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Representation Of The American Dream Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4271 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“Independence Day” is a film directed by Roland Emmerich WHAT HAPPENED RELEASED??? in 1996, which shows the planet under an alien attack, where the U.S. is the center of the problem and the country that saves the world. In relation to this film several elements can be analyzed belonging to the American culture. One of the most significant is The American Dream. An ideal of American culture that is based on democracy and equality and aims to maintain the welfare of society, in order to achieve the fulfillment of the dreams of its members. Based on this, the question that this paper attempts to answer is: To what extent the movie “Independence Day” directed by Roland Emmerich reflects the American dream?

In this paper is exposed how there is a relationship between The American Dream as a cultural element that represents an American ideal and the script of the film, where elements, the film presents such as leadership, equality in terms of race, gender and social context, and the image of a perfect democracy REPRESENT THIS FEATURE.

So we can see IN THIS WAY that the film represents to a great extent and very clearly the American Dream, because it reaffirms the central role of American culture on a global context by exposing the values ​​of the American Dream as the country defends the planet from the Alien attack, it also brings these values ​​to a global context as it takes the independence Day as a celebration of global importance, and showing America as a country where the dreams of an entire nation and its members are fulfilled.

Word count: 262


Nowadays The United States is one of the most influential countries in the global context, taking into account its economic and military power. However its importance worldwide is also due to their culture, a culture that has strongly expanded in the Western Hemisphere by spreading a set of customs, traditions and ideals. Among the strongest and representative ideals of American culture is what is known as “The American Dream”, a concept that has transcended through history and has strongly consolidated American culture by showing that in this country people can achieve an ideal lifestyle where all of its members fulfill their dreams in a country that enforces their rights and welfare.

Taking this into account it is important to analyze how these ideals are represented and displayed as part of American culture by focusing on a specific cultural artifact, in this case the film “Independence Day” directed by Roland Emmerich released on 1996.

Roland Emmerich is a German film director, screenwriter and producer known by his science fiction productions which usually show humanity under catastrophic and risky situations. That is why on “Independence Day” a catastrophic context can be seen a context in which Planet Earth is under an Alien attack and places The United States in the center of the tragedy and as a country that puts all of its efforts to save the planet.

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The aim of this paper is to show: To what extent the film “Independence Day” directed by Roland Emmerich reflects the American Dream. For this IT IS NECESSARY TO analyze the concept of The American Dream as part of their culture in relation to the elements that the film shows, an analysis of the script by showing the different situations and characters, and an analysis of the symbols used throughout the film.


The concept of the American Dream was introduced by James Truslow Adams in his book “The Epic America”, where he talks about this concept as a social ideal representative of American culture, which seeks equality in terms of opportunities and a comfortable lifestyle for everyone, based on a proper use of democracy to achieve it. “The American dream is the cultural expression of North American identity and, even if it was occasionally transformed into the American nightmare, it remains one of the most motivating forces of American civilization and a still viable token of American exceptionalism.” (Stiuliuc, 2011). According to this, Diana Stiuliuc in her text “The American Dream as the Cultural Expression of North American Identity” claims that the American Dream despite the different interpretations that may have, will always refer to the American culture as a unique factor that represents the American national identity. Taking these definitions into account we can see how this concepts fit the American culture, because it is based on democracy and equality, concepts that were consolidated as part of that culture since they were mentioned in the American constitution and the declaration of Independence.

On the other hand, referring to Ferdinand Lasalle who said on his book “On the essence of constitutions” (YEAR) that culture is related with public consciousness, we can consider a relationship between the Constitution and culture. It means that the constitution has to reflect the aspects of society that are determined by their customs, their morality, their ideas about good and evil and in general all kind of aspects that represent the members of a society, in order to make people identify with the constitution and actually obey the laws. According to this and focusing in the movie, it is significant to stand out some concepts that clearly reflect The American Dream because they are based on democracy and equality, the concept of The United States as a country with a perfect democracy, a multicultural country and a global leader.


Throughout the film America is depicted in many ways as a model of democracy. Several ideas present in the classic documents mentioned appear as concepts in the film’s plot, there are mainly four ideas represented in the film, they are: America depicted as a progressive country, America depicted as a land in which goals can be fulfilled with enough effort, America as a country in which peace and the due processes are a priority, and America as a country which authority comes from the consent of the governed.

