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Society and Film

In: English and Literature

Submitted By corrynk
Words 1390
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Defying Society
Perhaps one of the most popular books ever written by Mark Twain is Huckleberry Finn, reflecting a time of racial discrimination whose language could arguably be deemed “ inappropriate”. The Scarlett Letter published in 1850 was considered at the time sexual and overtly offensive. Pablo Picasso illustrates his view of women in the painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, where five naked prostitutes obscene postures are anything but traditional. The Color Purple directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel written by Alice Walker, displays a plot that depicts the hardships African American women went through in the 1900’s concerning racism, prejudices, and poverty. All of these works of art have been deemed as socially offensive, improper, or distasteful, however these are the exact reasons why they are so significant. Artistic endeavors, including film, do need socially unacceptable content in order to evoke emotion, fit into a specific genre, and to present familiar material in an unconventional way. Unpleasant images are a form of artistic symbolism that creates a story without any words. The audience can digest the meaning and emotion behind what is on screen without having to be told. For example, American History X displays racism through the use of symbols and colors when Derek, one of the main characters, steps out on his front porch half-naked showing his bare white skin covered in dark tattoos of swastikas and white-power mottos (Smith 249). The racism displayed on his body will likely remain in the audience’s head even after they have left the theatre. The film Apocalypse Now follows the journey of a man through the Vietnam War, while illuminating the horrors, violence, and affects it had on Americans. The vision of the Vietnam jungle, fire, and helicopters in the opening scene, accompanied by Jim Morrison’s music “This is the end, beautiful friend”, is “filtered through a subjective conscious”, enticing the view to conjugate their own meaning (Kinder 14). A Clockwork Orange is a mind altering, complex film that gets the audience to think about what they are seeing, especially in the scene when a young lady is raped while the men are dancing along too “Singing in the Rain”. Many films, like these, use their visual powers to captivate the audience and change the way the people think.
Significant films delve into the aspects of life, connecting the audience to the characters by emotional strings. By relating to our humanness, films can connect to people on an intimate level. Brokeback Mountain is a film that reveals the lives of two men, played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhall, who fall deeply in love even against their own morals. Sympathy and compassion are felt for these men whose lives are damaged by the need to hide a forbidden love (Hoffman). In, Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick’s main characters played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman give the film its sultry and seductive atmosphere. The films theme of sexual desire, intimacy and the idea that temptations are everywhere seduce the viewer into wanting the characters themselves. The film The Deer Hunter guides us into the lives of three friends whose time together during the Vietnam War includes violence, torture, and distress, but leaves the audience with an appreciation for friendship, love, and community (Canby). Artistic endeavors, including these films, give the viewer a vicarious experience.
While genre details a certain “type” of story line, the movies that have a reason to stand out are the ones that are noteworthy. Often times these films stand out from one another because of their socially disturbing material. For example, the Unforgiven, starring Clint Eastwood, unveils a theme of morale ambiguity between forgetting his old gunslinger ways and letting his past get the best of him. When a man is bleeding to death and begging for water after being shot by Eastwood, his character is torn between saving the man’s life or reverting to his old ways. War films, such as Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter, demonstrate the brutalities of the Vietnam War through violence, death, and torture, but also delve into the experiences of the soldiers. If a movie is significant and worthy enough to called a great film, they are not only a part of the genre, but rather they make the genre.
Films must present their art in original ways to stimulate the audience. Often times this includes taking real life scenarios to the extremes, twisting and turning our views to make us think differently. For instance, in Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino creates a disillusion of time by arranging three stories whose characters overlap and revolve around drugs, death, guns and chaos. Tarantino purposefully interlinks these “normal” events to portray the idea that time has no limits, past, present or future. Similarly, in the film Babel four stories are ultimately linked to a single gun, but by editing the events in a fragmented way Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu creates suspicion by withholding information on whom the gunshot is from. Like Pulp Fiction, time almost disappears while watching the film, captivating the audience’s attention. In addition, Inarritu’s 21Grams has a non-linear arrangement centered on the consequences of a tragic car accident. The characters lives become intertwined, until murder, drug abuse, alcoholism and guilt consume them. Just like these films, good art gives you something to think about.
Films do need to pressure society standards in order to be considered significant and entice change. Pushing away from the norms allows films to broaden our horizon and opens our eyes to a new realm of art. As Brian D. Johnson argues in The Stoned Screen the pattern of movies Hollywood is producing is creating an emergence of the “Drug Movie”. Several movies like Eyes Wide Shut and Requiem of a Dream reveal drugs as being sexy and seductive, not the typical drug scenes. Because of movies like these, socially unacceptable material is becoming a common theme of recent movies. If the movies of the past didn’t questions society, how would we move ahead?

Works Cited
American History X. Dir. Tony Kaye. Perf. Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Beverly D’ Angelo. New Line Cinema, 1998. Web. 24 January 2013.
Apocalypse Now. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall. United Artists, 1979. Web. 25 January 2013.
Babel. Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Perf. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza. Paramount Pictures, 2006. Web. 28 January 2013.
Brokeback Mountain. Dir. Ang Lee. Perf. Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Michelle Williams. Focus Features, 2005. Web. 28 January 2013.
Canby, Vincent. “The Deer Hunter”. New York Times. 15 December 1978. Web. 28 January 2013.
A Clockwork Orange. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Perf. Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Michael Bates. Warner Bros, 1971. Web. 28 January 30.
The Color Purple. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey. Warner Bros, 1985. Web 29 January 2013.
The Deer Hunter. Dir. Michael Cimino. Perf. Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken. Universal Pictures, 1978. Web. 28 January 2013.
Eyes Wide Shut. Dir. Arthur Schnitzler's. Perf. Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack. Warner Bros, 1999. Web. 25 January 2013.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlett Letter. Pleasantville, New York., Readers Digest Association, 1984. Print.
Hoffman, Catherine A. “Important Characteristics of Good Films.” San Diego State University, San Diego. 24 January 2013.
Johnson, Brian D. “ The Stoned Screen.” The Main Event: Readings for Writing and Critical Thinking. Ed. Catherine A. Hoffman and Andrew J. Hoffman. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Pearson, 2005. 16-19. Print.
Kinder, Marsha. “The Power of Adaptation in Apocalypse Now”. Film Quarterly 33.2 (Winter 1979-1980): 12-20. JSTOR. Web. 25 January 2013.
Picasso, Pablo. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” 1907. Painting. Museum of Modern Art. Web. 29 January 2013.
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Perf. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keital, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer,Maria de Medeiros. Miramax Films, 1994. Web. 24 January 2013.
Smith, Paul. “Chapter 12”. America First; Naming The Nation In US Film. Web. 24 January 2013.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, Random House, 1996.Print
Unforgiven. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris. Warner Bros, 1992. Web.27 January 2013.
21 Grams. Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Perf. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio de Toro. Focus Features, 2003. Web. 30 January 2013.

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