Professor Joseph Byrne
14 December 2013
Final Paper: Comparing Ideology in Far From Heaven and Zero Dark Thirty
Far From Heaven, a filmed directed by Todd Haynes, deals with the ideology of heterosexism, and white, male, and bourgeois supremacy. The film takes place in Connecticut during the 1950s, before the civil rights movement. It examines the struggles of Frank Whitaker’s sexual orientation, and his wife’s, Cathy Whitaker, growing close relationship with the gardener, Raymond Deagan. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, deals with the ideology of torture and nationalism. The film is about the events that led up to the discovery and killing of Osama bin Laden. The film follows Maya’s quest to finding the, back then, most wanted man in America. Both of these films exhibit the topic of ideology, but in different ways. Ideology refers to a system of belief, value, and opinions (Film, A Critical Introduction 310). In terms of film, ideology is transmitted by employing symbols and narrative (Film, A Critical Introduction 310). Both films exhibit many similarities and differences, but the film Far From Heaven deals with the ideology of heterosexism, and white and male supremacy, while the film Zero Dark Thirty deals with the ideology of torture and nationalism.
Ideology is very prevalent in the film Far From Heaven. Cathy Whitaker is the typical housewife of the 1950s. She stays at home and watches the kids while her husband works and makes the money for the family. It is not her job to work in an office; it is, however, her job to take care of the kids and make dinner for the family. All of this is “natural” for women during this time. Men were seen as superior to women, and were incapable of handling the same tasks as men. It was pretty much their job to put on a face and impress their own husband and friends. But on the other hand, it was the man’s job to be the “man of the house,” something, which Frank was clearly not. Dana Luciano, a professor at Georgetown University, describes Frank struggling with a “long-ignored and increasingly irrepressible homosexuality.” Towards the end of the film Frank breaks down in tears, an act man normally would not do during the 1950s. The audience is shown a glimpse of the views others have of homosexuals, which in part was different or “light on their feet.” During this era, homosexuality was seen as a sickness. Psychiatrists back then claimed homosexuality could be cured through a series of therapy sessions. It was not until this past decade that homosexuality became socially accepted. The lives of Cathy and Frank were both lies. They did not choose to live these lies; society and its ideologies created and forced them to live it. During the 1950s blacks were also not seen as equal as whites. There were a couple of incidences that mark the tensions between whites and black hinting at white superiority. In the art show scene, when Cathy talks to Raymond in public, it alarms and shocks many people. The whites think that the blacks are “below” them and they should not be talked to. This was a normal view from a primarily white community in Connecticut before the civil rights movement. There is also another incident when Frank and Cathy go on vacation to Miami and a little black boy accidentally goes into the pool. Immediately, all the mothers take all their white children out of the pool because they think the black boy “contaminated” the pool. Even though there are many different ideologies present in this film, they are all connected to each other. Frank’s homosexuality challenges Cathy’s role as a stay at home mother, which is defined by men and society and connected, to her romance-friendship with Raymond.
Even though Ideology was not the main topic of the film Zero Dark Thirty, it surely had a lot present during the film, and many of it was controversial. The film opens up to recordings of people calling 911 about the September 11th attacks. This monumental event was an important motivator for those seeking to capture Osama bin Laden because he was the main guy in charge of those attacks. But the controversy in regards to this film is the torture scenes. Many claim, including Glen Greenwald, that the portrayal about torture is demonstrably false and that this film falsely depicted torture as valuable in finding bin Laden. Greenwald is referring to the numerous torture scenes that Bigelow includes, like starvation, water boarding, and solidarity. During the Bush administration, when this film was set, many denied that water boarding or even torturing of terror suspects was happening, even though most knew it was. Even though many claim that this film is controversial, it is depicting the realism during this War on Terror. Bigelow pulls in footage from the aftermath of the July 2005 London public transport bombings, and the September 2008 attack on the Islamabad Marriott (Reichart). All of these were real events that happened, and Bigelow was simply just showing them to the audience. This is what many call journalistic realism. If Bigelow were to not show these hard to watch scenes, then Manohla Dargis of The New York Times says it “would have been a reprehensible act of moral cowardice.” In terms of nationalism, this event sparked huge gatherings around the United States, in which people were celebrating the death of this criminal that killed many innocent Americans. People came out and were very proud of their country. This film, in general was an “American film” because it was about an event that truly touched each Americans heart. So, Bigelow presents a very questionable and debated ideology that forgives torture as long as it leads to the security of the country. She also presents, although indirectly, nationalism by showing the events that led to a killing of a man that created pride and safety to one’s nation.
