We watch films and are so riveted by the story, the cinematography, the editing, we sometimes look past the message.
Perhaps this message isn’t as superimposed onto the film as we think, but this message is the allegory for the film’s purpose. We see Godzilla, but we don’t think nuclear holocaust; we see aliens, but we don’t think Vietnam. These real-world applications in film have been used countless times by filmmakers to shed light on issues in society. Today, we’ll look closely into these allegories and interpret their message in its context, and then segway into satire.
District 9: An Allegory for Apartheid
Initially set in 1982, an alien ship arrives over Johannesburg, South Africa. Almost 30 years later and the malnourished aliens found in the ship are subject to internment camps by the South African government and live off of cat food. When creating this film, director Neil Blomkamp, who was born and grew up in Johannesburg, noted the film wouldn’t be what is was without its setting, and it’s exactly true. A brief history lesson would tell you that South Africa in the 1980’s was prominent in its segregation and removal of black South Africans. In fact, the removal of these South Africans from an area known as District Six directly juxtaposes the outcome of the prawns of District 9. The politics of District 9 make no attempt to mention apartheid. All we see are the allegorical nuances that plague the prawns of xenophobia, drug use, gangs, and their daily life in squalor. Films following the years of District 9 have since touched the subject of apartheid more exclusively.
Apocalypse Now: Imperialism and The Heart of Darkness
During the Vietnam War, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz has gone insane and now commands his own group of renegade soldiers in Cambodia. Captain Benjamin L. Willard is assigned to kill Kurtz. This film served as a powerful sentiment for Joseph Conrad’s idea of the “darkness” that inherently lives in the heart of all people. We also see the role the United States plays as the foreign entity that believes it’s going to “civilize” the indigenous. The title of the film works with Conrad’s title, The Heart of Darkness, the soldiers sent to fight in Vietnam experience a darkness that acts as the immediate doom, or apocalypse, for their venture deeper into uncovering Kurtz and his renegades. The film follows the same structure as the book; some differences being that Apocalypse Now’s Willard is doing this simply as orders and Heart of Darkness’ Marlow is actually enlightened by Kurtz. Both book and movie offer a wiser, experienced and a shaken Willard/Marlow as a consequence for the vehicle that led them into the darkness.
"It would have been too dark— too dark altogether...."
"When it was done, I'd never want another." - Joseph Conrad
Fight Club: Consumerism and a satire for the white collar
“Jack”, the narrator, a depressed insomniac who works a desk job and a “slave to the IKEA nesting instinct”, finds himself going to support groups for those with testicular cancer and such, despite not suffering from any of diseases. He seeks these support groups as a catharsis for depression, “When people think you’re dying they listen to you instead...of waiting for their turn to speak.” He understands that the world is run by consumerism and has become a commodity in it. Tyler Durden explains that this consumerism shouldn’t complete a person; a person should never be complete. This film isn’t exactly an allegory for anything, but serves as a reminder for the uselessness of the products we consume. We crave the newest iPhone, want a brand new car, show off to friends what shoes we have strapped on our feet. Our survival as human beings have a new meaning in this commercialized society. And it’s what movies like Fight Club and American Psycho touch upon masterfully.
“Like everyone else, I had become a slave to the IKEA nesting instinct. If I saw something clever like the coffee table in the shape of a yin and yang, I had to have it. I would flip through catalogs and wonder, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard-working indigenous peoples of... wherever” - Narrator
If you had a film question, there would only be one person to ask, Eric. Devoted to learning film, and part time philosopher in his past time, Eric will take you on a journey through film.