Film, Theory, and Criticism
In addition to being a source of entertainment, films are produced to convey some particular messages to the audiences. In every movie, filmmakers have a particular mission to convey to the audiences. For instance, filmmakers often insert specific moral values in the movie so that their audiences can learn from it. With this trend, films act as cultural texts where filmmakers express particular cultural values, gender perspectives, personal values, as well as racial perspectives. With this background, the paper is going to apply the Marxist theory to critically analyze a film entitled “The Last Samurai.” The film was produced in the year 2003 by Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick, Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Scott Kroopf, and Tom Engelman and directed by Edward Zwick.
Analysis of the Film – The Last Samurai 2003
As said in the introduction, The Last Samurai is an American epic war movie directed by Edward Zwick. In the film, Tom Cruise, portrayed as a retired 7th Cavalry Regiment, is brought into contact with the samurai warriors due to his personal and emotional conflicts. This film is produced with the theme of the spirit of the last warrior, in this case the Samurai. The production of the film depicts a comprehensive research revealing the mannerisms, the settings, how samurai train and fight, the way different classes of people dress, and the art of war during the historical Japanese Meiji period. The story and the drama in the film evoke various levels of emotions such as suspense, smiles, sadness, joy, as well as empathy.
According to Howland (2008), most modern films, just like The Last Samurai, are simply re-enactment of the same story of what has occurred in the society. Similar to other modern movies, The Last Samurai talks of a protagonist who is born into the world full of sexism, racism, and anti-Semitism. The film is a typical example of the genre whereby a nonwhite who possesses cultural authenticity and empathy sets a white hero on the road of enlightenment. The movie is seething with progressive racial fantasies and extreme hatred of Western civilization. The white people went to Japan and tried to establish their civilization but meet huge mountain to climb because the people are deeply rooted in their local culture and tradition.
However, instead of enhancing western civilization, the movie inadvertently change its position for supporting the moral code of the samurai, which depicted as the vanished society. As a result, they unfortunately savaged economy, equality, modernity, and democracy in favor of honor and aristocracy. In overall, the movie gives a compelling defense for organic society and tradition. The movie is seemingly enhancing anti-liberal and ant-white ideologies, for these reasons, the exact intended message in the movie is somewhat consuming and contradictory.
The film begins by first narrating the Shinto mythology illustrating how Japanese islands were created. In the narration, the Japan nation is depicted as a product of divine providence, spoil, and blood, which the god integrated into a single piece. The narrator stressed in this myth that it was a group of very brave men, the Samurai, who created and willed the existence of Japan. Katsumoto, who is the leader of the Samurai cultural rebellion, is then introduced when mediating a vision of a certain white tiger depicted as lamming at foes surrounding him in a circle to foreshadow the white protagonist. The center of this tale is the redemption of white en through self-hate (Nafarila, 2009).
The movie tells a story of Emperor Meiji’s schemes to eliminate the warring Samurai community from Japan. At one point in time, the emperor had a desire to make Japan a modern country typical of the western nations such as United States of America. Because of their culture and perceived primitiveness, he sees the samurai, as the obstacle to making Japan a modern country – does not like their types of dress (clothes), weapons, as well as the art of war. Emperor Meiji planned to make Japanese have complete clothes and modern weapon appliances just like the Americans. To fulfill his desires, Emperor Meiji contracted Captain Nathan Algren, an American trained specialist, to train the samurai the art of modern war.
Later on, Mr. Omura uses his position as the personal advisor to the emperor advising to exterminate the samurai because they cannot be modernized. From here, we see the beginning of class struggle between the samurai and the elite regime ruling the country. Following advice from Mr. Omura, Emperor Meiji then gives an order to remove the samurai from the country and exterminate them completely (Hoston, 2014). The feeling of oppression the sets in amongst the samurai –they have to fight to survive in the land. The government gives orders prohibiting samurai from bringing sword in public places and anybody from wearing samurai dresses. This situation further makes the samurai angrier and they decide to start defending themselves from the government oppressive schemes. Captain Nathan Algren then decides to attack the samurai warriors with is unprepared army along a railway line but bet caught up by his enemies. He takes this opportunity to learn about the samurai culture, dresses, and art of war and so on.
Western supremacy is one of the major themes discussed in the move. The movie particular breaks with a conversation that western heroes are always superior to the local ones, a view that is strongly opposed by the samurai who challenges in the war. They strongly oppose the idea of learning the western culture. Instead of subjecting themselves to the westerners, the film goes contrary deeper by strongly believing that the traditional samurai society is superior to the western civilization. The film uses this opportunity to wonderfully recreate textures and patterns illustrating Japanese past. In particular, the film articulately describe the Japanese past in terms of product design, as well as astonishing sets and costumes (Barshay, 2003).