America is shown as a progressive country in terms of its political structure, as the movie shows how the country is worried about social progress and welfare. One of the main characters in the film is the President who takes on many roles depending on the situations he faces throughout the film; one of these roles is that of a young yet wise politician. In the film America is shown as a land in which youth is not a hindrance in terms of wisdom. This is shown at the beginning of the film when the President’s communication director Constance Halbrook, another important character, shows the news to the President arguing that people are attacking not his policies but his age.

Other types of progressive thinking are shown throughout the movie such as the presence of debate and protest among the citizens. The President is shown as a human being despite his role as a hero, if he is not defeated at the end of the film, it is due to his prowess as a politician and soldier instead of a set of special abilities inherent to himself. Protestors are shown when US police and military forces take place close to the Alien ships. And debate is implied in occasional TV broadcasts shown as secondary plot devices.

America is depicted as a land in which dreams can be fulfilled throughout the entire film. Almost each character starts his or her journey with a certain frustration, David failed as a scientist, Constance failed in her previous relationship with David, Steven could not get a job in NASA and Jasmine struggles with keeping her family together. At the end of the film after each character is forced to grow and has to put huge efforts in developing their skills or going through great risk, is able to accomplish his or her goals, David and Steve succeed in their attack to the alien ship, Constance and Jasmine are able to put their families together.

America is also shown as a peaceful country that won’t attack unless it is attacked first. After Alien ships are positioned over each major city in the United States the President gives the order to approach them in a peaceful way by having a group of helicopters get close to one of the space ships and broadcast a welcome message. Following an offensive by the Aliens the President gives the order of a counterattack. Also it is implied at several moments that America is a country that respects the supremacy of others, it is only after the United States supremacy is threatened that open war begins.

This is closely related to the idea mentioned before that America is a country in which authority comes from the consent of the governed. Most scenes in the movie show scenarios of political life, TV debates, the Oval Office, the White House and so on, democracy is a central theme to the movie. A very representative moment of this idea is when the President decides to prepare a nuclear attack just after receiving a message from the Aliens that describes their method; Aliens are compared to locusts, their essence is that of the exact opposite to the freedom of a democratic government.

Some of the mentioned ideas have a parallel in classic documents. The fifth amendment of the United States constitution mentions “due process” as one of the main components of justice in the United States; this thinking is re-enacted several times during the film. “Nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. (U.S constitution. Amendment. 5). The Declaration Of Independence states that the source of authority of each country should be the consent of the governed and not the authoritarian rule of a monarch, and that idea is reflected in the movie as it shows the concerns of the president anytime he is making a decision that may or may not benefit people.

Another notorious idea is the representation of America as a multicultural country. Different genders and ethnicities are shown in the movie occupying different important roles, as it is an idea of equality that reaffirms The American Dream. Scientists are shown as people from Caucasian, Asian and African-American descent as well as one of the main characters, David, who is clearly of Jewish descent. Women have important roles during the film too, Constance and Margaret, the First Lady, are shown as brave and dedicated women among the world of politics, and Jasmine is shown as a strong woman and mother willing to do what it takes in order to survive and protect her family. It is important to mention about this element of the film what Hanson said on her work “American Dream in the 21st Century” an idea that shows a close relationship between the film and the American Dream.

“The American Dream represents a state of mind that is an enduring optimism given to a people who might be tempted to succumb to the travails of adversity, but who, instead, repeatedly rise from the ashes to continue to build a great nation.” (Hanson, White, 2011).

Soldiers that are one of the main components of the plot are also from different ethnic backgrounds. There is representation of Caucasians, African-Americans and Latinos, each person is compelled to fight for the independence of the United States regardless of their ethnic background or occupation as is mainly shown with Russell a farmer who is considered crazy and drunk during most of the film but turns into a hero by the end.

Both the 15th and 19th amendments to the United States constitution defend gender and race diversity by protecting the right to vote of people from all genders and ethnicities. This idea is an essential part of The American Dream and their culture, and is therefore represented in the film repeatedly.

Aside from that, it is important to mention how the military forces of the United States of America are shown throughout the film. Military forces are important since they are the first institution of the American government to appear in the film after the aliens have appeared and have been identified, they are the first group to face the threat and set research and analysis into motion. They are also the first ones to establish a defensive stance towards the invaders. This is shown in the movie since a Pentagon official who discovers the Aliens presence takes as first measure the action of summoning the Secretary of Defense.

