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What do you understand by the notion of film and ideology. With reference All That Heaven Allows and or other films from this unit, write an essay that explores the ideological messages – or politics of class or race or gender or ethnicity – in the selected film or films.
Ever since their creation in the late 1800s, films have been considered an interesting and exciting form of visual entertainment that shows stories unfolding. However, the pre and post world war one era have given films a new purpose, that of demonstrating different ideologies. Ideologies can be defined as the ideas and manners of thinking of a particular group, social class or even individuals. This essay will demonstrate how films explore different ideological messages with reference to All That Heaven Allows by Douglas Sirk.
Films have been considered by the bourgeoisie, or ruling class as a timeless expression of the human condition. However, they are seen as commodities that are specific to a historical period in time which privileges capitalism as well as the ruling class, but is made to appear as a common interest of all members of society (Marx 135) through the usage of ideology. In fact, movies tend to present audiences with certain types of behavior, which are either deemed as positive or negative depending on how the characters portray them. These behaviors usually reflect the filmmaker’s own values which will ultimately highlight the importance of certain institutions. Some argue that a filmmaker’s responsibility is to show a depiction of reality (Klinger 31). However, the term ‘reality’ is relative.
The merging of ideology and film has permitted the endorsement of the dominant values that society approves of, thus the marginalization of other alternatives (Barthes 44) which means that the public gets what it approves of. This reinforces the values put in place by society and uses films to create utopic versions of their beliefs instead of reality. Moreover, this endorsement induces false consciousness through diversion and misinformation (Marx 72), which ultimately blocks the working class from overthrowing capitalism. This theory assumes that audiences are ‘cultural dopes’, meaning that they take in the standardized directives given by society, and carry on these roles without question (Garfinkel 54). For instance, they might express either implicitly or explicitly that a woman’s place is only at home or that interclass relationships are not possible.
However, many movies questioned the values put on a pedestal by society (Grant 33) through different film aspects such as the colors used, the costumes as well as the mise en scene.
The movie All That Heaven Allows by Douglas Sirk in 1955 is categorized under melodrama, a genre known to exaggerate both plot and characters in order to appeal to emotions. Melodramas usually portray cliché romantic or domestic situations that mostly only appeal to female audiences. This particular genre reinforces stereotypes of genders, race, class and ethnicity.
Sirk, however, uses melodrama in the movie to show the failure of the ideologies that took place in the 1950s, an era characterized by conformity, conservatism, conformity, materialism as well as anticommunism (Barry 45).
The movie portrays the internal and external conflicts that an affluent widow named Carey Scott with two college aged children, Kay and Ned, goes through as she attempts to break out of her bourgeois type lifestyle through a love affair she has with Ron Kirby, her Gardner.
It is clear from a number of different scenes in this film that the usage of colors, reflections and characters are important to depict a theme of stereotypical gender roles in a visual manner. The mise – en -scene pushes the idea of women being trapped in the confines of their own homes. Several shots of Cary through the reflection of the triangular shaped objects of her house such as windows; picture frames and even TV sets refer to a prisoner held in a cell. Moreover, her house is a cluttered mess filled with furniture and memorabilia that refer back to her previous marriage with the father of her children, the successful businessman. A set of white flowers is placed all over the house representing Carey’s frail beauty as well as mental state while also setting a tone of melodrama. This approach to reflection and echoing are set to imply a feeling of despair and sadness.
Moreover, the décor of Carey’s house falls in line with that same idea of sadness. The colors present in her house are very minimalistic and use the gray scale that uses mostly blacks, whites and greys. Interestingly enough, these are the colors that Carey’s character is seen wearing throughout the movie, with the exception of the riské red dress. According to Haralovich (Lehmann 7) different colors put into scenes can help express thoroughly the dominant ideologies behind a movie. One can therefore think of Carey as part of the house, as trapped in as the walls.
Further more, the use of mid and close up shots, combined with the reflective shots create a mise-en-scene that not only illustrates Cary’s physical and emotional disposition but also how that affects the representation of women in relation to their stereotypical gender roles.
Although gender equality was a concept that was almost attained during the Second World War (1939-1945), the majority of the films in the 1950s reused pre war ideas about a woman’s place in American society (Benshoff 490), a woman’s place was back at home.
Even though Carey tries to break out of the conformity in which she lives in and the social predicament she’s in due to the fact that Kirby is considered as beneath her, the traditional notions of gender politics are reinforced. Carey is asked to give up a life she started with one man, her now deceased husband, to start a new one with a different man, Kirby.
To be able to further pursue her relationship with Kirby, it seems that she must abide by his lifestyle, and submit to his wishes, as he is the man. This clearly reflects the bourgeoisie gender ideology that women are to sit and wait around for a man to come build up their lives for them. This was Kay’s case, even though she was studying to earn a degree in Freudian psychology, which meant that she could venture out into the working world on her, own, she was waiting to be wooed by a possible suitor to eventually get married.
This upper class ideology had an influence on Ron Kirby that grew over time through his exposure to Carey’s world. Kirby feared that by giving in to everyone of Carey’s requests, he would be forced to live by her ways, in her world, losing all his masculinity. Ron’s masculinity was already put into question.
