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Films are an art that has strong means both to depict the reality and the fiction and to explicitly express and demonstrate the ideas of the author. However, these statements are shown not only by the apparent details of a film; they might also be depicted by a variety of methods, such as the general background, the setting, or some details that might not always be immediately recognized unless they are specifically looked for. However, once they are found, a motion picture might also “reveal… something of the shocking significance of the ordinary details of everyday life to the optical unconsciousness” (Law & Law, 2002, p. 180).
In this paper, three films (two of which were made in Europe, and one in Europe and the U.S.) will be analyzed to find what role the city plays in them. It will be argued that in two of these movies, Cloud Atlas and Ratcatcher, show the city as a place associated with exploitation, discrimination, or social problems, whereas the third one, The Girl on the Bridge, depicts it mainly as a place where the entertainment industry is strongly present. Each of these motion pictures will be overviewed separately, after which their comparative analysis will be provided.
The events of the film Cloud Atlas take place in six settings at different times. Each of these parts has a plot of its own, although they all are similar in that every one of them contains a protagonist who is fighting against some form of discrimination, exploitation, or deceit. In addition, the parts linked together via the notion of reincarnation; apparently, characters of each of the sub-plots are the same “individuals” (or “souls”) living different lives in succession. The parts are shown to the audience in turn, based on the similarity of events that take place in them–more specifically, on the similarity of stages in the struggle (Arndt, Hill, Wachowski, Tykwer, & Wachowski, 2012).
It might be convenient to enumerate the settings in which the events take place:
- Setting 1: An American lawyer Adam saves a Black man Autua from slavery; Autua, in turn, saves Adam from a doctor who is slowly poisoning him o take his valuables. Adam eventually becomes an advocate for the rights of Black people.
- Setting 2: England, 1936: Robert is a bisexual young man and a talented composer who is persecuted for his homosexual relationships. He finds employment as an amanuensis to an aged composer, but the latter uses him. Robert escapes, but eventually finds no other way to solve his problems than to commit suicide.
- Setting 3: San Francisco, 1973. Luisa, a journalist, attempts to discover the conspiracy behind the safety of a nuclear reactor in a modern city. A number of people related to the affair get assassinated. Luisa barely avoids being murdered herself but manages to discover and publish the truth behind the situation, possibly saving the city from a nuclear accident.
- Setting 4. London, 2012. In modern London, a publisher Timothy Cavendish gets in trouble with local gangsters, the book of one of whom he published. As a result, he ends up in a geriatric home. Together with his new friends, he escapes from it.
- Setting 5.Neo Seoul, 2144. In this anti-utopian world, Sonmi-451, a “fabricant”, i.e. a human cloned to be used as a slave, is rescued by a rebel. She is persuaded to join the rebel movement to free the other “fabricant” slaves.
- Setting 6. “Big Isle, 106 winters after The Fall” (Arndt et al., 2012, 00:31:30). In this post-apocalyptic world, Meronym, a woman from the society that uses the remains of the pre-war technology, visits a primitive tribe that is attacked by local cannibals. Zachry, a herdsman, guides her to the peak of the local mountains where she finds an old station and sends a disaster signal to other human colonies in space.
It is possible to see that the film is set in a number of places, including some modern European cities. However, it can be stated that the city in general, being a background for the events, plays an essential role in the movie. In fact, the urban setting in most cases appears to be associated with some type of discrimination, exploitation, or disaster. In Setting 1, the city is not shown; however, the works of prominent philosophers, ones that are clearly from the city, are cited; these works stress the importance of the “natural order” that is supposedly established by God, where the place of the Black people is to be slaves, and women are not even mentioned (Arndt et al., 2012, 00:06:30).
In Setting 2, Robert faces discrimination and persecution from the urban higher society that he comes from. In Setting 3, the director of the energy company from a highly urban area attempts to cause a nuclear disaster. In Setting 5, Sonmi-451 and the other “fabricants” labor in an extremely technologized, highly urbanized society. Finally, in Setting 6, the viewers can see the remains of a highly technological pre-war city built by a civilization that caused the nuclear war (Arndt et al., 2012, 01:27:25).
