Implicit and Explicit Ideologies

Ideologies refer to certain belief systems that all individuals have, systems which function based on principles and ideas that are usually unquestioned. Based on this definition, it can be argued that basically every film showcases a way of acting in a certain situation, either positive or negative and thus implicitly or explicitly reflecting an ideology. Just like everyone has his/her own definition of right or wrong, so does the director. The film therefore represents a pretty biased depiction of the world.

According to Comolli and Narboni (1992), “every film is political, inasmuch as it is determined by the ideology which produces it (or within which it is produced, which stems from the same thing) (683)”. It was said that cinema does not make up reality, but reproduces it. However, the tools and techniques that filmmakers use are themselves part of ‘reality’, thus cinema is just a way of expressing “the prevailing ideology” (683).

Turner (1999) further argued that “ideology is read from film texts, consciously or unconsciously, and the relationship between each text and its culture is traceable to ideological roots” (171).

Important to keep in mind when analysing a film, ideologies are not direct declarations or reflections, but can be found in the structure of the narrative and discourse. Elements such as “images, myths, conventions, and visual styles” (Turner 1999: 173) are thus essential in decoding the meaning of a text.

A great example of a film which expresses a certain ideology in an implicit manner is ‘Pretty Woman’ (1990). 'Pretty Woman' Poster Edward, a rich business man, travels to Los Angeles, where he ends up hiring Vivian, a prostitute. However, he quickly realises that the connection between them has the potential of becoming something more, which in the end proves to be true.

The storyline is very similar to the classic Cinderella fairytale which, according to Green (1998) is where the box-office appeal comes from. “Pretty Woman” showcases a significant array of ideologies related to women and their sexual and romantic relationships.

The way Vivian’s character is depicted throughout the film is essential in identifying the set of principles related to social class ideals.

After driving him back to his hotel (he gets lost and pays her just to give him directions), he decides to ask her to spend the night with him. Before, however, going in, he gives her his jacket and asks her to put it on: “Why don’t you put this on? (…) This hotel is not the type of establishment that rents rooms by the hour”.  All the heads she turns around and the looks she gets in the hotel’s lobby are depicting of the 90s, perfectly illustrating the judgemental society of that time.

Furthermore, having been ‘hired’ by Edward for a further week and having been given money to buy some “conservatory” clothes, she goes to an expensive shop from where she is asked to leave. Judging her by her look, the sales assistants tell her everything is too expensive for her and that she was “obviously in the wrong place”.

Edward’s attitude towards Vivian when they first walk into the hotel room is also very representative of society’s preconceptions. He displays a certain smugness when he sees her so impressed by the luxurious space, as if it was a given that, being a prostitute, she had never experienced anything similar (and thus, she now has the privilege of a man showing her what the good life looks like).

The moment Vivian walks into the same shops with a man on her elbow (and a big, fat wallet in his pocket), she ends up with an army of people at her feet, overwhelming her with attention and ready to pamper her and fulfil any wish she might have (whether that’s a slice of pizza or the tie around one of the assistant’s neck).

With an army of people at her feet

With an army of people at her feet

Sexuality is another aspect with strong ideological constructions, as it is implied that promiscuity is not something accepted by society and thus women have to be monogamous and in love in order to fit within the accepted ‘standards’.

Furthermore, similar to the story of Cinderella, it is implied that all the problems a woman has can easily be solved by the perfect man (rich, handsome, respected), who comes to the rescue, saving her from poverty and turning her into a princess.

What Green (1998) argues is that “women watching ‘Pretty Woman’ can dream of trading their bodies (the only commodity that women possess) for money and love” (108), while men can dream about having both a lover without reserves and a wife (two fantasies in one).

