Movies have played a vital role in our lives ever since they were introduced as a form of artistic expression. They play a huge part in entertainment, representation, raising of awareness, and exploring aspects of society that were previously unventured. Sociological analysis of movies helps to discover and examine various aspects of movies that cater to societal issues and areas. Through this essay, I will be tracing the importance of examining sociologically and how to examine movies sociologically by exploring a series of ten movies that are important for sociology students to watch and their importance.
Film and sociology have a link that is similar to the relationship between “culture” and “structure” in society. Similarly, irregularities also between cinema and sociology, are analogous to those between culture and sociology. It is important to analyze films sociologically because the stories, characters, sets etc are all in one way or another a depiction of society and these depictions are important to the spectator’s relationship and this relationship contributes to everyday life. Movies have come to be major socializing agents, through which people idolize the characters or fictitious universes portrayed through films. Analyzing films sociologically helps us identify the various ways in which different movies contribute to various narratives about gender, religion, families, education, nationalism, etc. in our society. It also helps in understanding the extent to which its influence reaches for good and bad outcomes in society.
How to analyze movies sociologically?
An author or researcher might acquire insight into not only a particular director or writer’s concept, but also how modern society understands itself and its society by reviewing the film from a sociological standpoint. There are a few steps involved in successfully analyzing a movie sociologically. Firstly, Identify the various sociological themes and terminologies in a movie – This can be done by trying to pick out and examine the various institutions and social actors that play parts during the course of the movie. These can include the government, family, educational institutions, religion, marriage, kinship etc. Try to recognize the relationship the protagonist and the people associated with them have with the respective social institutions they come in contact with. Pick out different observations – By doing so one can pick out the key events and players in the movie that contributed to the kind of message it sought to portray. These observations can be in the form of behaviours, reactions to certain events, dialogues, negative/ positive ones etc. Ask yourself whether the movie seeks to reflect a connection with real-world problems– Try to establish a connection with the events of the real world and the ways in which the events in the movie contribute to the creation of viewpoints and perspectives about societies at large today. Also, seek to assess the ways in which it fits the social narrative of the time it represents and the time it came out. Establish a sociological argument – Using the various evidence and observations from the movie, one must now focus on one or more key elements to focus on to create a viable sociological argument. In order to further develop this argument, make sure to utilize direct quotes from the movie, or scenes, or plotlines, or dialogues etc. to make your point.
10 Movies for Sociology Students
- The Great Indian Kitchen (2021)
There are so many aspects in this film that come into play, namely the institutions of family, marriage, and kinship, the perpetuation of patriarchy and sexism, and the blatant disregard for anyone that is not a heterosexual male. It is quite the universal story of a newly married woman being driven straight into a lifetime of enforced and unacknowledged household labor, day in and day out, while her husband has the opportunity to go about his day as he wishes. Like a vast majority of Indian marriages, this was also an arranged marriage where the couple barely knew anything about each other. From the first day she steps into her husband’s house she is subjected to a life only meant to serve her husband, the same trend of life going on with her father and mother in-laws. Be it the constant disregard for any of her opinions, barring her from going to work in the name of family, being asked to ‘adjust’ to the uncomfortable conditions in the house, being shamed for her menstruation, asked to partake in sexual activities everyday regardless of her choice in the matter etc., all sum up to the unhealthy and discriminative trends that are very much prominent in patriarchal systems around the world, especially in regions like India. “In India, like in many other parts of the world, the burden of unpaid care work normally falls on women. According to an International Labour Organization report, in 2018 women in Indian cities spent 312 minutes a day on unpaid care work. Men did 29 minutes” (Pandey, 2021). Throughout this movie, we can see her utmost discomfort in the way of life she was made to live and the movie takes a positive turn into her fighting for her own liberation and using her voice to fend for herself. Exhausted and absolutely having reached a highly saturated point, she takes of from her sexist, discriminative marital home and divorces her husband. But in the very same ending there is a depiction of the remarriage of this ex-husband to a new woman who will now be subjected to the same torturous treatment. This movie goes to show in a very raw form the monotony and exhaustiveness of continues unpaid labor married women are expected of, them being shamed for the natural processes of menstruation, and no matter how educated, the responsibility of maintaining a household being solely theirs while the husband takes little to no responsibility. This is a very true reality of societies in India and this movie does a great job in planting thoughts against these regressive practices in the minds of the people who watch the film.