Analysis of the Marxist Theory
Karl Marx was a socialist and historian who lived between 1818 and 1883. After using scientific methods to examine social organization, he came up with a theory that perceived the history of human beings as consisting of persistent series of struggles between different classes on the society. According to his analysis, the struggle is mainly between the oppressed and the oppressors. This theory illustrates the persistent class struggles in the society was later termed as the Marxist theory. According to Howland (2008), Karl Marx understood that the historical materialism in the society was the major driving force behind the persistent class struggle. According to this theory, materialism involves distribution of resources, production, gain and such related matters that the capitalists may have deep interest.
Karl Marx and his theory of class struggle have been represented in the film industry for many years in various genres such as fictional drama, documentary comedy, as well as art house among others. Apart of class struggle, Marxist theory of ideology, political economy, communism, as well as socialism have been represented in various genres in the film industry. As early as during the soviet era, various filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov have already started representing Marxist theory in film. For instance, Eisenstein developed a montage theory in film, which is largely based on the principle of Marxist concept (Hoston, 2014).
Dialectics is one of the major areas where Marxist theory has been applied in the film industry. Marxist’s dialectics ideology mostly featured in soviet movies following the works of Sergei Eisenstein, a revolutionary film director and film theorist from soviet Russia. He applied Marxist theory in film through his work on the soviet montage theory, which is based on the idea that it originates in the collision of different shots of thesis and antithesis. He used this basis to argue that montage is inherently dialectical and he should be considered a direct demonstration of Marxist theory (Yıldırım, 2005).
Within the film industry, the Marxist theory of class struggle is deeply rooted in a collection of normative commitment to be part of radical egalitarianism. However, throughout history, most film makers have largely focused on exposing class struggle in the society unlike other elements of Marxist theory. Using the concept of class struggle, most film makers have presented a perception that any talk about morality or justice simply reflected the interests and material conditions of the major actors. Within most films, Marxist theory has been strongly grounded in the study of the working of philosophy of both materialist and dialectical. The philosophy of the dialectics view interactions and changes as essential processes in institutions. With this view in mind, Marxist theory viewed the system of capitalism, in its wider context, as persistent in election as well as economic crisis affecting the society (Tierney, 2006).
Traditionally, most filmmakers have been using Karl Marx’s dialectical approach in analyzing the structure and effect of capitalism in the society. This approach has, for many years, ensured that the main focus and fuller subjects in the film remains to be the capitalist society. Furthermore, this approach is reliable in analyzing the developed as well as developing structures of capitalist system of community. As used in most film, this approach brings out actual changes that occurred in history as the result of contradictions or opposing tendencies involving the usual functioning of every society in its basic form. Unlike other schools of thoughts such as those propagated by Hegel, Marx’s dialectic approach is characterized purely by materialism. Using this approach, filmmakers are concerned with the analysis of capitalism as lived by the people rather their typical lives. Materialism, as hypothesized by Marx theory, puts ideas into people’s head because of their consciousness. As a result, through this interaction, behavior and social conditions establish greater effects on the development of people’s character and ideas (Tierney, 2006).
According to Marxist theory, the natural evolution of politics involving feudalism would first lead to bourgeois capitalism, then socialism and finally utopian communism. Karl Marx theorized that workers would always grow poorer whenever profits are reinvested in creating more companies rather than improving the affair of workers. This is anticipated to continue until a crisis point is reached when workers and other likeminded people will create revolts demanding restructuring of the system. Marx considered that under capitalism, the underclass do not own means of production but the government. The theory explains show the quest for wealth often defines the character of almost every person in a capitalist setting (Forsyth, 2011).
In this theory, Karl Marx explained that the conflict that arises within the structure of capitalism is caused primarily by intensifying contractions between socialized and highly productive mechanized production that is performed by private ownership and the proletariat. As the contraction becomes apparent among the proletariats, social unrest starts and intensifies amongst the antagonist classes in the society, which ultimately culminates into social revolution. At the end, the resultant social revolution would lead to establishment of socialism system in the society. In other words, Karl Marx hypothesized in a theory that the classes, if persistent, will ultimately lead to establishment of a communist system of development whereby everybody in the society would be stateless, classless, humane, and erected on common ownership of means of production (Nafarila, 2009).