Therefore, it might be claimed that in this film, the city often symbolizes the center of intellectual promotion of discrimination or exploitation, and sometimes also the centers where these are the most intensive.
The film Ratcatcher is set in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, 1973. The main character of this movie is a 12-year-old boy named James, who comes from a rather large and poor family. At the beginning of the film, James plays with his friend Ryan in a dirty canal; however, after some rough play in the mud, James dips Ryan in the water. Thinking that nothing bad would happen, James runs away; when he sees that Ryan does not appear from under the water, he becomes scared and quickly leaves, only to find out later that Ryan drowned (Emerson & Ramsay, 1999).
During the further actions of James throughout the film, it is apparent that he is suffering from the terrible feeling of guilt. In fact, the film is comprised of a number of various scenes in which the problems of James, as well as of those who are related to, acquainted with, or simply lives near to, are apparent. For instance, his family has numerous issues; his father tends to drink large amounts of alcoholic beverages and to neglect the needs of his family; the relatives also do not get on well with each other. In addition, they have poor housing conditions and are awaiting the chance to change them and move to a better area (Emerson & Ramsay, 1999).
James often has to escape from his family. He finds one means to do so: he becomes friends with a girl, Margaret Anne, who also has a number of issues causing trouble; in particular, she is often abused by a local gang of adolescent hooligans. The two friends find relief and comfort in one another’s company. However, the film ends sadly; James comes to the conclusion that his life will probably never change to better; in addition, the feeling of guilt accompanies him everywhere. Even though his family finally gets better housing, he commits suicide, jumping into a canal (Emerson & Ramsay, 1999).
It is possible to state that the modern city plays rather an important role in the film, emphasizing the adverse situation that the characters of the movie are in. The family of James lives in a quite poor neighborhood, almost in the slums, full of disused houses; even in the houses that are used, boarded-up windows can be seen. The canal the local children often visit has extremely dirty water.
In addition, the sanitary and housing conditions the characters live in are in a terrible state; there is no running hot water and a shortage of bathing facilities in the flats. In addition, the 1970s are known to be a time of numerous protests across the UK (Chick, 2016); in this case, the city’s dustmen are on strike, which results in the numerous bags of rubbish lying around the residential areas everywhere; children sometimes play with this rubbish (Emerson & Ramsay, 1999, 00:18:50), and a man on the TV states that it poses the risks of decomposition, fire, and diseases that can be spread by rats (Emerson & Ramsay, 1999, 00:12:40).
Therefore, the modern city with all its adverse nuances plays rather an important role in the film, being not only the background for the events but, in fact, constituting a part of the problems that the characters of the motion picture are faced with.
The Girl on the Bridge
The plot of the film The Girl on the Bridge is focused on the fates of two individuals, a girl named Adèle and a man Gabor. The first one dropped out of her college to live with a boyfriend of hers, but then had a rather flippant life full of short romances (usually one day or one meeting long) with various men; this, however, failed to bring her satisfaction. Considering herself unlucky and a loser, she decides to commit suicide by stepping from a bridge over the river Seine in Paris.
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On the bridge, she meets Gabor, a knife-thrower, who persuades her not to kill herself and offers her to work with him as a target in his knife-throwing performances. Together, they travel around a number of cities and countries to give performances and earn money; in this process, they also gamble, being surprisingly lucky together.
Both their knife-throwing activities and gambling allow them to make rather large sums of money. However, at some point, while making the voyage on a ship, Adèle meets a man from Greece whom she believes she falls in love with; she leaves Gabor, but her and the Greek’s feelings towards each other fade, and the Greek abandons her as soon as they get to the shore. Luck leaves both Adèle and Gabor; being separated, they only know failures. Finally, Gabor goes to the same place in Paris where he first met Adèle to do what he originally intended to do the night he met Adèle: to commit suicide. However, this time, Adèle approaches him and tells him not to kill himself. The film ends with the scene of the two main characters embracing one another at the bridge (Fechner & Leconte, 1999).
