Criticism of Institutions in Movies


Many of the movies that have been viewed have focused on current issues particular to the time period of the movies. Each film portrays its own array of conflicts, disconnections, poverty struggles, and lack of resources. When these issues are the focus of the movies though, it creates an enticing experience that viewers can experience when they pay close attention to the movies. The movies I see as examples that are critical of institutions are Chinatown, Blue Collar, and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. All of these films display many dysfunctions and frustrations occurring during a certain time in history. These two elements are not meant to set the plot of these films, but to establish the particular era of them. All three films are critical of institutions.

In Chinatown, the main character JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) plays a detective in the 1930s that falls into deceit, corruption, and murder. He is investigating a crime, but when someone chooses to be an impostor, Gittes has a much harder time solving the case he is assigned to. In this time period, there was not much technology to assist in investigating cases. This shows that Gittes is even in a more dramatic situation since there is lack of resources for assistance. What this says is that in this era, cases were not easy for police to resolve. Detectives’ jobs were harder based on the limited resources and that made issues more controversial. This was because they were not able to tell who was innocent or guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The other film with many dysfunctions is Blue Collar. The film focuses on three characters and they are Zeke (Richard Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel), and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto). These three characters are having issues at their union job of working in a auto manufacturing facility. What happens is that they decide to steal money from the union’s bureau Safe. They believe that they are not getting paid equally based on the work they do. However, their robbery puts them in a shady situation. Once they commit the theft, the union realizes that they have lost ten thousand dollars due to a robbery. The dysfunction of this behavior is chaotic because it is still during the era of race discrimination in the 1970s and both Smokey and Zeke are African-American. Therefore, fingers are being pointed at a variety of characters due to the conflict. There are arguments, a death happens, and people lose their minds where they even break the vending machines of the auto plant. This chaos is caused by the fact that workers feel they are not getting paid equally or receiving the same benefits in the union.

Finally, the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is critical of the workplace. Specifically, it portrays how difficult it was for women trying to find work. Alice (Ellen Burstyn) is someone who is trying to start her career as a singer. However, she has fallen into several bad relationships and is also trying to raise her own son. Her relationships are generally abusive and therefore, she is trying to flee away with her son to start a new life. The corruption she faces includes money and housing issues. The dysfunction she faces is abusive relationships and her chaotic son. Her son chooses to act out since he feels he is not getting attention from her. As she drives with him on the road, he does lots of screaming and has temper tantrums to provoke her. He does this to get her attention. The institution of family is also referenced here as a single mother struggles alone to raise her son.

Overall, the setting of all of these movies provides a backdrop to showcase a variety of different corrupt environments. A lack of resources, inequality, and racism during specific periods in history are incorporated into these movies, which make them critical of institutions. The effect that various institutions (e.g. police department, workplace, family, etc.) have on the characters makes the lives of these characters much more challenging. Each film illustrates how in society where not everybody believes in equality that people’s daily lives are impacted in serious ways.


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