Although he does appear to be the breadwinner like how a man should stereotypically be, his masculinity appears somewhat artificial. Throughout the movie, the costumes he is wearing are very working class but seem proper at the same time. His shirt and pants always matched, and his red flannel shirt always seemed to be tucked in, in a neat way. He was very well groomed, with his hair slicked back, unlike any man who actually dabbles in groundwork.
In a later scene, he instructs Carey to defy the normal conventions and become her own master, just like a man is. This completely contradicts his behavior towards moving into Carey’s house. In this scene, he tries to treat her as an equal but fails to respect that idea when he feels that this will threaten his manhood. Ron here demonstrates a more flexible view of appropriate behaviors for men and for women. Decision-making was considered to be a task left for men, and it is clear that during and even after her first marriage, Carey made no decisions of her own at all.
The economic expansion of the 1950s allowed certain individuals to upgrade their social statuses, forcing certain women to quit their jobs and become submissive, but many still belonging to the working class had to work in the same equal manner as men, all while maintaining a strong figure. This was seen through the depiction of one of the parties hosted by Ron’s friends. The women lifted the tables and arranged them without using or expecting any help from the men, who also didn’t feel the need to aid. Kirby somehow puts Carey in a sort of transitional phase where he does not want her to be as submissive as the women in her social class, but also does not want her to be as independent as the women in his. He does allow her certain ‘privileges’ when he takes her to the store late at night, a moment when a woman should be at home and not out.
Although the idea of gender roles in this movie is important, it cannot stand-alone, as it is irrelevant without that of conformism
The opening scene of the movie, a high angle view of a peaceful New England town with rows of an infinite amount of uniform houses, sets the color palette as well as the perfect encapsulation of the conformity, obsessed American in the 1950s.
The citizens of this town are portrayed as typical upper class suburban, uptight families, who live by their conformity.
The film constantly stresses Ron and Carey’s opposing lifestyles through their friends. Carey is constantly surrounded by her upper class professional and pretentious cliques, who follow each other like sheep. They live by strict rules and etiquette. An excellent personification of this conformity is Sara Warren, one of Carey’s friends who serves both as an excellent model example of what a perfect bourgeois woman should be, as well as a reminder to both the audience and her friends the importance of staying within their social confines, by stressing the importance of appearances. Although her friends are well educated, they lack a finesse that would allow them to understand Carey’s outcries.
During one of the earliest scenes, at the Stooneybroke country club, her friends anxiously await for her arrival with Ron. She decides to wear a low cut red dress as opposed to her usual black and grey attire. In fact, the other women’s proper blue, grey, white and black gowns, in contrast to Carey’s fire truck dress accentuated the bourgeoisie’s cold, stiff and uninviting nature. The harsh white lighting reflects their neediness to want to know everything, which ultimately showed in their behavior towards Carey and her dress. Her attempt to stand out from the rest of her peers backfires when she is not only heavily critiqued but also mistaken for someone who is selling their sexuality. Carey’s friends, especially Mona, remind Carey where her place in this society is and that she is taking a big risk by attempting to stand out. The long shots taken during this scene, distances the audience from the partygoers. It scales the room, following Carey to further extend into a panoramic view that shows off the excessive and lavish mise en scene.
This external attempt of breaking out of the norm, by asserting her autonomy and individuality, is not clearly understood by her neighbors who do not have access to the reality beyond their confines. In fact, Ron Kirby is seen as a threat to their conformist ways, his penetration into Carey’s life shows her another attainable, easier lifestyle, different from their own. However, the way her clique ganged up on her forced her to conceal the misunderstood dress with a large black coat, leaving her head down in shame. This emotion is highlighted through the usage of the casted shadows of dark blue that seemed to follow Carey in a uniform way.
This particular scene shed some light on Sirk’s critique of this conformist society through the red color, as it begins to appear in a heightened way. McCarthyism paved the way to a growing dear of the people who are different and did not abide by the social norms put by 1950s America, like the communists in Soviet Russia (Doherty 215). However, this is not to say that red, here, represents communism, it only implies that like communism, it presents an alternative lifestyle and ideology different from that of the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, Ron’s autonomic world is celebrated through that same vibrant color. It becomes more noticeable as the shadows that follow Ron while he is working have more of a red hue as if they not only reflect his red shirt but his charismatic lifestyle. The emphasis is also actually put on the color, through the medium frame shots taken by Sirk in which the red shirt takes up half of the screen.
Moreover, the clambake party hosted by Ron’s friends not only had the same conformity free vibe that Ron emits but also represented a huge contrast with the bourgeoisie ideology of conformity. At the Anderson’s everything is improvised, the makeshift table is made out of wooden planks and is covered by an old looking checkered tablecloth. The drinks are spontaneous and improvised, like the furniture and the partygoers are of different age, job groups and even do not partake in the same hobbies. It seems a little chaotic because nothing seems to be set in stone, or can be dependent on.
The question that comes at play is whether these ideologies shown are actually understood. Bourdieu explains that the socio-cultural background of the audience plays a large part in the way elements in media texts such as films are comprehended (Blewit 367). The cultural capital transmitted from a parent to their child defines the type of cultural competences that would therefore either allow or limit the comprehension of such element.
In conclusion, it seems that All That Heaven Allows by Douglas Sirk explores the ideology of not only gender roles but also conformity set in the 1950s in America. It uses the melodramatic genre as a way of concealing the critique buried deep within the mise en scene of the movie. In this way, Sirk was allowed to pick apart the different functions of gender roles and conformity and show their failures.
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