A very prominent idea shown in the film is the American position in regards of conflict against enemies. It is very important to stand out their role as negotiators and a peaceful society at the beginning of the film, they initially will not attack unless they are attacked. In the film, the first approach to the aliens by the American government is a peaceful one. After this peaceful attempt goes terribly wrong and the aliens attack, the army is given the green light to retaliate. This response as we mentioned before was of course more than ready.

This peaceful feature of the American society has as well parallels in the official documents. In the Declaration Of Independence, it is stated that the King of England had attacked first by placing troops in American territory even in times of peace. It also says that America will stay in peace with all its allies and friends but will be in war with any enemy.

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Doing an analysis of the main characters’ points of view we can see that they always keep an attitude of braveness and enthusiasm. First of all we can see how the President always keeps a brave image and is never afraid or intimidated by the Aliens; he is always present at every moment, refusing any invitation to a shelter and doing everything possible for his country. This idea is reinforced when he decides to be a member of the final offensive fighting like any other soldier.

Another element depicted in the film that reinforces this idea of America as a peaceful and caring country yet ready to battle, is how solidarity is an essential characteristic of all characters’ personality. This idea is prominently shown once again in the President. He is constantly shown as a loving family man. He appears for the first time during the film while receiving a call from his wife and being with his daughter. He stays with his daughter throughout the entire film and has his wife in mind. On the other hand, David is shown as a character attached to moral integrity, an environmentalist always concerned about taking care of the planet and the greater good. He is because of that the first one to go against the decision of launching a nuclear assault.

Another recurrent theme in the film is the characterization of the United States as a technological super power. Scientists are during the story more than support characters, they are heroes. Since the beginning of the film scientific facilities are shown. In fact the first character to appear in the film is a scientist. The film goes back and forth between political and scientific scenarios in which all characters interact. America displays power in the film through politics, the army and technology. All these three scenarios are closely intertwined and together form what makes the United States a super power in the film.

As mentioned, science appears in the film very early. The first image is a shot of the American flag placed on the moon showing one of the biggest achievements of humanity in terms of space exploration. Then it continues by depicting a scene of a Hi-tech facility in which scientists discover for the first time the presence of the Alien invaders. The importance of science in the movie not only as a tool of survival but as an icon of American pride is reinforced every time that characters face an obstacle in terms of technology. Very early in the film a member of the military is aggravated when an employee of the Pentagon admits that they are confused about what is going on.

Another feature of the film related to the depiction of technology is the way that other countries’ technology is represented. Iraq and Russia are shown as countries in ruins after the alien attack, the Russian satellite is shown as old and is immediately destroyed, it is implied that the only network the Aliens use is the American one.

David is therefore the most important character in the film in terms of technology. His personal journey goes from being a scientist who failed professionally despite his studies and intelligence to being the one who discovers the alien communication system and the one who learns how to destroy their defenses. David is the genius who represents the true power of America which is not the brute display of force but the use of knowledge, technology and progress. It is because of him that the world has to follow America’s lead during battle.

Another very prominent representation of America in the film is that of the country being shown as a brave and resilient nation. Americans are shown as heroes who overcome adversity no matter how strong their opponents may be, always willing to defend themselves and their people, American scientists, politicians and soldiers seem to be utterly resilient and indestructible. That characteristic though is not shown as the starting point of the film, in fact, America’s most powerful cities are destroyed and all of their military efforts are rendered useless before the attack is successful displaying a story of heroes who had to sacrifice everything in order to win and who to be able to defend their freedom had to rely on their braveness only.

Indeed America is shown as the “Land of The Free and the Home of The Brave” many times during the movie. The figures of the President and the First Lady are examples of courage, unwilling to hide, both decide to stay with the people of America during the alien attacks even after they are offered protection. The First Lady’s sacrifice is therefore the ultimate display of braveness and will to resist against the oppressors. Even right before her death she is shown as a warrior who has set her mind on the only goal of defending her country even at the point of surrendering her life, she says she trusts her husband’s capabilities in winning the battle turning her death into the moving force of the President’s determination to win.

The President is then the most important figure of braveness and resilience. Not only he is challenged in terms of his job he is also personally attacked and has his family destroyed before he can stand against the aliens. This mixture of professional and personal obligation comes together in his role as a soldier. The President is also a soldier with special abilities in the fields of air combat, he personally leads the final battle against the aliens, because of this reason he is fundamental to America’s victory, he embodies the might of the State, the braveness of Americans and the people’s will to resist and thrive through great efforts.

