In this essay I intend to carry out a study on the significance of Marxist theory within the film industry. Firstly, the definition and interpretation of Marxism needs to be outlined to further better understand “Because every film is part of the economic system it is also a part of the ideological system, for ‘cinema’ and ‘art’ are branches of ideology.”(JEAN-LUC). Pre-occupied with the concept of cultural materialism, a social class is defined, by the relations of the means of production to the members within. Under a capitalist society the working class own their capacity to work, by the ability they have to sell their own labour.
Marxist theory emerged during the 19th Century. First started by the works of a philosopher named Karl Marx. Marxism is defined solely as a theory that highlights the struggle within the social/ financial class system and how it shapes the western society. Marxism is a social system which has a dominant feature, of the public ownership based on the means of production, exchange and distribution. The working class also known as the Proletariat, have only a capacity to work by which they can only sell their own labour. This can further be backed by the stated by Worsley (Worsley, 1982, p. 63) “leaving aside these ‘extra – economic’ differences, the ‘sectional’ bonds that divide the working class – levels of skill, difference of industry, degree of monopolistic ‘job – control’ , I.e. via the ‘closed shop’”. This expands on the notion that a person’s class is defined by their ability to work within a particular field of work, if they cannot work within this particular field then they would find it hard to work elsewhere based on the higher class controlling which jobs people can or cannot do. Marx also defined that the class of a person is solely based on the relations of the people in a family and by the ability that family has in means of production.
Most of Marxism today has a particular concern surrounding the internal economics based within the socialist government, and also around how the proletariat taken advantage of by the upper classes to satisfy their own gain. Religion is another cause for concern under with Marxism. As mentioned by Raymond William (William, R. 1995, p.64) wrote that “Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances.” Based on this, you can see religion as a form of reaction to human suffering within a unfair society.
Since the time Karl Marx brought about the Marxist theory, it has also spread into films that are shown globally for the mass audience. Going back to some of the earliest Marxist filmmaker’s, people such as Sergei Eisenstein, would use the form of film media to criticise the ideology and the traditional structure of Hollywood. As the world progresses in the technology used within society the different ways in which industries such as Hollywood can adapt and use the working class to work changes as stated by Christine “As technology and skills progress, society adapts to cater for such advances. This leads to a complete restructuring of the economic class relations because the ‘Forces of production’ determine the relations of production” (Christine, E. 2011, p.85). Filmakers like Sergei would argue that Hollywood films ideologies are used to promote the idea of the middle class also known as bourgeois based in America, Filmakers like Sergei intentionally purposely separated themselves from the Hollywood narrative structure, so they could show to the mass audience how they saw the film industry and the political indoctrination spread globally.
The means in which society produces its ‘existence’ is ultimately determined by the shape of the society by political, cultural and social forms. It is also by this that future development is also affected. It is this based relationship that brings out the notion of a ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’, the base is made up of the people who sell their work through labour whereas the superstructure is defined by the political, education, legal areas“. In order to apply the idea of the ‘base and the superstructure’ to the field of film, all cultural artefacts must be examined in relation to their historical mode of production. Marx and Engels believed that the dominant thinking of any specific time would display the ideas of the ruling class. It is those in positions of power who attempt to make the workers conform to their ideas.” (John, S. 1997, p.60)
The film I am using to discuss about the significance of using the Marxist theory is going to be Children of Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuaron. The film itself has a vast symbolist story, it portrays a world in which the female population has become infertile and only the United Kingdom remains as a society while the rest have descended into anarchy. Due to the chaos around the globe, there has been an influx of immigration to the point where it has become unsustainable, causing the British government to pursue extreme methods to holt the immigration influx, even if they are arriving illegally or by legal means. The film brings about the concern of an oppression and abuse of the masses from a centralised government fixated on the power to control. It takes a cultured examination of society, showing that societies everywhere are made up from a variety of different cultures. This is aiming to present that parts of society accumulate unbalanced amount of representation within the media and in the process shaping and defining consensus to obscure the roots of genuine conflict.
