by Brad Nelson
This movie is based upon a true story. First, a little Avatarcasm (I still can’t get that stupid movie out of my head but it makes for a fine foil for my morality tales)…
It can be a beautiful thing when children murder other children, especially when they are all “people of color” living an Avatar-like life in tribal naturalness. That yucky thing called “Western Civilization” is so oppressive and exploitative. The law of the jungle is so much more ordered, healthy, and fair. Color the people blue and make them look like large, friendly house cats with big, child-like eyes and you can tell a grand fiction that people will suck up to the tune of hundreds of millions.
And then there is “City of God.” It’s the anti-Cameron movie. This is what life is like, and quite arguably has been mostly like, before the advent of civilization. Good estimates are that tribal “native” cultures have a murder rate that dwarfs the rate of the last century in the West, even including all the world wars and the smaller ones as well. This movie is also a lesson that market capitalism is the answer out of poverty, not misguided “compassion” by those who wish primarily to sweep the problem under the rug and out of their nagging conscience. The hard work is protecting freedom and opportunity. The easy, politically expedient work is about reducing one’s sense of guilt, not actually solving the problem.
According to the film, the “City of God” district of Rio de Janeiro was set up by the Brazilian government as a place to put the homeless and other refugees. As the movie states, “As for the rich and powerful, our problems didn’t matter. We were too far removed from the picture postcard image of Rio de Janeiro.”
In this movie, you see the savageness that is so easily bred. But not by poverty, but by gangs going unopposed, children going unsupervised, and the savage beast tasting blood and learning no moral view other than one can take what one wants by force. This is the madness of civilization breaking down, not the corruption of civilization. This isn’t “society’s” fault, as is the liberal interpretation of most crime. If society is at fault, it is a society that drew in its borders and left this “City of God” district to fend for itself according to the laws of the jungle and outside of Western-like law, order, and morality.
In a movie such as this you can see how hard it is for decency to assert itself if the most brutish and ruthless tactics pay off. This is a story about a lack of law and order, but also a story about who we are without the constraints of a basic morality. Quite unlike the liberal myth, man is not born into a state of nobility which he then loses via supposedly “greedy” capitalism, as is the theme of the left. He achieves a state above the jungle via the law and morality and, especially in the case of the West, by having the freedom and opportunity to better himself. Those who are trapped by government do-gooderism, whether in the City of God in Brazil or the City of Welfare in New Orleans, face a hard and brutal life.
This is an extremely well-crafted film that has a subtle touch that is hard to find in Hollywood anymore. There is not a cliché in sight. “City of God” is a complex mix of editing, flashbacks, forward-flashes, and even side-flashes, if there is such a thing. Using such techniques, the filmmakers are able to tell in a simple way a very complex story and give it a grand sense of place and time.
From an anthropological standpoint, you see human nature in its most naked form. You see the traits that are there lurking underneath waiting to escape if civilization breaks down or people aren’t taught to be civilized. Our prisons are evidence that our more violent traits to not go unused.
This film is many things, including hard to watch. If you combine this with a reading of Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life at the Bottom,” you will surely gain an insight into how very easy it is for the “smart people” to enact ruin on us all. As well as on object lesson in politics, “City of God” works as a gangster film and gives a horrific inside look at the drug trade (and perhaps is the best evidence I’ve seen for keeping drugs illegal).
“City of God” also works, of course, as a social commentary film in which we see the wreckage created by government corruption and misguided welfare. This film is entertaining and appalling at the same time. And it’s as expertly crafted a film as you’ll likely see. This is one of the rare ones that goes over the 4 rating (in my non-inflated rating system). Life may be cheap, but my rating system is not: 4.2 freed chickens out of 5. Four-point-eight for the direction and editing.
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