While Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is lauded for its vision of the future, it’s the Austrian filmmaker’s lesser-known Woman in the Moon (1929) that made far more prescient calls about the future.
Written by Lang’s longtime collaborator and then-wife Thea von Harbou, Woman in the Moon follows the story of Helius, an entrepreneur who sets out on a voyage to the Moon having read the theory of a mad scientist who claims there’s gold to found there (we’re not sure who’s inspiring Elon Musk’s space ventures, it’s probably just the chronic weed talking).
Prior to his adventure, Helius is blackmailed into collaborating with a gang of evil businessmen who’ve learned of his plan and are eager to get their hands on some of that sweet Moon gold. To further complicate things, Helius is accompanied on his trip by Windegger, his assistant, and Friede, the woman both men love. Awks.
Fritz Lang was a bit of a stickler when it came to researching the technology required for a trip to the Moon, enlisting the help of prominent German physicist and engineer Hermann Oberth. Between Lang, Harbou and Oberth, Woman in the Moon predicted a ton of spacefaring hallmarks that would later appear on real launchpads.
30 years before NASA finally got round to space travel, Lang’s rocket is assembled in a huge hanger and moved to the launch site. His cardigan-clad astronauts (so not entirely accurate) crew a multistage rocket for their journey, lying on their backs in order to counter the effects of g‑force.
Woman in the Moon was also first to feature a countdown. While countdowns today are an essential way of allowing technicians and astronauts to synchronise their activity, Lang used it to build excitement before sound would help directors such as Christopher Nolan add tension.
Almost 100 years later Woman in the Moon’s predictions continue to come true, with NASA confirming that they’re planning to send a woman to the Moon 50 years after the first Apollo mission.
There’s also the issue of who can lay claim to the Moon’s bounty. No, not the spurious acres you can buy on Amazon, but rather natural resources such as Helium‑3, rare earth metals, and actual gold. The question has been lent even more weight thanks to initiatives such as Google’s LunarX prize and Trump recently promising to send humans back to the lunar surface.
Woman in the Moon concludes with Helius sacrificing his spot on the return journey to Earth due to an unfortunate oxygen shortage. Helius discovers that Friede, instead of returning with Windegger, has decided to stay with him on the Moon, which is just as well given that he named his rocket after her. Risky.
Perhaps this was Woman in the Moon’s final prediction, given that tech billionaires are now eyeing up alternatives to our home planet. There’s no mention of humanity ruining planet earth, Helius and Friede probably thought a solitary existence on the Moon was just a better option. And who can argue with that?