2. Super Deluxe (2019)
The movie starts off with the portrayal of adultery committed by a woman with her ex-boyfriend, in the absence of her husband at home. Everything goes topsy-turvy upon the ex-boyfriend’s sudden demise mid intercourse; from then on having the unhappy married couple struggle to dispose off the body discretely. Then we’re taken to Raasukutti, a young boy awaiting his estranged father’s return, after years of having abandoned him and his mother. The father does return after all, only now, as a woman. Throughout the movie, we see how Shilpa [prev. Manickam], struggles in the face of prejudice, and backlash from society upon her newfound courage to embrace her true identity. Along with that, the story of four friends on the quest of buying and watching a vulgarity, film is shown to us where, upon watching the movie, one of the boys realize that the actress in the movie is his own mother. In a fit of rage, he breaks his friends’ TV and ends up hurting himself accidentally later on. From there we see this story splitting into two. One, the injured boy’s mother’s struggle to get him treated at the soonest as his father relies wholly on the power of the divine; and two, the rest of the boys are on a mission to gather up enough money to buy a new TV before they get in trouble, upon which they find themselves drowning in more. Clearly, we can see the interplays of social concepts like Family, Marriage, Gender, Sexuality, Sexism and Religion. It is quite appalling to note how the boy resorted to calling his mother derogatory terms as the discovery of her in the vulgarity film came to be seen as a huge dishonour to him. Later on in the movie, the mother goes on to say that what she does is not a big crime, that it’s just a job like any other. She talks about how if there is a vast audience to view such films, there need to be actors to execute that, and how it is ironic that although it is considered normal to watch p@&n worldwide, the actors are shamed for it. The idea of ‘righteousness’ is constantly manipulated and redefined to fit one’s own needs and concepts of self and the other. Within this prejudiced behavior of society, it is the women that suffer the larger chunk of criticism. As if women aren’t objectified enough, society uses sex workers and what they do as a justification to objectify them even more and use that as a license to see them as less than ordinary people. Even in the case of Shilpa, the trans woman, it is clear how anyone who isn’t the typical heterosexual, and more importantly male, faces sexism in some form or the other. We can see its portrayal in the movie beyond the gender binary in Shilpa’s case as a trans woman. She is automatically seen as less of a parent upon her return as a woman, although her own child does not feel any sort of difference in seeing her as a mother now instead of a father. She is constantly perceived through the lens of perversion and treated no less than an object or something unnatural. The movie also highlights beautifully how our social constructions of gender, cultures, traditions etc, in their entirety, are just tools used to give our lives instruction and fill the innumerable gaps that we come across in our conquest of life. They are all mechanisms that humans utilize in the process s of meaning-making. They involve an alien in the film, who’s there to observe the world, and watch till when human beings will stop the whole act of playing pretend and finally be ready to see and accept the world in its rawest sense.
3. Malik (2021)
The movie Malik is composed of class conflicts, religious conflicts, resultant communal violence and unlawful political agendas by government systems. The movie depicts politicians as they use the system and people to develop projects that devastate communities and the environment while padding their pockets. While we wait to see how the police apprehend Sulaiman before he travels for Haj, the film focuses on the young Sulaiman, who begins his career as a smuggler and a daring risk-taker who also wants to help the Muslim and Christian populations in his backward coastal location. However, crime is a dangerous path, and while the community looks up to him, the bureaucracy is obligated to intervene in his illicit actions. And then when things go tough, we see how the system of government pits brother against brother with ruthlessness. These are the kinds of stories that need to be told. The movie does a fabulous job of highlighting the atrocities that marginalized communities have to go through due to the actions of those in power and how no authoritative figure can be fully trusted as the people are always prone to be subject to manipulation. It also shows us how communal and religious conflicts to are often sparked as a result of some inherent government propaganda. Politicians influencing people – owing to our system, a theme that may be addressed in various different ways such as minority communities experiencing a difficult time getting forward, and individuals set against each other. Malik highlights key concerns of our day in a captivating way.