The world in which is presented by Children of Men (2006), the middle class mass have accumulated more power in Britain since the 19th century, the unprecedented powers the bourgeois have gained allow them to invade the privacy of the proletariat. The immigrants that have swarmed to Britain are rounded up and crammed into cages to be transported to ‘Bexhill’ – which is a prison camp to hold the immigrants, because of the fall with women fertility due to the fall the government forces women to have a fertility test which is deemed illegal to avoid, and the basic of human rights such as privacy and transports are restricted by the government so they can hunt illegal immigrants. A notion stated by Paul “The ability of individuals to think and act freely, imaginatively and creatively – to be human, as the Frankfurt theorist saw it – was being crushed by a relentless all – encompassing capitalist machine” (Hodkinson, P. 2011, p. 108) it emphasises the concept of a capitalist state forcing the working class to bend to their will. The film’s opening scene presents the main character bearing witness to a supposed terrorist bombing by a fringe group called 'The Fishes'. As the film progresses it is later known that the terrorist attacks are actually caused by the government to cause fear to spread among the populace about a group representing themselves as a section of the working class living up to a different ideology.
Children of Men (2006) also hold a large amount of religious imagery and language. Theo Faron (the main character) has been dragged into a plot to safe guard and transport an unborn child, the significance of this unborn child would cause hope to come back to the masses who for years had lived in depression in the notion that there would be no new-borns, he would have to take the unborn to a safe haven only known as the ‘The Human Project’ but it is unknown at the time if such a place actually exists or not. The name Theo does have a religious meaning being ‘God’s gift’. Also the very scene in which Theo finds out that the Kee (the pregnant woman) is carrying a child, is when they are on a farm and she is standing in the barn surrounded by the animals. It is also during this scene when one of the corrupt group members, also becomes aware of Kee being pregnant and repeatedly shouting ‘Jesus Christ’. It is up to this point that there has been no presence of religion this can be viewed as a alienation based on religion “Religious alienation as such occurs only in the sphere of consciousness, in the inner life of man” (2002, p.136) While not as obvious it is also seen during several scenes where there are characters shown washing their feet, while to most that would seem ordinary but it is also is seen as a religious exercise within certain aspects of Christianity and Islam. It is due to these noticeable and subtle parts that are shown to the audience that present an extra dimension of importance on the existence of this unborn child.
The film is immersed with the concept of class struggle, which is the main aspect within the Marxist theory. The fishes Don’t want to make the pregnancy known to the public as they believe that the government would refuse to admit that after 18 years the first baby to be born is to an illegal immigrant, it is believed that the government would prefer to present to the public that the immigrant’s child is to instead a ‘rich black lady’. Although as the film progresses it is shown that the character Julian’s death is actually caused by the Fishes, this was done so they could use the baby to become a political pawn for the uprising. Marxist theory analyses a society in the progression it makes towards Communism. By this stage of the film the Fishes are now aware of their loss, of their alienation.
While there is class struggle present in the film it stems towards democracy, there can be a comparison made between this struggle and hypothetical one towards Communism. It is only when specific parts of society’s situation gets to the stage where people become desperate and then attempt to start a revolution. During the closing scenes it is shown that fighter jets fly overhead giving to the impression that the current revolution will fall as the jets bomb the camp. Despite this, Theo and Kee are shown escaping this brings out the signification that there is still hope. There is shown a boat, which will take Theo and Kee to the proclaimed ‘Human Project’ location, the boat itself is called ‘The Tomorrow’ with these two combined it presents the audience with a sense of hope, as it shows the potential end towards the anarchy swarming the world this in turn could lead towards an end to class struggle for a time, but it could also in turn form a different form of class struggle.
In conclusion, the analysis of Marxism within the film industry, can be used to provide relevant and practical to perform a deeper form of understanding within the text. The film Children of Men (2006) is immersed with political agendas such as class struggle and a central focus with the mass media, this film is ideal to be used to analysis and criticised, but this theory would not be able to be used on the vast majority of films presented to the world either from Hollywood or by an amateur. Within the film industry it would be better to apply a semiotic analysis and criticism as it can be applied to any type of story of mode of storytelling in a film.
BUFORD, T. O., & OLIVER, H. H. (2002). Personalism revisited: its proponents and critics. Amsterdam, Rodopi.
Christine, E & Ruth, D (2011) Understanding film theory, Palgrave Macmillan
Cuaron, A. (2006) Children of Men Directed by Alfonso Cuaron UK: Universal.
Hodkinson, P (2011) Media, Culture and society an introduction. Sage Publications Ltd
JEAN-LUC COMOLLI AND JEAN NARBONI, "CINEMA/IDEOLOGY/CRITICISM" from: Braudy/Cohen 1999 http://faculty.washington.edu/cbehler/teaching/coursenotes/camideolcrit.html (accessed: 2/05/14)
Storey, J (2012). Cultural Theory And Popular Culture. 6th ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Wayne, M (2003) Marxism and media studies key concepts and contemporary trends. Pluto Press
William, R (1995) Religion: A Humanist Interpretation. Routledge