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The Battle of Algiers Film: Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt Views Essay

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2020

The Algerian Revolution was marked by the cruelty and violence on the part of the French colonizers and Algerian anti-colonial liberation movements striving to free Algeria from the French invaders. From 1954 to 1962 both French and Algerian civil people suffered from the intense and severe confrontation between the two oppositions that strived to gain dominance on the territory. The Battle of Algiers is a 1966 award-winning movie that brightly depicts the harassment experienced by innocent people at that time. The director of the picture, Gillo Pontecorvo, has managed to render violence and terrorism on the part of both French soldiers and Algerian rebellion movements. The themes and ideas rendered in the film are closely associated with those represented by French psychologist and philosopher Frantz Fanon and Hannah Arendt, a German political theorist. Both outstanding philosophers have their own vision on violence and power, but Pontecorvo’s picture both supports and challenges Fanon’s deliberation on the importance of violence, and Arendt theory on nature of power and violence.

The Battle of Algiers confronts the dilemma of terrorism, harassment, and racism as the only means of controlling and dominating. The French movement applies to terrorism for the Algerian civilians to provoke fear among humble people. In response, the Algerian National Liberation Front (NLF) calls the civilians to fight against the colonists by the same methods. Specific attention can be given to a scene when women hide bags with bombs in public places where French civilians usually have rest. Though these French people are innocent, the liberation movement still decides to resort to deterrence to make the French authorities believe that their power can be destroyed.

Being the member of the Algerian National Liberation Front, Frantz Fanon also defended the right of the colonized people to resort to violence in their fight for independence. In his book called The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon justifies the rights of the colonized territories to exercise violence against the invaders: “the colonized, who have made up their mind to make such an agenda in a driving force, have been prepared for violence from time immemorial” (The Wretched of the Earth 3). Hence, as soon as colonized people are born, they are entitled to face challenges through violence. The colonial world, therefore, significantly differs from the one in which people can enjoy freedom and independence. Their status already permits them to act out like their colonists do.

Though Pontecorvo criticizes the French government and its extremely racial attitudes toward the Algerian civilians, the methods used by the latter are also heavily criticized. Specifically, the author implies that violence cannot be exterminated by violence. On the contrary, violence generates more violence and there is no hope for liberation from the closed circuit. At the same time, the author provides his vision on terrorism and harassment, as well as unequal attitude to the civilians. The advent of the new power could have been accepted unless it generated extreme violence. In support of this idea on racial discrimination, Fanon provides the picture of anti-colonial movements where specific emphasis is placed on the fight between African Americans and their colonizers (Black Skin, White Masks 15).

To distinguish between power and violence, Hannah Arendt presented her personal theory on the role of violence and its connection to power. In her essay on violence, the political theorist argues that genuine power should be regarded as a collective voluntary agreement to follow the chosen power. In contrast, in case the government infringes the legal provisions, violence is considered an artificial instrument in controlling people and regaining power, which is not regarded as genuine anymore (On Violence 9). Interestingly, Arendt criticizes Fanon for his glorification of violence as the being at the core of method for resisting racism and genocide on the part of the Algiers’ colonizers. At the same time, the philosopher agrees with the French revolutionary activist, “violence…like Achilles’ lance, can heal the wound it has inflicted” (On Violence 20). However, revenge on the horrible injuries and tortures that the French colonist made toward the Algerian people cannot restore the psychological and mental trauma.

The analysis of theoretical views of both Fanon and Arendt provides an insight in their views on violence, power, and warfare. One the one hand, both activists fought against unjust treatment of the dominated and developed economies over less powerful countries. However, there are still tangible distinctions between their positions. Thus, Arendt puts forward an interesting theory about totalitarianism and its purpose of eradicating Jews, which, according to the political theorist, is strongly associated with megalomania. Therefore, violence was not directed as a particular nation, because German Nazi strived to conquer the entire world. To explain this phenomenon Fanon would have addressed the concept of psychopathology. In fact, Fanon argues, “…colonization, in its very essence, already appeared to be a great purveyor of psychiatric hospitals” (The Wretched of the Earth 181). Since the beginning of the Algerian Revolution in 1954, the atmosphere in the country was more associated with the total disorder and mental panic. Specifically, the colonized people were forced to neglect the actual attributes of humanity and undergo the shape of the ‘colonized’ personality. This definition is particularly typical of the Algerian people who failed to remain human beings, which cannot be compared to the other historical case of colonization.

While deliberating on violence, Arendt excludes the possibility of the colonized being deprives of such important quality as humanity. Her analysis of power and violence is more concerned with searching the origins and nature of human’s aspiration to dominate and resort to deterrence and harassment. Specifically, Arendt’s theoretical positions even highlight the concept of violence and power as triggers of economic and political development of countries. Hence, Arendt’s philosophy does not consider particular individuals and their violent intentions, but analyzes people and masses as the actors on the world arena. Therefore, the theorist fails to explain why the Algerian Revolution does not fit the established theoretical frames (On Violence 40). However, her distinctions between power and violence can only be enacted only when these notions are considered in a political realm within which both can be regarded as instruments of regulating and controlling political processes and spreading the authority.

Despite a thorough explanation of distinction and violence, Pontecorvo’s views on violence are not congruent with the Arendt’s justifying the position of violence, although it stands beyond the legalized provisions. Specifically, the political theorist relates violence to the attempt of the government to return their domination. Violence, therefore, bears an instrumental character because it closely relates to strength because violence is enacted by enhancing the natural strength. Despite the criticism, Pontecorvo’s film seems to agree with Arendt’s idea about the possibility of violence to destroy power and, at the same time, power cannot be restored out of violence. Fanon deliberates on violence and its relation to power: “the eruption of violence is a manifestation of this anxious act masking” (n. p.). In other words, violence is nothing as a disguised artificial instrument for controlling the conquered populating and keeping them in deterrence.

The Algerian revolution includes specific distinctions between totalitarian and autocratic regimes, which are represented in Arendt work. According to the author, the autocratic regime aims to gain political power and suppress the opposition, which specifically fits the event happened in Algeria (The Origins of Totalitarianism 201). Therefore, though the French government practiced genocide and racial discrimination, its major purpose was not the absolute extermination of the nation, but gaining political and economic dominance. However, colonists introduced too cruel methods for suppressing the population.

In conclusion, it should be noted that Pontecorvo’s pictures provides political and cultural perspectives supporting and criticizing the concept of violence as discussed in Fanon and Arendt’s works. In particular, Fanon consider violence as the rightful instrument of the colonized people in Algeria. Because of the harassment and tortures that the French soldier exercised, the Algerians people were deprived of the attributes of human and became acting violently. Colonization here is synonymous to the dehumanization. In addition, the French theorist considers power as nothing more but violent dominance over other people. In contrast, Arendt is more concerned with the tangible differences between the concepts of power and violence where the former can be revealed through voluntary compliance and the latter is often revealed as a result of power loss.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. Germany: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1970. Print.

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. US: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Print.

Fanon Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. US: Grove Press, 1994. Print.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Richard Philcox, Homi K. Bhabha, and Jean-Paul Sartre. US: Grove Press, 2004. Print.

The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Pontecorvo, Gillo. Algeria: Igor Film. DVD. 1966.

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