4. Ennu Ninte Moidin (2015)
‘Ennu Ninte Moideen’ is based on a true story about love, hope, anguish, sorrow and loss in the lives of two people from conservative families – Moideen – a Muslim teenager, and Kanchanamala – a Hindu girl – set in 1960s Calicut. Despite the families’ long-standing secular beliefs in society, the families are shocked and outraged when they learn of their children’s love. Interfaith marriage was frowned upon at the time, and the mayhem began with the families severing all ties. Kanchana was forced to stop her studies and placed under “home arrest.” Moideen was banished from his house after refusing to marry a woman chosen by his family. His father cut him out of his will and refused him a portion of the family property under pressure from town elders, even attempting to kill him by violently barging into the house with a country gun, and shooting Moideen. Despite many major injuries, Moideen managed to make a miraculous escape. His father stabbed him twenty-two times for giving a critical remark in public on another occasion, but Moideen survived. His father violently barged into the house with a country gun and shot Moideen. Despite many major injuries, Moideen managed to make a miraculous escape. His father stabbed him twenty-two times for giving a critical remark in public on another occasion, but Moideen survived. They try to run away in their 40s, after Kanchanamala’s siblings had settled down upon marriage, but each and every time they failed owing to unexpected circumstances. For more than two decades, the pair, on the other hand, clung to weak strands of hope. Through the course of the whole movie, we can trace how the institutions of family, marriage, religion and kinship come into play in the two protagonists’ lives. The unreasonable restrictions and control that family and religion have over an individual’s life is concerning and remains to be a reality in the world constantly. There have been multiple cases of ‘honor killings’ in India in the name of inter-caste marriages clearly showing the negative influence oppressive family systems and religious beliefs have on people.
5. PK (2014)
Throughout the movie we see PK employ many trial-and-error approaches to understand society’s basic rules, conventions, and practices throughout the film. He navigates life without being criticized or ridiculed by using the social psychology concepts of compliance and informational influence (watching others around him to examine and assess behaviors that are deemed proper and improper). The movie also focuses on latent unconscious prejudices and biases that people have while evaluating others or events in general. More particularly, he targets unconscious prejudices in the film by addressing religion, which is a taboo subject in popular society. Although discussing religion in just about any media form can be challenging, the film’s multiplicity of religious portrayal is laudable and demonstrates the producers’ genuine desire to appeal to a broad audience without portraying any faith in a poor way. There are quite a few moments in the movie where PK is trying to learn about the human mind and their ways of life. The ways we label each other by means of our religion, cultures, and physical appearances; all that we learn through various firms of socialization and relationships we form in our lives. For example, in one scenario, PK mentions how people think someone wearing a turban is Sikh; but, if he removes the turban, people may mistake him for a Hindu. Likewise, in one society, wearing white represents death, but in another, brides wear white for weddings. PK repeatedly questions the social systems of spirituality, deity, religion and ritualistic behaviors throughout the film as he tries to understand and apply them to his issues.
6. Kaala (2018)
This superhit film was known to trace very important concepts of caste conflicts, caste-based violence, class struggles, land disputes, state-sponsored violence, etc. Whenever the hero meets, fights, and becomes a savior, colony dwellings are razed with bulldozers, as depicted in Kaala. However, the site is reduced to ‘housing’ in all of these renderings, with the land remaining a passive ground. Kaala stresses on the underlying importance of land and how it is fought. Kaala takes the viewers through various elements that portray land to be a living space: as a whole life form built through the labor of its Dalit-Bahujan (beyond individual identities, the majority of downtrodden castes and classes who are robbed of their title to land by the current caste and class hierarchy) residents. It then goes on to highlight the complexities of evictions—legal attempts at forcible eviction, the complexities of talks involving various actors and their internal conflicts and ambitions, and, most crucially, organized mass opposition. Furthermore, it promotes the Dalit-Bahujan concept of land as something more than just real estate worth, as opposed to framings that reduce it to a business transaction for “better housing.” Kaala is fascinating in the way it brings our attention to a lot of what’s going on around us, although unwittingly. It is deeply anchored in our times and in our reality, and there are not many films in the industry that can depict it to such a level. It discusses, things like, riots, protests, slum clearance, and police killings. Kaala’s villain also reflects a form of contentious politics that is all too familiar to us as well. The film examines the relationship between oppressed people and oppressors. Whilst evictions and relocation on the outskirts of cities are frequently justified on the basis of housing needs, one must be wary of reducing the intricacies of Dalit-Bhahujan lives entwined with the land to mere “needs,” which is nothing more than a reduction of the complexities of Dalit-Bhahujan lives intertwined with the land itself. The finale works so well because the downtrodden can only find true redemption via unity, education, and knowledge, not through the informed voice of a single leader. Although individuals can be are fallible, ideologies cannot.