In this film, numerous modern cities are shown. The main characters visit a number of cities and countries places in their journeys. The plot, as it was mentioned, starts in Paris; then, the main characters also travel to Monaco, then they go around Italy; later, they take a ship to Istanbul, and Gabor arrives there, while Adèle goes to Greece with her Greek husband who then turns out to be a short-time boyfriend. Mostly, only those parts of the cities are depicted where the main characters give performances, go shopping, gamble, and stay in hotels; however, once the protagonists become separated, the audience sees Gabor giving street performances and selling his knives in some street markets that can often be found in modern cities.
The cities, therefore, mainly play the role of centers of what is usually known as the “nightlife”, even if the main characters’ performances are given during the day. The urban life is viewed through the prism of the entertainments that are available in these places, allowing the main characters to test their luck and make some money either by providing performances to the public or by gambling.
It was possible to see the different roles that the city played in the three movies from the discussion above. Now, it is important to synthesize the provided information and compare these roles to one another.
As it was stressed, in Cloud Atlas, the city can be said to often be associated with some type of discrimination. It is possible to tie this association to the leftist line of thought, one that has already been linked to the films directed by the Wachowski siblings (Cloud, 2006). The struggle against various types of discrimination has usually been associated mainly with the political left or leftist communities and organizations, and the theme of struggle against them can clearly be seen in Cloud Atlas. Therefore, it might be claimed that the discrimination and exploitation in the film are tied to the capitalist society.
There are a number of situations in the movie which also warrant this statement, for instance, when Sonmi-451 quotes the “Catechisms” for the “fabricants”: “honor thy consumer” (Arndt et al., 2012, 00:26:00), which is clearly a phrase that points at the capitalism. Via this link, it is possible to arrive in the assumption that there exists a connection between capitalism, the urbanization, and discrimination in Cloud Atlas. Here, a higher degree of urbanization in many cases represents more severe exploitation (either the fact of it or both the fact and the center of its intellectual foundations).
On the other hand, the least severe cases of exploitation in the motion picture can be found in the areas that are not urban; for instance, in Setting 4, Timothy Cavendish is taken to a geriatric home apparently located in a rural area; even though he faces discrimination there, he is not exploited. Another example: at the end of the film, when Zachry finishes his tale to children, it can be seen that he now lives on a planet other than Earth, in a society in which no signs of discrimination or exploitation are shown; the area in which they live resembles a camp or a village rather than a city or even a town (Arndt et al., 2012, 02:41:00).
On the other hand, in the film Ratcatcher, the city is shown from a different perspective. It also is associated with the adverse sides of the existing structure of the society; everything that the viewers can see about the setting of the motion picture is linked to some type of negativity, such as poverty and other social problems. The rubbish in the street, the boarded-up windows, the dirty canal in which children often play–all of them appear to underline the fact that the situation that the people who live here are in is not likely to change significantly.
Even if it does change (for instance, when some of them are given new housing, or when the rubbish is finally cleaned from the streets), there always will be individuals who suffer from unemployment, poverty, and other similar issues. Unlike what has been seen in Cloud Atlas, no direct exploitation can be perceived in this case. However, it is highly probable that the proponents of leftist views would say that the social problems which were depicted in the movie are also an integral part of the neoliberal, capitalist society; for example, see Abu-Jamal and Fernández (2014).
Finally, the film The Girl on the Bridge provides a different image of the city. Here, as it was already stressed, the focus is made on the entertainment sphere that mostly exists in the city and rarely in the countryside. Here, no emphasis is made on the social problems pertaining to urban life; the individuals who are using the services of the entertainment sphere appear to mostly belong to the middle or upper-middle class.
Therefore, this movie depicts another side of urban life: access to the entertainment provided in the cities “nightlife”. Although these entertainments are also characteristic of the capitalism, the stress and other problems that the workers of this industry (or any other industries) suffer from are not depicted in this film (whereas they were shown, for instance, in Cloud Atlas, where “fabricants” were used as slaves for the entertainment industry).
To sum up, it should be stressed that two of the discussed films, Cloud Atlas and Ratcatcher, depict the city as a place with which discrimination and social problems are associated in this or that way. On the other hand, The Girl on the Bridge shows that the city also serves as a place where entertainment can be found; however, no problematic issues pertaining to this sphere are demonstrated. On the whole, the city plays a significant role in the first two movies, providing a background that is an important part of the plot but is somewhat less important in the third movie, where more focus is made on the main characters than on the society.
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