Q3 Analyse two films of your choice through the prism of the Marxist theory.
“Marxism is anything but simple, in fact, it is highly complex, controversial and in virtue of its protean nature, difficult to describe briefly” (Rockmore, 2002, pg 1)
Marxism is the political and economic theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, advocating the abolition of private property, state supervision and substance for all (Marx et all, 1848). In 1848, Marx and Engels published the ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, a pamphlet of about thirty pages, with a concise explanation of their ideas and theology. It was a theory conceived to attempt to explain the relatives of power between the classes in a capitalist society. This revolutionary theory arose in the mid-nineteenth century in opposition to three main opposing tendencies in the workers’ movement: Anarchism, Utopian or Doctrinaire socialism, and overtly bourgeois tendencies (Giddens, A 1971). In terms of its theoretical roots, to use Lenin’s famous words, the three sources of Marxism are: British political economy, French Socialism and German idealist philosophy ( Lenin, 1996). Marxism is a theory all about the relationship between the classes in society, most importantly is it about the relationship between the ruling class and the working class. The way society is structured, according to Karl Marx, shapes how the ruling and working class interact. Their relationship changes depending on the way the society’s economy is structured. The arrangement of society’s economy is known as the base in Marx’s theories. The structure of the base in any society is important because it determines the shape of society’s super structure, the fundamental part of Marx’s theory. The super structure in essence is the ideology of a society , what is believes and how it understands things, how a society treats individuals response to events and recants its history is all derived from the ideology of the super structure which is in turn created by the economic base. That ideology, as Marx sees it, always reflects the views of the dominant class i.e. the elite class. As well as this, that ideology is there to supress rebellion in the lower class against those in the dominant class. The super structure puts this ideology everywhere, such as books, broadcasts, music, and news, any form of entertainment and media that is produced by the base, all as a form of control. Capitalisms base, from a Marxist lens, is structured with workers as a commodity that is used by the upper class for their own personal gain and progression (Callinicos, A 1995). Because of this, all media created by a capitalist society aims to subdue resistance to this structure. As Perry Anderson (1976) said, Marxism is important because of its sheer intellectual scope, as a theory of historical development and as a political call to arms. For this essay I am going to use two films which embody the Marxist theory which I can then use to demonstrate this theory. The movies I have chosen to write about are “The Matrix” (1999) and “The Hunger Games” (2012).
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Firstly I will be looking at The Wachowski Brothers 1999 science fiction hit “The Matrix” and how it is viewed through a Marxist lens. From watching the film it is clear to see that The Matrix strongly follows the Marxist theory as it outlines the clear definition and differences between the upper class and the lower class. The upper class and super structure being the machines that control the humans .These humans are farmed by the machine’s and are used as essentially a form of power, a life source of the upper class. This power action is a clear call back to Marxism as it uses the lower class as a commodity to empower and enrich the upper class. The Matrix starts off with very strong religious connotations namely predicting and promising that this character Neo is the promised prophet of the digital age one set to free the people of the shackles that the machines have put on them. It is a story all about noticing and rebelling against society’s superstructure. The journey that Neo takes with Morpheus pulls away the veil of the matrix to show the reality of the society they live in , namely one that is ruled by machines that enslave humans and use them as a commodity. True to his belief that Neo is the chosen one to help break the shackles of enslavement put on them by the superstructure machines enables Neo to see past the lie and delve into the truth.
The matrix is really an embodiment of the society’s superstructure. Its purpose is to stop humans from rebelling against their place in society by promoting an ideology to keep rebellions at bay. This appears in the form of a technological illusion that enables the human hosts to live a life in a simulation, this action keeps them docile and complacent unable to question its construct. From a Marxist perspective The Matrix argues that living blindly in a capitalist society restricts people from reaching their true potential. An example of this is the characters evolution from Thomas A. Anderson to Neo, the former being a slave to the machines and the superstructure, the latter being a free man rebelling against the system. It says that in order for people to live a better life they need to understand the truth about the world that they live in and decide on their own terms how they feel about their world. The entire plot of movie is the structure of capitalist Society by hyperbolising how Marx sees the capitalist class struggle. The struggle between classes and real life according to Marx is between the workers and the elite owners of production. In The Matrix the Wachowski brothers represent this complex interaction by turning humans into a power source; they are slaves to the machines in order to keep the machines functional. This is the base of society in The Matrix, the machines are representation for the upper class and all of humanity has been reduced to a commodity for them to utilise. The superstructure in the film the media and art that predict the ideology of the dominant class is the matrix itself if one were to compare how Marxism sees the working class in a capitalist society and the role that humans play in The Matrix you would easily come across very distinct similarities this is a direct call back to Marxism.
