Sunday, July 18, 2010

City of God: Brazilian Lord of the Flies

City of God is one of my favorite films because it features children getting shot.
Not that I enjoy watching kids get hurt. It's pretty traumatizing, in fact. But I love what onscreen killing of minors represents.
It shows director Fernando Meirelles doesn't pull punches. This 2002 drama about the slums of Rio de Janeiro is gritty, dark, and depressing, everything a slum movie should be, to the point of making the viewer feel uncomfortable. And it's beautiful.
The film (Cidade de Deus in Portuguese) is rated R, but even still, if I were a distributing company or a movie theater, I think "murdering small children" would be pretty high up there on my Top Ten Things Not to Show Audiences list. Meirelles could've easily taken this scene out of the movie and still had a great piece of filmmaking, but he foregoes potential profits for realism and artistry, and I respect that enormously.

The story follows a kid named Rocket growing up in the "City of God," as the slum is named, in the '60s and '70s. Rocket just wants to leave and become a photographer. But he's surrounded by crime. Although he's the main character and narrator of the film, he really isn't the focus of the movie. He's a vessel for the audience to see what goes on in the Cidade de Deus, children learning to fire a gun almost as soon as they learn to walk. Some kids want to get out, others embrace it; all of them are swallowed up in the violence. The rich people want nothing to do with them, the cops are corrupt, and the children are left to fend for themselves.

There really are no significant adult characters in City of God. Cars are held up by young children with pistols, and the drug cartels and gangs are all created by teenagers. A 12-year-old kid asserts,

"A kid? I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man."

The film asks the question, does this make you a man? I couldn't help but think of the endless connections to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Kids are thrown into the wild and left to their own devices. Trying to create some sort of organized society, they end up killing each other. It's a very Thomas Hobbes way of looking at the world. And as City of God illustrates, it's incredibly circular. If one drug lord is killed, another will take his place. It never ends. Warriors forget why they're fighting, only remember that they have to fight. And it continues to this day.


  1. what a great movie. i'd like to add that i think it's interesting how the children in this movie carry themselves as adults, make adult decisions, and view each other as adults...but the audience views them this way, too. or at least i did. amidst all the violence, sex, and drugs, even the gang of "runts" seems more like a gang of teenagers or grown men than just a bunch of little boys basically just looking for something to do and a way to fit in (like at the beach when they cornered Rocket and took his j).

    i think that's why the scene where they corner the two little boys, shoot them, and even kill the older one is so shocking. granted, before that scene, we had seen plenty of kids getting killed. think about the scene where lil ze kills rocket's brother. that's one of the first ones in the movie. we weren't phased at all that we had just seen a 13-year old boy getting his guts spilled right there (via the hands of an even younger boy, probably only 7 or 8). but the scene where they shoot the little boy in the foot is just so disturbing, probably because it's the first one where the audience has to sit there and, these are just kids. little babies. some of whom haven't even hit puberty. it's intensely disturbing, but also pretty crucial for the audience to see.

  2. and i didn't know you decided it's one of your favorite films!