Far From Heaven and Zero Dark Thirty are two different films that have many similarities and differences. They both exhibit the topic of ideology, but in different ways. Far From Heaven deals with the ideologies of homosexuality and white/male supremacy, while Zero Dark Thirty deals with the ideology of torture and nationalism. These are all different types of ideologies but many of them are controversial or a “touchy” subject to present. For example, the ideologies of heterosexism and torture, to many are topics that should not be discussed in films due to their meanings and implications. Only recently, has heterosexism been “accepted” in society and in films. But still to many, they are not quite comfortable seeing two men on screen having sexual relations. Torture to many also seems too violent, and a “common” person might not be able to handle it. So, these two films are similar in the sense that they contain ideologies that are some-what controversial, but different in the sense that they exhibit different ideologies. Another difference in both of these films is that Far From Heaven deals with male supremacy and how males make the money while the women stay at home, and Zero Dark Thirty is quite the opposite. It has a woman as the lead role and shows her having the same, if not better more power than the others. Maya, in Zero Dark Thirty, is the one who worked every minute for 12 years trying to find Osama bin Laden. In the end, she came through and met with as high up as the director of the CIA to discuss this issue. You could argue that in Far From Heaven, Cathy had the lead role, but compared to Maya, she did not have as much power and freedom. It was not Cathy’s fault for this; it was the era and society to blame.
Both films, Far From Heaven and Zero Dark Thirty, deal with an ideology of a some-what controversial topic, but include ideologies that are different from one another. Far From Heaven deals with homosexuality and male/white superiority. Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, deals with torture and nationalism. The controversial ideologies are homosexuality and torture. Homosexuality, during the 1950s, was seen as a sickness that could be cured. White supremacy was evident in the scenes with Raymond and Cathy and male supremacy was evident in the fact that Cathy stayed at home and took care of the children. Torture, still to this day, is seen as an act that should not be committed in order to gain information. It was evident in all the scenes Bigelow showed when they kept detainees without their will, in order to provide information that will lead the CIA to Osama bin Laden. Nationalism was present with this discovery and killing of bin Laden that led to large amounts of pride. With this being said, without both of these ideologies present in these films, they would not be the same. Both of these films are very well done and artistic, in their own way.
Dargis, Manohla. “By Any Means Necessary.” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
Greenwald, Glenn. “Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Hagiography, Pernicious Propaganda.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 14 Dec. 2012. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
Luciano, Dana. “Coming Around Again: The Queer Momentum of Far from Heaven.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 13.2 (2007): 249-272. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.
Reichert, Jeff. “Desert of the Real.” Reverse Shot. Reverseshot.com, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.
My experience of watching Inception now compares much better with my experience of watching the film the first time. The first time I watched it, I was very confused as to what exactly was going on. One thing I noticed this time and not the first time, was that the main acting style was “The Method.” Most of the characters in the film immersed themselves in the feelings of the characters. Another thing I noticed this time was the mise-en-scene/cinematography. Each location and dream level in the film had a distinctive look with the mountain fortress having a sterile, cool look, the hotel hallways had warm colors and the van scenes were neutral. Finally, the last thing I noticed this time and not the first was the sound design. In the film a sound occurring in reality, for example a gunshot, in the next level down might be the sound of thunder, and in the next level down, might be an earthquake. So, sound made the connections between reality and dream, in my opinion.
Film Analysis: One of the main themes in the film Chicago 10 is the counter-culture of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. This film shows the enthusiasm of the peace movement that was led by students around 1968. The students were called the Yippies which was a newly-formed activist group. During many of the protest scenes, the audience is shown a lot of drugs and sex. Their tactic was to show their support against the Vietnam War. These anti-war protests were extremely popular during this period due to unpopular view of the War. The way the Yippies are portrayed in this film shows how the director, Brett Morgan, viewed this time period.
Main Topic Focus: The main topic of this week is Documentary Film and the film this week is more or less considered a documentary of the Chicago 10 or 7, depending on how you look at it. It can be argued as not being a documentary because of the combination between animation and actual footage. Seeing actual footage of the protests during this time shows the realism to the audience. But at the same time, the use of animation makes the film different and more interesting. The audience is shown the characters through the actual footage and then the animated aspect occurs during the trial part due to the fact that actual footage was not available.
Critical Argument: The use of animation in Chicago 10 was artistic and appropriate given the material discussed and the cultural moment in the United States during the 1968. The combination of actual footage and animation allowed the audience to see what was actually happening and made the film unique from others. Also, it allowed the audience to feel more engaged in the film. Finally, by incorporating both it gave the film a more recent perspective of an event that happened back in the 1960s. The use of animation allowed the audience to view scenes that were not caught on camera, placing emphasis on those scenes because they are different than the rest of the film. This film was different from the typical documentary film, allowing Morgan to keep the audience interested.