Analysis of traditional films by McAll (2007) reveals that the Marxist theory is hinged on the interplay of the economic activities and material conditions that are essential in satisfying the material needs of a society. The notion presented by most film, as generally agreed by Karl Marx, is that every society has a particular material needs which it tries to establish. According to Marxist theory, any form of mode of production and economic organization would either directly incline or give rise to other forms of social phenomenon in the society such as political system, judicial system, social relations, morality, as well as ideology. The improvement in forces of production makes the existing form of social organization stifle and inefficient. Most films are produced to depict these inefficiencies that are directly manifested in the social contradictions in form of class struggle in the society. According to Marxist theory, capitalism is unable to sustain the living standards of the citizens mainly because of the falling rates of profits, pursuing of military aggressing as well as cutting of social benefits (Edward, n.d.).
Marxist theory gives greater and ambitious explanatory of the concept of class struggle than any other tradition in sociology. In essence, Marxist theory places greater burdens within its theoretical foundation an explanation of the concept of class struggle in the society. Karl Marx has strongly argued that the concept of class struggle is closely linked to the economic base or mode of production, which was generally considered as the historical theory of materialism. According to Clegg et al (2006), Marxist theory attempt to use a unified framework to explain a wide range of social phenomenon such as social conflict, trajectory of social change, large scale revolutions, as well as macro-level institutional forms.
In summary, Marxist theory, highly emphasize in the significance and role of class struggle in the society. This actually remains to be the most important factor in the analysis of most modern films such as The Last Samurai. While semiotics and content analysis may shed some lights on the movie content, Marxist theory actually can be used to highlight the material conditions of a film in relation to the history of message being conveyed to the audience. It remains important to consider various issues, such as modes and factors of production and differential access of factors of production among others, and the way they are shaped by various socio-economic groupings in the society. In the section below, Marxist theory will be applied to analysis the circumstance surrounding The Last Samurai film.
Application of Marxist Theory to the Film – The Last Samurai
In this section, we are going to apply Marxist theory to analyze the movie entitled “The Last Samurai.” As indicated in the section above, Marxist theory actually can be used to highlight the material conditions of a film in relation to the history of message being conveyed to the audience. From as early as 1960s, Marxism has feature films especially those telling the history of gradual human civilization from all occupations. Analysis of films in relation to Marxist theory indicates that there are distinct features, which have been germinating from one generation to another. According to Marx, Engels, and Smelser (2010), Marxist theory is not a newcomer in the film industry but has been central to film production throughout history. Marxism has been proved to be a great tool in film industry because it has variegated and rich tradition. In particular, Marxist theory has played significant role in defining the roles traditions have played in history of human civilization. As a result, any intellectual analysis of a film would require a powerful confrontation of Marxist legacy.
Marxism will be used to provide theoretical approach in analyzing the movie The Last Samurai. To express his ideology after series of studies of capitalists, Karl Marx wrote in his diary that the history of all existing societies is the history of class struggle. The theme of class struggle is clearly depicted in the movie -from the beginning of the movie, the conflict of class struggle starts between the government of Emperor Meiji and the samurai cultural warriors. Emperor Meiji, seething with desire for power and wealth, schemed to exterminate the local samurai community because of their perceived modernized culture. Following his advisor’s recommendation, Emperor Meiji hires an American captain highly skilled in western art of war to train his government soldiers who would later rage war on the samurai to exterminate them completely. This starts the beginning of oppression to the samurai who chooses to fight for their survival in the land. The conflict takes shape as oppression continues, the samurai, and the government find themselves in a class struggle typical of what is described in the Marxist theory.
In the film, the director Tom Cruise is depicted as playing Nathan Algren who is later captured by the samurai warriors. Because of the struggle to overcome the samurai, he incredibly masters the art of samurai war art and sword within six months to such an extent that he is acknowledged by bystanders as equal to Ujio who was his instructor. Marxist theory of class struggle can be applied to analyze Nathan Algren’s incredible ability to master the art of samurai swords within six months. His struggle is to use the samurai’s tactics and art of war to overcome them. Consequently he dedicate himself to learning the samurai art of sword and does it so
perfectly than within six months he is compared to the native samurai warriors.
Marxist theory can be used to understand the nature of this class struggle. From the illustrations, it is clear that Emperor Meiji, who is representing the government, is more concerned about bringing change to the Japanese people. He wants to the learn and adopt the western culture, which he and other liked minded people in government, think to be superior to the Japanese culture. He wishes that Japan became a modern country just like other western countries such as United States of America. It seems that the type of change that emperor Meiji wants is more about economic empowerment and power through wealth creation. However, the samurai are not ready for any change. Unlike the emperor, they consider Japanese culture to be superior to western civilization. Considering all these, Marxists class struggle is suitable in analyzing this film because there is persistent oppression between the government of Meiji and the samurai warriors.
