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3 Films Where Architecture Informs the Plot—and Characters' Psyches

Modernity and its discontents

Last week, we rounded up a few of our favorite movies that feature architecture (however tangentially). The list was by no means an exhaustive one, as your comments suggested, so here are three more personal favorites in which the architectural spaces of the film inform not only the plot, but also the characters' psyches.

Perhaps you've noticed our art house leanings? We'd love to hear your thoughts on what contemporary movies should make the cut. Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

1. Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang (1927)

This early science fiction dystopian epic is a master class in how far production design and art direction can go in constructing entirely convincing and captivating future worlds. The city of Metropolis, whose design was influenced by Bauhaus, Cubist, Futurist, and Art Deco movements, is ruled by wealthy and callous industrialists. Neglected workers toil underground to ensure that the gleaming city above them, from which they are barred, runs smoothly. When a young woman comes above ground to show the poor children how the other half lives, she sets off a series of events that leads to an uprising and the birth of an evil robot.

2. La Notte, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (1961)

This drama by Italian master Antonioni finds an unhappily married bourgeois couple, played by Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, sulking through the streets, parties, and nightclubs of a modernist, post-war Milan. Monica Vitti makes an appearance as an aloof seductress who threatens to further tear the couple apart. Is it the stark and isolating architecture of the city that makes their existence so bleak, or is modernity simply to blame? To learn more about the role of architecture in the film, turn to Criterion's newly restored edition for an interview with professor Giuliana Bruno.

3. The Wizard of Oz, directed by Victor Fleming (1939)

Let's skip down the Yellow Brick Road for something a little more light-hearted. This Technicolor extravaganza stars an angelic Judy Garland on the journey of her life. As she makes her way from a tornado-spun house in Kansas to the Emerald City with a motley cohort in tow, it’s clear that the so-called Promised Land is actually just a very well-planned urban center. Who knew that a trip to a sparkling city could bring a girl so much joy—and so much disappointment?