Film Analysis: A major theme present in the film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is feminism. This film shows the struggles woman are challenged with to satisfy the feminine physical ideals. Woman in the world today are expected to look a certain way and expect to meet a standard. They have to be skinny, pretty and, in general, perfect. Karen feels pressured to be perfect once is in the spotlight. She starves herself ultimately becoming anorexic. Many see Barbie dolls as “perfect” and an “ideal woman” which also to many seem unrealistic. The director, Haynes, made the decision to incorporate these dolls to hint towards the ridiculousness of these expectations. He does a great job of using these dolls in the film because it’s very unique and artistic and gets the theme of female standards across to the audience.
Main Topic Focus: The main topic of this week is avant-garde and the films this week are great examples. An avant-garde film, also known as “experimental” and “underground” cinema, are described as being broken, disjointed, or non-existent narratives, often focus on some technical aspect of film, usually “approach the medium as an aesthetic, philosophical, and/or political means of expression” (Film: A Critical Introduction, 291), and are generally antagonistic to conventional, Hollywood-style film-making (Class Blog). From the beginning of the film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, the audience sees Barbie dolls rather than real people, playing characters throughout the entire film, so this is obviously an untraditional Hollywood film. An Andalusian Dog undermines any sense of coherent narrative and is like a dream (Class Blog). This violates most of the conventions regarding film narrative for traditional Hollywood films. In the film Meshes of the Afternoon it blurs the border between dream and reality, to the point where the audience cannot tell. This subconscious feel is not a typical Hollywood film making it avant-garde.
Critical Argument: All the characters in Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story are played by Barbie dolls hinting the unrealistic perfection of female standards. Dolls to many are seen as perfect, “ideal” woman thus are a feminist symbol. But this is not very realistic in the real world. Haynes attempts to put some critical distance between the viewer and the fantasy world, which is artistic statement of this film. This is called Brechtian distanciation, or the alienation effect. Even though he attempted this, he was not very successful. The audience can still identify the characters and become immersed in the world of the film. The plot and the music had a role in this distinction. The social messaging relates to the artistic messaging by Karen Carpenter struggling with the expectations of her family and society, which derived from a patriarchal ideology. Many think that a celebrities life is perfect, but this is not the case at all. Once in the spotlight they are scrutinized for pretty much everything. So, they are expected to “look” a certain way which in turns made her anorexic and ultimately leads to her death.
Film Analysis: A major theme in the film Zero Dark Thirty is 9/11 and the War on Terror. The film opens up to recordings of people calling 911 about the September 11th attacks. This monumental event was an important motivator for those seeking to capture Osama bin Laden because he was the main guy in charge of those attacks. It was also what turned this search into a mission of vengeance. The main character in the film, Maya, worked for the CIA for approximately 12 years and every since the beginning she has been hunting down Osama. This film is centered around finding Osama by working up and finding guys linked to him and the 9/11 attacks that will lead them to him. This might seem like an easy task, but it is not because he was in hiding for many years and was heavily protected 24/7. Maya was so committed that once she found the house Osama was hiding in, she would write on her bosses window each day that passed when they were not doing capturing him.
Main Topic Focus: The topic of this week is auteur cinema and the film Zero Dark Thirty directed by Kathryn Bigalow, posses many of the auteur director components. The three main components of an auteur director are: technical competence, distinguishing personality, and an internal meaning (Textbook). Bigalow also directed The Hurt Locker which is also an action movie. In terms of technical competence, many of the scenes especially the torture ones have beautiful cinematography and mise en scéne. Most action movies are not considered artful films, but this film is considered otherwise. Bigalow is known for making action films so, the audience can distinguish her personality. This film has a lot of internal meaning. Bigalow chose an extremely controversial topic because many did not know of this operation and many deny the torturing of 9/11 suspects. Also, the capturing of Osama Bin Laden was a huge step in America’s War on Terror so this itself is part of the internal meaning of this film.
Critical Argument: Many say that Zero Dark Thirty shows that torture “works,” but I think that the film is objective and realistic about torture during that time. I can understand how this topic of torture is controversial but she is just showing the realistic nature of torture during the War on Terror, which is still currently happing. She includes scenes of starvation, water boarding, and solidarity in her film. Bigalow is not endorsing using torture to achieve information or advertising it, she is just simply showing the audience what they did to suspects. During the Bush administration, the time period this took place, many denied that water boarding or even torturing of terror suspects was happening, even though most knew it was. Most knew it was happening because many knew these suspects were very committed to their organization and the only way to receive information was by torturing them. So, by Bigelow presenting it in her film, she entered controversial territory and that is why many critics claim she is showing torture “works” but in reality she is just showing the truth.