Other main characters are symbols of courage and resilience. Russell is the everyman who even after being described as a bad father and mediocre man saves the day by showing that nothing else is more important than serving his country and fulfilling his duties as an American soldier, the President grants him the status of hero, because of this reason Russell receives the approval of his family and in spite of his previous failure he turns into a hero because of his braveness and willing to sacrifice.

Steven is also the soldier who is willing to lose everything if it is for his country and his loved ones. His motivations are fulfilling his dream of being an astronaut, serving his country and protecting the family he wants to form with Jasmine. He puts himself at great risk by being a part of the stealth mission to destroy the enemy defense and does it without any hesitation. The same goes for David who as a member of this mission risks everything in name of the things he believes in, he is shown as an environmentalist who would do anything in order to save his country.

Jasmine on the other hand shows another type of resistance. She is the one that as a main character represents the people of America. The everyday fighter, the passionate mother, she can only resist by doing what every civilian can do, being brave and trusting her state leaders. This is another prominent feature of the film. People are shown as hopeless yet brave citizens, they don’t have the strength to fight against the aliens but do so by putting their trust in their government.

The American civilians have anyway a common characteristic with the military and government their weakness that turns into braveness and finally victory. Then war is not between two equally powerful opponents, humans are obviously outnumbered and overpowered. Their machines and weapons are shown as tiny next to the huge weaponry of the aliens, even the final weapon against their defenses is tiny, a computer virus, showing that intelligence, courage and sacrifice are worth more than raw force.


One of the most prominent symbols shown in the movie is the speech given by the President to the soldiers prior to the battle against the aliens, where not only are displayed patriotic ideals but also America is depicted as a country that fully represents the promises of the American dream. One of the main symbolic references is the declaration of the 4th of July as a worldwide celebration extending the idea of The United States national independence to the entire world declaring that way that the ideals of the American revolution and its independence values are applicable to the entire world and should therefore be celebrated by all nations since they represent what is good for every nation.

This reference to the 4th of July, which is of course a main idea in the film considering its relevance in relation to the title, places America as the leader of the world. The United States government and its military institutions are the ones to begin and lead the attack against the alien threat; the mentioned speech keeps a strong moral and military rhetoric style. The response from the listeners of the speech is highly emotional as they are all willing to defend these universal values in a clear reference to The American Dream.

On the other hand we can talk about the symbols displayed visually. Throughout the film different places are shown and many are representative of American culture. Mainly, government buildings like the Pentagon or the White House and national monuments like the Statue of Liberty are shown, also the skylines of New York City and the city of Los Angeles are repeatedly featured. These symbols are a representation of the main aspects of American culture in relation to The American Dream; government buildings represent the power of the United States, its importance in keeping peace and order, as they show the importance of democracy. Cities like New York or Los Angeles are not only the main economic centers of the country but the most renowned touristic destinations in America.


Finally it can be seen how the concept of the American Dream has a very important role in everything related to the American culture, from it, the bases for a great amount of social ideals that represent and promote American culture and identity have been formed. The American Dream attempts to fulfill all ideals of equality and common well-being a nation where the dreams of all its members can become a reality depending on the extent to which they belong to the American society.

It is very interesting also to analyze how these concepts go back to classic texts like the Declaration Of Independence and the Constitution of the United States since the importance of creating a global country had already been stated. Taking this into account, it can be seen how this film includes clear references reaffirming the cultural importance of the American Dream in a global context by showing how this nation has the capacity of being a world leader and keeping a society together.

In the film, the concepts that depict the United States as a country with a perfect government system can be seen. America achieves through democracy a society that has equal rights for everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender and social differences but most of the film depicts America as a country able to keep a society in harmony where collective objectives and individual dreams are fulfilled.

Finally, in terms of the inquiry that guides this paper, it can be seen that the film greatly represents the American Dream. Even from the title which refers to an American holiday but places it on a global context we can see how this film shows American values as the answer the world needs to be able to survive the invasion. We can see in the film how the United States is tested and destroyed just so it can reaffirm itself as a powerful nation in all its aspects, mainly culturally, showing the importance of the American Dream at a national and international level.

Word count: 3974


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