Also Read: Dalit Capitalism
7. Sancharram – The Journey (2019)
Sancharram is a refreshing change of pace in Indian cinema, illustrating the story of two Malayalee women in high school, Kiran and Delilah, who fall in love. Delilah, the outgoing, popular, and mischievous girl, and Kiran, the quiet, contemplative, and aspiring writer, have been close friends since childhood and are deeply attracted to each other. The movie goes over important topics like the lack of freedom of female sexuality, homophobia, the influence of families in the lives of queer individuals etc. For the most part, the plot is around how the characters cope with their desires and how their families react to it. The film is set in Kerala, with its lush greenery, ponds and rivers as well as all of its romanticism. For the most part, the plot is around how the protagonists cope with their desires and how their families react to it. Through the role of another girl in their class who appears to have been “betrayed” by her boyfriend, Sancharram also examines topics relating to sexuality as a whole in our culture. While they are being shunned by their peers, it is this girl who displays a glimmer of support for Kiran. The subtle comedic critique of heterosexual standards portrayed in numerous ways, but personified in the decent Malayali boy – Rajan who is in love with Delilah – provides comic relief in the film. The parents of the two women learn about their relationship, partly via Rajan, and all hell breaks loose. There is quite often a question on how ‘queer’ representations in movies especially one from the early 2000s, filled with heterosexual representation only would look. Sancharram is a good example. It is a narrative about two women told in a way that will appeal to everyone who is involved in a romantic-relationships that do not precisely follow sexuality and gender norms.
8. The Hate You Give (2018)
On the surface, The Hate U Give appears to be one of the very few films to openly address the huge wave of police killings of African-Americans, evoking the fatalities of Philando Castile and Sandra Bland. The film covers effectively the existence of racial divisions in America, systemic racism experienced by back people of all ages, police brutality etc. The film depicts the numerous and complex ways in which institutional racism makes life in general difficult for many African-American families. It’s also a compelling portrayal of a young lady finding her own political agency at a point of time when several societal forces are conspiring to take it away from her. Furthermore, the characterization of Maverick, the devoted father of this young woman, serves as a crucial counterpoint to the overused cliche of the absent African-American father. Upon the violent killing of her African-American friend by a cop, she fears for her life and limits the use of her voice to speak up about these issues, but as the movie progresses she regains her voice to speak for herself and her community. Rather than vilifying individual cops, “The Hate U Give” focuses on the downfalls of the system as a whole. Teenagers frequently feel weak and useless, believing they lack the freedom and agency to make choices, but people like Starr empower them. The youth’s eyes light up with hope as they notice the improvement in her voice and confidence. Racism, bigotry and discrimination are all too common among teenagers and children and become lives they are conditioned to get used to. The youth will keep suffering from the hatred directed at them until the world breaks free from this spiral.
