Date of Thesis

Spring 2018


This thesis analyzes the representations of Law, Justice, and Violence in the German and American films of Fritz Lang. Through an overview of legal and social unrest in Germany and courtroom drama, criminal conviction, mob violence, and police corruption in America, Lang challenges the legitimacy of Law and shows how it is subverted by outside forces. At other times, Lang shows Law working in collusion with criminal agencies or against the interests of the public. In doing this, Lang’s films present images of legal decay in the urban sphere, prompted by anxieties which come about through spatial alienation, city structure, penal institutions, and social cultures of violence. Emerging from Lang’s critique of Law is an ethical force which abides by the mechanisms of human nature, which Gunning calls the “destiny-machine.” This thesis uses Gunning’s theory of the “destiny-machine,” in conjunction with philosophical writings of Walter Benjamin to show how a critique of legal violence is shown through Lang films, as well as a correction method which presents itself through the deployment of mystical violence, taking the form of psychological instability and moral conscience in his characters. Through these forms of metaphysical violence, Lang shows images of a new future for Law, where its governing power is drawn from universal, objective moral principles of human nature, rather than the socially constructed and malleable institutions of the Law. My thesis connects these morally governing principles back to the fundamental human and religious experiences of Love.


Fritz Lang, Law, German Film, American Film, History of German Cinema, Weimar Republic

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts



Second Major


First Advisor

Eric Faden

Second Advisor

Ken Eisenstein