M, a German film from 1931 directed by Fritz Lang, is a testament of it’s time; through observing the brilliant cinematography, historical background, and underlying meaning of the film, the audience can uncover what Lang was truly trying to communicate.
Germany during the time of M‘s production was financially unstable and recovering from a lost warfare. Moral was low, unemployment was high, and government was weak, which eventually would lead to the rise of Hitler. This time between World War 1 and the rise of Hitler would be a dark time for the German population, which is effectively shown through the atmosphere of M. The adults during this time, who’s life had been overrun with the horrors of war and the difficulties of economic depression, had one question on their minds – what will happen to our children? This is where Fritz Lang comes in.
Hans Beckert’s murders affect the entire town’s lives. Not only is the youth being destroyed, but even the adults lives are changing because of Beckert’s murders. Fritz correlates the loss of the children to society’s destruction; children are the future, and without children, there is no hope for a good one. The chaos that consumes the town and the constant paranoia shows a society that lives in distrust and delusion. Germany longed for a generation not corrupted by warfare. Germany longed for children who would build a better future.
When Beckert is in court and the judge is about to give him his ruling, the camera pans over to a group of women. These women aren’t listening to the ruling. Instead, in an emotional voice, one of the women says,
“This won’t bring back our children. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children.”
Throughout the film, chaos is the murderer’s fault. The police’s rampages are the murderer’s fault. Difficulties in business are the murderer’s fault. Everyone believed that once they captured this murderer, everything would restore itself. But, they are wrong.
Hans Beckert isn’t just symbolism of a diseased society; he is more than that. Hans Beckert is symbolism of the effects of warfare. Germany’s war might have been over, but the effects still remained the same. Even though Beckert is caught, the children are still in jeopardy. And because the children are in jeopardy, the future of Germany is also in danger. Lang was making a point by not showing the results of Beckert’s sentence; the end of chaos does not come with the end of Beckert. The town, similarly to Germany, is still very much in danger.
Another question that Lang asks is whether Hans Beckert should be put to death for what he has done or whether it is not his fault, but rather his diseased mind, and should be instead but in a mental asylum. Throughout the film, moments can be noted in which Beckert’s diseased mind becomes apparent – through these moments we can conclude that Beckert is a product of his chaotic society, a product of war.
Hans Beckert’s dark silhouette is the first glimpse the audience gets of the killer. This shadow covers his very own wanted poster. Beckert’s murderous side is a dark shadow of himself, and this dark side overpowers any logical or moral semblance that Beckert is capable of having. Beckert is able to stand so close to his own wanted poster while talking to his new child victim without any remorse – certainly a killer wouldn’t talk to a child completely out in the open right next to his very own wanted poster? This seems like a recipe for disaster. But Beckert does this anyways, without hesitation. This complete lack of empathy is the first sign of his mental instability.
Later in the film, Beckert begins to follow a child, but stops when her mother comes to pick her up. Suddenly, he is ripped out of his murderous persona, and leaves to get a drink by himself. In this scene the audience witnesses a variety of Beckert’s emotions; Beckert rubs his face, tries to fight his insanity, and ultimately fails. He then begins to whistle. Beckert made an attempt to stop himself, but his poisoned mind overcame his rational thought. His scene really shows that he does have a mental illness, which overpowers his natural state of mind.
Frtiz Lang is brilliant in his ability to depict a society’s fears in his film M. Through this film, a viewer can see the fears, morals, and outlook that Germany had during this time period. In addition to this, Lang beautifully portrays his message of protecting the next generation.