Film Analysis: One theme in the film Weekend is violence. The audience sees a lot of fake violence in the film, which is usually done to people, but we also see some real violence too, which is done to animals. Most of the fake violence scenes take place in the car crash scenes. During these scenes there are usually dead bodies all around and the audience can tell that the blood is fake. Jean-Luc Godard, the director of this film, intentionally made these scenes seem fake. But when the audience is shown the real violence, they are shocked and have to step back for a moment. For example, in the end of the film when they cut the head/throat of a living pig and wait for it to die. This scene was quite disturbing and makes the audience uncomfortable. But by having fake violence on humans and real violence on animals, Godard sets humans higher up than animals.
Main Topic Focus: The main topic of this week is Social Context and the film Weekend is quite the opposite of a traditional Hollywood film. Godard was one of the leading directors of the French New Wave. A Hollywood film-making demands plot clarity, cause-and-effect continuity, goal-oriented characters, and closure. There is none of this in Weekend, or the complete opposite. The best example of a lack of clarity is in the beginning when Corinne relates to her lover the details of a perverse orgy that she participated in. She speaks in a monotone voice, and the audience can barely hear her at times, even though she is relating an erotic encounter, which one would think should be exciting, but it’s not, nor is it meant to be. The film has no unity; many of the scenes are just unrelated. Finally, when the film ends, the audience is still left confused about the characters and have not fully connected with them which leave no closure.
Critical Argument: The film Weekend is full of loungers, long passages in which nothing much happens, which is in part of Godard’s effort to annoy and frustrate the audience but also to alienate them and react to the film. For example, the scene where Corinne is describing her orgy to her lover is about 8 to 10 minutes of uncomfortableness. The audience does not understand the importance of her going into so much detail and alienates them because they feel like something is wrong with them not the film. But there are benefits to the growing frustration of the audience. It instills them to respond and react to the film, which if a lot of people do, will make this film a hot topic. Most Hollywood films try not to make their audience annoyed and frustrated which is why this film is not like a traditional Hollywood film.
Film Analysis: One theme present in the film Far From Heaven, directed by Todd Haynes, is white supremacy. In the film, the main character, Cathy Whitaker, becomes rather close to her gardner, Raymond Deagan, who is black and this gets other people in the community talking. A couple of incidences when Mrs. Whitaker talks to Deagan in public, including the art show, alarms and shocks people. They (the whites) think that the blacks (Deagan) are “below” them and they should not be talked to. This film takes place in the 1950s, before blacks had the same civil rights as whites. So, this was a normal view from a primarily white community in Connecticut. There is also another incident when Mr and Mrs. Whitaker go on vacation to Miami and a little black boy accidentally goes into the pool. Immediately, all the mothers take all their white children out of the pool because they think the black boy “contaminated” the pool.
Main Topic Focus: The topic of this week is ideology, and the film Far From Heaven is filled with different ideologies because it takes place in the 1950s. Some ideologies present in the film include: heterosexism, and male, white,and bourgeois supremacy. Haynes included a heterosexism and male ideology of Frank’s internal struggle with his sexual orientation. During the 1950s, homosexuality was not accepted in everyday culture and they were frowned upon. Also, men should act as “mans of the house” and a bring in the money to the household while the women stay at home and take care of the children. Men were not suppose to break down into tears like Frank did towards the end of the film. A white ideology is present, as I stated above, with Cathy and Raymond’s relationship. Whites were not suppose to interact with blacks and blacks were seen as below the whites. Finally, Hayes includes a bourgeois or class ideology. Upper-class people were seen as more important or “superior” than lower-class people which is evident through the Whitaker’s lifestyle and the communities attitude.
Critical Argument: Far From Heaven deals with many different ideological constructions of class, race, and sexual orientation, but Haynes gives precedence to the sexual orientation ideology. Frank dealing with his homosexuality is the main plot of this film while the building relationship with Cathy and Raymond is the second minor plot. Haynes portrays homosexuality as a psychology sickness that can be overcome by therapy. Cathy makes Frank go to the doctor and try to “fix” this sickness, while she does not tell anyone, even her best friend. All the other ideologies are mixed in with this ideology being the main one. The fact that Cathy does not tell anyone about Frank’s ordeal but does publicly talk to Raymond and tells her best friend makes the sexual orientation ideology more preeminent. Haynes made this ideology the main one, mainly because he is a homosexual director. Maybe he is trying to hint to the audience his own struggles with “coming out of the closet”. Many of Haynes films are about sexual orientation, including Velvet Goldmine.