This question is about the 1927 film Metropolis. Since Metropolis may not be considered as sci-fi as other material discussed on this site, I can ask this on movie.se?

I had always wondered when Freder goes down and sees the workers and the machine over loads and some stylized text appears on the screen.


I thought it said "MOLOGH" but a Google search turns up "Moloch". I don't know this word? I searched and Wikipedia has

In Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the industrial machinery of the factory is envisioned as a sacrificial temple to Moloch.

Is this right? The picture in the wiki article looks like a bull and the machine in the film didn't. I'm not well versed in religion but could someone explain Moloch in simpler terms? I thought Christians and Jews didn't believe in any other gods or figure? Was this Freder imagining the machine was Mologh or did it actually happen?

I also found it interesting that the first group of men to be sacrificed were dragged in by guards, but then the rest marched in groups in an orderly fashion in an almost mechanically unconscious way. Maybe that's an allusion to fascism?

  • 8
    While etymologically it indeed comes from the Phoenician god of Child Sacrifice, a Moloch in German is also an unrelenting, mercyless allconsuming power, usually when talking about the social and civilisatory shortcomings of large cities (what Obi-Wan would describe as the most wretched hive of scum and villany, if he were talking about the Coruscant Underground instead of Mos Eisley).
    – BMWurm
    Aug 21, 2016 at 12:02
  • @BMWurm interesting to know, before Google searching the word I thought it may be a popular sound monsters make in German, similar to how ghosts say "boo!".
    – Celeritas
    Aug 21, 2016 at 12:31
  • It might interest you to note (as an aside) that in the KJV Moloch is spelt Molech, as in "And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35)
    – Au101
    Aug 21, 2016 at 13:42
  • 10
    Metropolis not SciFi? It's the first feature-length SciFi movie ever made Aug 21, 2016 at 18:19
  • 2
    Molech was a god worshiped by the neighbors of the ancient Hebrews. He is commonly believed to have been represented by idols with furnaces inside into which live children were thrown. His name appears eight times in the Bible. Five of those times are in laws forbidding them to participate in the worship of Molech and three times when describing violations of these laws.
    – David42
    Aug 21, 2016 at 19:03

2 Answers 2


Yes, the term means "moloch".

In German, a "moloch" is figurative speech. Yes, it's also the name of a Canaaite god, but it is usually used to mean something else.

A "moloch" is a creature - or imaginative power - that's gruesome, relentless, merciless and devours everything and takes lives.

A pacifist might describe a tank as a "Moloch aus Stahl und Öl" (moloch of steel and oil) - meaning it's a diabolical machine meant to kill.

The Duden gives the following explanation:

grausame Macht, die immer wieder neue Opfer fordert und alles zu verschlingen droht
der Moloch Krieg

which translates as:

cruel power that repeatedly calls for new victims and threatens to devour everything
Moloch War

  • 1
    It sounds like the Canaanite god thing may actually be a bit more correct. Moloch demanded sacrifices thrown into a bronze bull and burned, which is what the OP describes. And it sounds like the German moloch is just based on that same idea. Its a really interesting bit of etymology, but I kind of feel like the myth was the main point.
    – D.Spetz
    Aug 22, 2016 at 15:31
  • FWIW, Czech has the word "moloch" as well, with the same connotation as you're describing for German. Aug 22, 2016 at 15:32
  • Yes, the word uses the same idea, but it is rarely used to describe the actual god, but is used more figuratively. You are absolutely right that the meaning is heavily influenced by the god (which is what the word is derived from).
    – Polygnome
    Aug 22, 2016 at 15:33

there is also the form "molochen" used as a verb. In German this means you work like crazy without beeing able to lead a decent living. It usually means that working class people are exploited in a factory. Its a total negative term to talk about working. You work and work and your dont make a progress in your social status. Instead it gets worse and worse and you finally decline even working like nuts. It means you dont have the chance to make a better live by working hard. Instead you work hard and it gets worse and worse. So it means work totally dominates your life like a false god and ruining it. You just work and theres nothing else in your life.

  • Interesting. How does this usage relate to the workers in Metropolis? Could you include that information in your answer?
    – Adamant
    Aug 21, 2016 at 20:32
  • 17
    Actually, the verb is malochen. At least according to Wiktionary, it is derived from yiddish melocho for work, and thus probably unrelated to Moloch. Aug 21, 2016 at 21:22
  • 4
    See de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maloche (derived from Hebrew work) and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch (derived from Hebrew king).
    – user24582
    Aug 21, 2016 at 21:41
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    And I don't think malochen is necessarily that negative. It can just mean hard (but not intellectually challenging) work. Aug 21, 2016 at 22:35
  • 2
    "Malochen" is not negative. It means you work really hard, and yes, even at a capacity you can not sustain for long, but its not negative. I recently helped a relative cut down some trees, and after a long days work, we sat down with a beer and remarked "Da haben wir aber ganz schön malocht". Its not negative, but it expresses that we won't do it anytime soon again, either. Working as a worker in a coal mine is also often considered "maloche" because its hard, physical work.
    – Polygnome
    Aug 22, 2016 at 7:15

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