The Matrix acts as a way to keep humans supportive of their places as batteries for the machines and stops them for him even colluding to rebellion. The superstructure in comparison promotes the ideology of the upper class through the media in order to keep the different classes of society in their place. Its purpose like the matrix is to subdue the working class. The film showcases this in multiple ways mostly through metaphor and symbolism. An example of this will be the scene where we see Neo being interrogated by Agent. It is during this interrogation scene we see Mr Anderson (Neo) physically lose his mouth as a consequence of questioning and rebelling against the superstructure represented by Agent Smith. This example is quite literal; it reflects the ties between the matrix and its purpose in society as the tool to subdue any form of resistance. Morpheus actually links the two concepts when he explains the Matrix to Neo. “The matrix is everywhere it’s all around us. Even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on the television. It is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth” (Morpheus, The Matrix 1999)
Morpheus breaks down this illusion opening his eyes to the truth that they are all slaves but they don’t have to be. The Wachowski brothers setup their illusion to capitalism Marxist theory through the Matrix, they argue that the superstructure of capitalist society prevent people from reaching their true potential. They use this film to project their own views on how people can benefit from knowledge of society superstructure but stress that independent choice is vital to escape the system. This argument is punctuated and proved through one specific sequence: the training room. It is in this scene we see Morpheus teach Neo that his mind is greater than the machine controlling him. Morpheus is trying to expand his mind teaching him that through forgetting your previous limitations one can achieve their full potential. Neo then achieves this level of power and overpowers Morpheus. The more Neo escapes the grapes and limitations of the Matrix the more powerful he becomes using his power to repair broken glass and stop a wave of bullets in their truck track. This progression the Wachowski’s show that being controlled by the superstructure of society limits and individuals capabilities in life however in the Matrix they also advocate for knowledge and choice of the individual this is highlighted through Morpheus presenting me with the red and blue pill they argue that nobody can be forced to leave the system it has to be a choice but if you’re willing to utilise that choice and take that leap you will become more powerful than before.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (Marx, K, The Communist Manifesto 1848)
Next I will be looking at how “The Hunger Games” directed by Gary Ross from 2012 showcases Marxism. The story of The Hunger Games is set in a colonial dystopian post- apocalyptic world where 74 years ago, there was a mass rebellion that tore the world apart. This world is now separated into 13 districts 12 of which are still in existence. It is all controlled by one main conglomerate known as Panem in district 1 , which controls all media output and input received by all districts. This movie showcases how the superstructure known as Panem tightly controls every aspect of the base structure from media to food allowance ,clothing and work. Each district is controlled through fear tactics and an annual game titled The Hunger Games which was created as a punishment for the districts after they attempted to overthrow the Capitol but failed. Two people from each district are chosen at random from a lottery of children aged 14-18 to compete in the games where they are expected to kill every other tribute to award themselves winner and return home. For an advancement of food one can enter their names multiple times, this shows how the superstructure controls and preys on the poverty of the people.
This world explored by The Hunger Games showcases the clear distinction between the upper level (elite) and the lower level (slaves). In district 1where they are controlled by President Snow they want for nothing as they hold the entire world’s wealth and being the head of the organisation they rely heavily on the other districts to perform in their duties such as coal mining and fishing as they themselves have no resources. This highlights the imbalances in power. The story follows a young girl named Katniss and sees how she goes through a number of trials and hardships only to come out stronger in the end. She is torn from everything she knows and must now navigate herself through a disturbing world where they accept children being sent off to die for entertainment. This world, much like The Matrix heavily involves advanced machinery, which coincides with the time of the original theory from Marx as it was developed around the industrial area when machines were on the rise in popularity and ingenuity. Inside the games and even during training the movie showcases the advanced technological side the Capitol has unlike the unsettled districts that have no technology what so ever. The contrast between the lifestyle of an individual from district one and an individual from district 12 is hauntingly like that of a prince and pauper. The only benefit from competing in the games is a short visit into the upper structures lifestyle.
In Critical Theory Today, Lois Tyson writes: “For Marxism, getting and keeping economic
power is the motive behind all social and political activities” (Tyson 53). This concept is relevant for The Hunger Games in two ways: the Capitol’s need for the districts and the glamorisation of the victor. As with the Matrix, there is a superior power benefiting from the hard labour of the base structure, districts work tirelessly to provide for the capital and receive next to nothing in return. According to Marx, the super structure keeps the base structure in “Warring factors that accomplish little to no social change” (Tyson 54). The Capitol keeps the districts separated with little to no communications between them and contains them in fortress like surroundings. The only time the districts meet is in the Hunger Games arena where they are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of the capitol. Marx believed that “were the proletariat of any given country to act as a group, regardless of their differences […] the current power structure would be radically altered” (Tyson 54). Keeping the districts separated is a way for the Capitol to ensure that no spark of rebellion can be flamed. This isolation of the people, restricting them form organising keeps the base fearful and compliant with the Districts orders. Through the Hunger Games, the leaders of Panem have introduced an ideology to the people, an ideology where fame and admiration are desired, this can be seen in the film when Katniss becomes overwhelmed with the media’s attention, altering her persona on screen to win favours and sponsors. According to late Marxism, culture is “the primary bearer of ideology because it reaches so many people in what seems to be an innocent form: entertainment” (Tyson 60). The leaders have used mass culture as a means of transmitting ideology to the people. The Hunger Games is a very useful tool for the leaders of Panem, it is a way of controlling the masses through fear and manipulation.
In conclusion both The Matrix and The Hunger Games display key characteristics of Marxism in the frame of showcasing the upper and base structure of society, the imbalances and the inevitable rebellion of the base structure. This paper has shown that both The Matrix and The Hunger Games critiques late capitalism and the power structure capitalism supports and thrives off of. Through my research and speculation I hope to have proven that though both films are different, they both speak about the same message. Standing out from the crowd and questioning your existence at any one point can help you see past the limitations of your society.
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- The Hunger Games, 2012 [Film]. Directed by Gary Ross. USA: Lionsgate Films.
- The Matrix, 1999 [Film]. Directed by The Wachowski Brothers. USA: Warner Brothers.
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