9. Moothon (2019)
Moothon covers areas of gender identity, queer relationships, the effect family as an institution has on an individual and the dangers faced by vulnerable sections of society. It narrates the tale of a Lakshadweep orphan named Mulla who sets out to find his long-lost brother Akbar. When he arrives in Mumbai, he discovers that his brother has become a Kamathipura gang lord. Akbar’s rage for retaliation for previous tragedies clashes with Mulla’s search for acceptance and love. The movie shows us how men, too, are victims of the patriarchal societal order that harms women, as this film demonstrates. Two guys suffer in silence, kill their ambitions, and wreck their lives due to societal pressure in a flashback sequence. Mulla leaves Lakshadweep in search dressed as a boy to conceal her true gender identification for obvious reasons that is expressed through her conflicts with her gender identity. Not only are young girls at risk, but so are vulnerable young boys. And it is via traumatic situations that she learns this. The male gender’s sense and the notion of security and security has been broken. The film also seeks to portray queer love between Akbar and a man named Ameer. The fervor and anxiety that Akbar experienced on his journey to Ameer’s house when he was alone is not just something that LGBTQIA+ persons alone have experienced or understood. It was a more commonly understood concern. Akbar and Ameer do not kiss on TV, but their on-screen affection is much more genuine and purer than a forced kiss. Moothon has struck up a conversation about queer representation in the public eye and mainstream media.
10. The Truman Show (1998)
Finally, The Truman Show was a masterpiece that was lauded by most of its viewers for its incredible ability to cover so many facets integrated into society such as religion and God, the entertainment industry, media, fake vs. true reality etc. The story revolves around Truman Burbank’s life. Truman was officially adopted by a big television network company at birth to be the unwitting star of a television series in which his entire existence was broadcasted to millions of people via a complex system of hidden cameras. With the exception of Truman, everyone in this imagined universe is an actor. Truman is the only “real” person in this fabricated, artificial universe; his mother, father, and wife are all paid extra actors. The television network had been on a never-ending effort to keep Truman unaware of his condition by manipulating his environment throughout his life. Truman’s eventual revelation of the true state of his reality and epic escape from the manufactured world are shown in the film. It is a satirical movie with a religious symbolism that is carefully crafted. Christof is a shadowy personality with a God complex who, just for sake of ratings, utilizes his omnipresence to command Truman – both physically and mentally. He tries to convince Truman that Seahaven is better than what is on the outside, but Truman had not seen enough to make his own conclusion. Truman spends the entire time searching for the truth about what lies over his world’s borders. All of this is, in the end, a reflection on society and how we view religion. In fact, the film is a scathing critique of Christianity. It claims that even if there is a real God, our existence is ultimately fictitious. Nothing can be random; nothing is our decision; everything is under the power of something we aren’t even aware of. Finally, ‘The Truman Show’ is a statement on the power that the media wields over people and society. This beautifully foretells the present political status of the world. The movie shines light into the evils of commercialism by depicting how Truman himself is a victim of commercialization and is merely a product to the ones who own him. The Truman Show isn’t just a parody of any fictitious civilization depicted in the tale. We are the focus of the film. About how God is in charge of our life and. How we don’t have any control over our actions. Because our lives are ultimately fictitious, we all desire a sense of reality. We all watch pointless entertainment in order to feel something meaningful, but it has no lasting effect on us. The movie does a fine job in describing how media, the government, religion etc., are able to exercise so much power over us and how most of our free will is ultimately or partly an illusion.
Pupils and society understand themselves in the same manner that we interpret films. After all, sociology has a fictitious quality in the public’s mind. Even when we’re at our worst, despite the fact that many of us are rigorously empirical, we are nonetheless seen as offering more fiction than reality. The fact is that a common culture of human society in itself influences both movies and sociology. While it would be unwise to exaggerate their parallels, denying them would be equally wrong. In sociology, there is art at its finest and worst, but it is vital that we recognize the differences (Demerath, N, 1981, p. 81). Since we are constantly being exposed to the world of cinema and its various genres, it has come to become a vital player in our socialization process and directly or indirectly influences various perspectives we create about our societies. They also help students of sociology especially, to have access to various interpretations of the world at large through the lens of depictions of worlds within each and every movie of social importance.
Demerath, N. (1981). Through a Double-Crossed Eye: Sociology and the Movies. Teaching Sociology, 9(1), 69-82. doi:10.2307/1317013
Pandey, G. (2021, February 11). The Great Indian Kitchen: Serving an unsavoury tale of sexism in home. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55919305.