As illustrated in the Marxist theory, the basis of class struggle in the society is wealth creation. The government of Emperor Meiji owns and controls means of production the Japan and they want to extend their control beyond limit by introducing western civilization because of trade-friendly government policies. In essence, the government of Emperor Meiji wants to westernize Japan so that they could easily expand their control of factors of production and amass more wealth at the expense of the poor local samurai warriors. This is happening because they are rooted in the capitalist ideologies and they have developed strong desire for wealth. In this class struggle, the ruling elite, through the government of Emperor Meiji want to maintain status quo by ensuring that they have full control of factors of production in Japan. In this class struggle, the cultural samurai warriors play the role of workers for the owners of factors of production. They do not own any factor of production and used in production for the benefit of the upper class who work daily to increase their profits. Marx considered that under capitalism, the underclass do not own means of production but the government.
The film, The Last Samurai, actually reflects the theory of materialism in the class struggle. The government of Emperor Meiji is depicted as deeply concerned with materialism. The main reason why the emperor wants to westernize Japan is the promise of trade-friendly policies, which he believes would not benefit only his government but also himself as a person. The quest for wealth is traditionally defining the character of every person in the government of Emperor Meiji. In addition, it is the quest for wealth that pushes to collaborate with an American captain so as to westernize Japan. Issues of power and money are at the center play in the government of Emperor Meiji thus enhancing the class struggle. The theme of materialism in the class struggle involves distribution of resources, production, gain and such related matters that the capitalists may have deep interest.
For many years, the government of Emperor Meiji has not attempted to create improvement in the existing force of production a situation that is continuously leading to inefficiency. In this film, inefficiencies in production is manifested in the social contraction inform of class struggle. The government is unable to improve the standards of living amongst the underclass – the warring samurai. They are unable to improve standards of living because of their continued pursuit of military aggression and increase of private profits. The theme of class struggle is across the board in this wonderful film. Due to the persistent struggle between the two major classes, the underclass represented by the samurai warriors comes out strong defending their cultural practices, dressing and divine leadership. They choose to savage their economy through suffering instead of pursuing honor and aristocracy. In essence, they are depicted as giving a compelling defense for tradition and organic society (Yıldırım, 2005).
The theme of Marxists class struggle is also depicted in the supremacy of western civilization over the local Japanese culture. Frits and foremost, Emperor Meiji wants to westernize Japan because he strongly believes that western culture is super to Japanese culture. This idea and believe is also held by many other people in his government. On the other hand, the samurai hates western culture because he strongly believes that Japanese culture is superior and divine. This deference in belief creates a struggle of supremacy between western and Japanese culture. The struggle continues and the cultural samurai warriors emerge victories when they capture the American captain hired by the emperor to exterminate them. The struggle of supremacy between the western and Japanese has been long standing since the colonial time when white people started establishing their colonies in Asia. The western colonials sent a notion that their culture is superior to the local ones.
Western supremacy is one of the major factors enhancing class struggle as depicted in this film. The movie particular breaks with a conversation that western heroes are always superior to the local ones, a view that is strongly opposed by the samurai who challenges in the war. This actually shows the struggle of supremacy between the western and the Japanese. They strongly oppose the idea of learning the western culture. Instead of subjecting themselves to the westerners, the film goes contrary deeper by strongly believing that the traditional samurai society is superior to the western civilization. The film uses this opportunity to wonderfully recreate textures and patterns illustrating Japanese past. In particular, the film articulately describe the Japanese past in terms of product design, as well as astonishing sets and costumes.
In the film, The Last Samurai, Marx’s concept of class struggle is placed within the theoretical context of mode of production and economic base. Karl Marx has strongly argued that in its most ambitious form, the concept of class struggle is closely linked to the economic base or mode of production, which was generally considered as the historical theory of materialism. This is clearly depicted in the film since is a wide gap and distinction in the mode of production and economic base between the government and the underclass samurai warriors. In essence, the government of Emperor Meiji controls the entire mode of production and economic power base. The underclass samurai are only left to the play role of workers in the economic system. There is a wide gap between the government and the cultural samurai warriors in terms of economic power base and control of modes of production in the country (Erckel, 2009).
In conclusion, analysis of the movie, The Last Samurai, has revealed important theme of class struggle as hypothesized by the Marxists. The struggle is majorly between the disable and the unable, rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless and so on. In this theory, Karl Marx concluded that class struggle has been and will ever exist in the society. Algren, having successfully learnt the samurai swordsmanship, he uses his newfound skills to single-handedly defeat six samurai warriors something which immediately bring change to the fight between the government of emperor Meiji and samurai warriors. He had ability of quickly assimilating and mastering the native art of war and swordsmanship.
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