In order to discuss how ideologies can be expressed in film, firstly a definition of the word ideology will be stated taken from author John Hess’ journal article ‘Film and Ideologies’:
“Ideology is a relatively systematic body of ideas, attitudes, values, and perceptions, as well as, actual modes of thinking (usually unconscious) typical of a given class or group of people in a specific time and place” (Hess, 1978).
Marx and Eagels argued that film ideology is put in place representing the ruling class and how the rest of society should behave, “Max and Engels initially characterized ideology as the ideas of the ruling class…and attacked ideas that legitimated ruling class hegemony, which disguised particular interests as general ones, which mystified or covered over class rule, and which thus served the interests of class domination” (Marx-Eagels 1975, cited in Kellner, 1991).
It is evident that films can contain explicit and/or implicit ideological messages within them; which means that these messages can be clearly stated or implied. Film writers and directors can make a concious decision to purposely include messages for the audience to receive (explicitly) or not, and other film messages can be interpreted differently by the spectator (Murray, 1975). These ideological intimations can stem from cultural, historical or political factors in which influence the make-up of the film, and are understood and accepted by the audience as the film can reflect the social structure in which they live. This post aims to discuss two different films which either contain explicit or implicit ideologies within them.
Firstly, a film which has clear explicit ideologies is ‘The Help”(2011) directed by Tate Taylor, and based on the book by Kathryn Stockett. The film is set in the USA at the time of the civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties, featuring an aspiring author who desires to write a novel focusing on the point of view of African-American maids working for white families, and the day-to-day difficulties and emotions they go through as a part of the unfair racial society at the time.
Although some critics argue that the movie contains extremely over the top racial stereotypes, this heartfelt and powerful film deals with some very truthful issues of the time in a delicate manner (Rotten Tomatoes, 2011). Hollywood actress Emma Stone, who plays the journalist in the movie, develops a very unlikely friendship with an African-American women who is also a house-maid of the typical Step ford wife character played by Bryce Dallas Howard. This housewife is depicted to have blatant and unfair racist views towards African-Americans, and Emma Stones characters’ role aims to help these women, challenging the state of society at the time. Although inspired by true events and social/racial conflicts, this 21st century film portrayal of the time period, has certain explicit ideologies which are messaged to the audience. Predominately, they key message of the film is that you should always stand up for what is right and help people who are in less fortunate situations than you; because in the end the good people come out on top. This ideology is delivered in the film as Emma Stone’s character publishes the book and succeeds in her career, as well as makes a positive difference to the lives of the African-American maids.
The Help (2011)
A film which has implicit ideologies is ‘Jaws‘ (1975) directed by Steven Spielberg. This famous top-grossing movie in the 70s; which features a killer shark that terrorizes the beaches of a fantasy holiday resort in America; is extremely well renowned, and considered a Hollywood classic. In the case of Jaws, ideology is reflected through what the shark represents, (Rubey, 1976). It can be argued that in different cases in the film, the shark exemplifies a hatred of women, anger towards the capitalist society, as well as a fear from society at the time that there would be a back-lash from the tragic effects of the USA’s bombing of Hiroshima. These elements can be distinguished by examining the people who are targeted by the shark in the movie, and how the actual attacking events unfold. For example, the second strike by the shark happens to a little boy swimming in the sea at the beach of the holiday resort. After an initial shark attack, the chief policeman wants to close the beach to ensure the safety of individuals, however the mayor and council command him not, claiming that they need the business. The mayors reluctance to listen to an important warning for the sake of his own business results in the death of a young boy, showing the ignorant and heart-less nature of this character. This factor can therefore represent and target the greedy and profit-driven capitalist society of America.
Crowther, J., 2011. Southern Wrongs but to Civil Rights. Total Film, [online]. Available at: http://www.totalfilm.com/reviews/cinema/the-help?ns_campaign=reviews&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=totalfilm&ns_linkname=0&ns_fee=0 [Accessed 8 April 2013]
Hess, J., 1978. Film and Ideology. Jump Cut, [e-journal]. Available through: http://www.ejumpcut.org [Accessed 8 April 2013].
IMDb, 1990. Internet Movie Database. [online]. Available through: http://www.imdb.com [Accessed 6 April 2013].
Kellner, D., 1991. Film Politics and Ideology: Reflections on Hollywood in the Age of Reagan. Gseis, [online]. Available through: http://www.gseis.ucla.edu [Accessed 8 April 2013]
Rotten Tomatoes, 2013. Flixter, [online] Available through: http://www.rottontomatoes.com [Accessed 7 April 2013]
Rubey, D., 1976. The Jaws in the Mirror. Jump Cut, [e-jounral]. Available through: http://www.ejumpcut.com [Accessed 7 April 2013]