Classic antiwar film

On the other side of the spectrum are the films which express ideologies in an explicit manner, a classic example of that being Kubrick’s antiwar ‘Paths of Glory’ (1957). The film presents the absurd military mission given to the French troops in World War I, whose main aim was getting positive publicity, regardless of the number of lost lives. It was highly controversial, especially for the fifties, and because of “the strong a stand against military order” (Kolker 2011: 130), it was banned for years in France. The period the film was produced in was a time when any structures other than the ‘free-market’ status quo were aggressively rejected. ‘Paths of Glory’ thus works as a critical device, as it reflects the end of what Kokler calls “ideological paralysis” (2011: 130).

One of the film’s main themes is definitely the dehumanizing nature of wars, as well as their costs. Kokler (2011) also argues that “into that space are thrown questions of their stupidity, bravery, foolishness, banality, childlike nature (…) and function as tools” (131). All these are clearly and explicitly illustrated through the character’s conversations.

The foolishness of the war and the (so perceived) disposable nature of soldiers are exemplified by early scenes, when the orders of attacking Ant Hill are just being made:

Colonel Dax: “You know the condition of my men, sir.”

General Mireau: “Naturally men are going to be killed, possibly a lot of them. They absorb bullets (…) and by doing so they make possible for others to go through.”

Dax: “So you’re saying that half of my men will be killed, sir.”

Mireau: “It’s a terrible price to pay (…) but we will have the Ant Hill.”

The biggest price soldiers have to pay during the war is not getting used to the idea of dying, but more with the way they’re going to. The following conversation between two soldiers is a clear depiction of the director’s antiwar view (as he suggests it to be of incomparable cruelty):

Soldier 1: “I’m not afraid of dying tomorrow, only of being killed.” /“Which would you rather be done in by? A bayonet or a machine gun?”

Soldier 2: “A machine gun, naturally.”

Soldier 1: “Naturally, that’s just my point. They’re both pieces of steel ripping into your cuts, only the machine gun is quicker, cleaner and less painful.”

The attack of the Ant Hill fails miserably, as not only most of the soldiers die, but one of the companies doesn’t even leave the trenches. As a result, Generals Broulard and Mireau decide to trial a soldier from each company under penalty of death for cowardice.

Colonel Dax's defensive plead

Colonel Dax’s defensive plead

Colonel’s Dax defensive plead summarizes perfectly the ideology behind this antiwar film and emphasizes the dehumanizing nature of war: “Gentlemen of the court, there are times when I’m ashamed to be a member of the human race and this is one such occasion. (…) The attack yesterday morning was certainly (…) no disgrace for the fighting men of this nation. But this court is such a disgrace. The case made against these men is a mockery of all human justice.”

The soldiers, however, are found guilty.

The moment one of the trialled soldiers, Arnaud, breaks down and hits the priest (who came to hear their confessions before the execution) represents the symbol of the disastrous effects of war on the human being. He is left without any control over his life, the way he acts or what he feels.

The conversation Generals Mireau and Broulard are having over dinner, after the execution had taken place, reiterates the director’s view of the sadistic nature of military order:

Gen. Mireau: “The men died wonderfully. (…) We couldn’t have asked for any better.”

Colonel Dax loses his temper

Colonel Dax loses his temper

Truly reflective of the antiwar ideology and summing up all the points made throughout the film, is Colonel Dax’s flare after General Mireau hints to a promotion: “Sir, would you like me to suggest what you could do with that promotion? (…) I apologise for not telling you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man! And you can go to hell before I apologise to you now or ever again!”


COMOLLI, J-L., NARBONI, J. 1992. Cinema/Ideology/Criticism in MAST, G., COHEN, M. et al. 1992. Film Theory and Criticism. Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford University Press.

GREEN, P. 1998. Cracks in the Pedestal: Ideology and Gender in Hollywood. USA: The University of Massachusetts Press.

KOKLER, R. 2011. A Cinema of Loneliness. New York: Oxford University Press.

TURNER, G. 1999. Film as Social Practice. London: Routledge.


~ by andragroza2013 on April 9, 2013.

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