of their association with believing her representation of religion is positive.
In this scene within the catacombs, Maria is raised above the rest of the workers on a platform to focus on her and distinguish her importance. This creates a forced perspective from the point of view of the workers having to look up to her literally, while they look up to her figuratively as well, for they believe she is a savior. The only light filling the room is seen to be coming from above Maria’s head, as if in another reference to God and religion as she delves into the story of The Tower of Babel. This is another technique used to show her role in conveying this message to the workers and associating human Maria with good.
Essentially, all these references to religion and the workers seeing her as a savior set the narrative of her to be a hero for she works and to help them from being enslaved to working on this Machine. On the other hand, there is Machine Man Maria. She has darker, more seductive makeup on and makes more suggestive gestures than the original or human Maria. These gestures include being hunched over with her hands being used as claws, often clawing at the neckline of her frock during the height of the worker uprising. Machine Man Maria is often associated with the evils in religion, such as the Whore of Babylon and the seven deadly sins.
This helps to create a contrast between who is the hero and who is the villain, for both Marias are associated with religion. Human Maria associated with being religious references seen as pure, whereas Machine Man Maria is the opposite and related to religious references that are seen as sins and evils. Villainous Maria does a risque dance in a revealing outfit, causing men of the city to lust after her and partake in these sins. The scene flashes between the panting and leering of the men, their entire focus on this Maria cutting to a shot of multiple eyes staring at her.
Their panting becomes more amplified as her dance continues before the shot of her as the Whore of Babylon with the seven deadly sins holding her up in this position. Machine Man Maria is again distinguished to be associated with villain when she starts the worker uprising and tries to destroy Metropolis. This ruins human Maria’s reputation, but also causes the workers themselves to destroy the very city they help run. As a result, they forget their children, essentially leaving them to drown in the flooding of the city.
This fact is neglected by the parents until one of the workers, who has not heard Machine Man Maria’s speech, reminds them of this detail. These depictions of the two Maria’s as both the Virgin Mary and the Whore of Babylon highlight the differences of roles of good verses evil, and limiting the characters as well. This depiction in the film leads the viewer to associate evils through Machine Man Maria and thus portraying her to have a negative connotation. The contrast between the two Maria’s has a distinct visual style as well as multiple references of pure and goodness with human Maria.
While Machine Man Maria has a negative connotation, human Maria is the opposite having a positive connotation and having the association with well received religious symbols, and even seen as a representative of the “heart” at the end of the film. The fluidity of Susan Alexander’s heroism and villainy is not as defined in the film compared to Maria in “Metropolis”. Susan Alexander can be considered to be more of a tactic to see the heroism and villainy in Charles Kane in the film, but it can be seen that she plays with these roles as well. “Citizen Kane” crosses the lines of morals compared to the distinction of good and evil in “Metropolis”.
Susan Alexander meets Kane on the street and invites him in. While this can be viewed as being polite, Kane is married man and they have a slight flirtation that increases the more time they spend together. Susan Alexander even opens the door after Kane closes it and states that her landlady prefers for her to keep the door open when she has a “gentleman caller”. Kane could even be seen as influencing her to become villainous by trying to close this door, and getting her to partake in some of the “sins” so often referenced in “Metropolis”.
Susan Alexander’s response of keeping the door open can be seen as her trying to hold on to that pureness before her affair with Kane begins. The film continues and the build up of Susan’s role shift from innocence to fall in society become more and more clear. Charles’s first wife finds out about the affair and Susan is shown in the middle of the argument, both literally and figuratively. This of course leads to a laundry list of disappointments for Charles Kane. Namely, the lost in political power, his marriage breaks up, and he generally loses the respect of those around him.
It is clear that there is a change in Kane at this point from the on, from the charming man running the newspaper to this downfall. Kane tries to regain respect in his situation through Susan and by trying to do so, puts her into a situation where she also becomes resentful of him and turns into this screeching and whiney wife, opposite of the polite girl when Kane first met her. Charles Foster Kane pushes her into becoming villainous by having these high expectations of her to resolve his problems, which is something Susan Alexander cannot do for him, thus becoming a villain in this process.
Susan does fulfill this role of heroism, or at least attempts to, by deciding to leave Kane and in that moment breaks free of the role of villainy Charles Kane has put upon her. These ideals of needing to fulfill an expectation of career success, relationship success such as having her love him but he does not reciprocate, and a certain standard in society. She finally realizes she does have the choice to leave Kane, and does so with a smirk on her face, and leaving the roles of heroism or villainy behind. Though her role in general is put into question when where Susan ends up is shown.
Perhaps she needed to have these roles assigned to her to know her place or path. Susan Alexander takes on this role of the villain completely when yelling at Kane, where she is sitting on the floor surrounded by newspapers of her failure in opera. This resentment seems to stem from Kane of being forced to take on this career. She becomes so miserable she takes on the persona of a villain, taunting Kane while his voice stays monotone. Kane essentially pushes Susan Alexander into this role of being a villain for if it was not for Kane and all that he has done she would not have been in this predicament.
Visually, you can see the physical distance between them and how Kane is seen sitting in a chair, above her, while Susan is on the floor. Representing how Kane sees her, below him. When Kane loses his temper and hits Susan, there is the backing sound of screaming while both Charles Kane and Susan Alexander glare at each other, silent from what has just taken place. The screaming comes when the focus is on Susan as if to be an inner monologue of what she is living. Instead of silent she wants to be screaming, for the point of her unhappiness is never clear to Kane despite her efforts.
The scene that follows is where Susan tries to reclaim her identity and escape what Kane has defined her as and trapped her as, she tries to commit suicide as a way to not only and escape Kane, but to leave this idea as her as the villain. She has partook in ruining Kane’s career and marriage and almost in retaliation he turns to Susan to put in effort to make her this star trying to compensate what has happened to him. He thrust these ideas on her which her creates her to become the villain, which Kane continues this circle of resenting her.
Though none of these characters have a cape and tights there are distinctions made between this idea and roles of heroism and villainy. In both films, heroism and villainy are defined differently. The people who experience the hero or the villain define them; within “Metropolis” the workers and their association of deeming what is acceptable, often times in reference to religion, defined it. In “Citizen Kane”, Charles Kane defines it and his ideas forced upon Susan Alexander. . Each film provides a narrative of the relationship between this idea of a hero and villain and how they both define them, but in separate ways.