Implicit and Explicit ideologies in film

“The starting-point is the simple one that ideology is read from film texts, consciously or unconsciously, and the relationship between each text and its culture are traceable to ideological roots.” (Turner, 1999, p.171)

When looking at ideology in film many assumptions can be made, as the viewer’s ideological stance can influence their own perceptions of what a film is trying to implicitly or explicitly express. “Importantly ideological approaches reject the view of the film text as ‘unitary’ in meaning; that is, as making only one kind of sense, without considerations, exceptions, or variations in the interpretations made by different members of the audience.” (Turner, 1999, p.171). Therefore, films are required to understand surrounding social and cultural ideologies, as viewers go to the cinema to see a reflection of their own reality within the movie screen.

In turn ideologies are reinforced within society outside of the cinema screen, which allows the viewer to become more socially acceptant of certain ideologies.

“The notion of a public and its tastes was created by the ideology to justify and perpetuate itself. And this public can only express itself via the thought patterns of ideology.” (Comolli and Narboni, 1969, p.815)

Implicit Ideology

Implicit ideology can be seen within the film text only through a deeper level of interpretation; hidden religious and moral undertones can be depicted through character growth and an understanding of human relations within a movie. A perfect example of implicit ideological expression can be seen in Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar winning ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994), this prolific American crime move depicts the story of four characters and cleverly intertwining each story. When producing the film Tarantino wanted to express redemption by allowing character’s to make their own moral judgements which would either result in reward or reprisal. This expression can be seen through the choices of boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) throughout the film, with his initial moral stance being dishonourable by throwing a fight and stealing gangster Marsellus Wallace’s (Ving Rhames) money. The turning point in Butch’s character is when he manages to get himself out of an awkward situation with a gimp and has the choice to flee and leave Marsellus with two hill billy rapists, but chooses to save him. As a result of his decision, his debt with Marsellus is cleared and his bad situation is resolved and after throwing the fight in dishonour he regains his honour through helping Marsellus out of a bad situation.

Throughout the film parodies of the American dream are highlighted, with one of the main focuses on the American dream of getting rich by means of criminality. The open acceptance of drugs is also projected within the film, which can be seen in Mia Wallace’s (Uma Thurman) overdose scene and Vincent Vega’s (John Travolta) recreational use of heroin. Tarantino also uses strong religious messages which are portrayed by hit man Jules Winnfield (Samuel. L Jackson) who has a new found belief in ‘divine intervention’ after having a close call with death. He also manages to convince the religious sceptic Vincent of ‘divine intervention’ after their encounter only minutes after Jules gives his epic Ezekiel 25:17 speech.

Explicit Ideology

Norman McLaren‘s short animated film ‘Neighbours’ (1952) is an example of a cinematic folk tale which uses post-modern symbolism to show the conflict between the U.S and Europe after World War II. McLaren cleverly exploits the barbaric and destructive ideologies of war using powerful imagery and various visual styles. The story is of two identical men, sitting in identical deck chairs, reading newspapers, beside their identical houses. The only visual differences are that one man has a moustache and the other doesn’t, and one man is wearing a bow tie (representing the US) and the other a neck tie (representing Europe). A plant randomly sprouts right between the men, who become mesmerized by its beauty and are euphoric due to its luring smell. The film turns into chaos when they suddenly turn on each other and after having a fight the men then both proceed to kill each other’s wives and babies, then destroy each other’s homes. The men clash in a final battle resulting in both their deaths. Once they die both of the bodies are lying on the other man’s ‘patch’ of lawn, showing the irony of their initial dispute which was about whose patch of lawn the flower was in. Both mens bodies lay side by side in two graves, with the plant splitting into two and regrowing as an individual plant on top of each man’s grave. The film ends with a religious statement saying ‘Love your Neighbour’ in several different languages.

It is clear that many different explicit ideologies are expressed within McLaren’s production, with the main one being about the negativity of war. This film was instrumental in providing a postmodern outlook on ideology and gave another option to conflict; implying that when people share the world they can live in peace. This film specifically uses no sound, as the impact of the imagery can clearly convey the explicit ideologies intended for the viewer. This use of several languages for saying ‘Love your Neighbour’ shows that the film intended to appeal to a vast target audience in order to spread this ideology.

“Although explicit here, the ways in which animated films can simultaneously make statements and advance the self reflexiveness and modernity of the form itself, are many and varied.” (Nelmes, 2003, p.215)


COMOLLI, J.L. and Narboni, J., 1969. Cinema/Ideology/Criticism in BRAUDY, L. and COHEN, M., 2004. Film Theory and criticism. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Divine Intervention/ Oh man I shot Marvin in the face… – YouTube . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2012].

Neighbours (1952) – IMDb. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2012].

NELMES, J.,2003. An introduction to film studies. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.

Norman McLaren Neighbours 1952 – YouTube . [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2012].

Pulp Fiction (1994) – IMDb. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 12 April 2012].

TURNER, G., 1999. Film as social practice. 3rd ed. London: Routledge.


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