Third World Cinema (also referred to as Third Cinemas) are film production in the third world countries, especially Africa and Latin America. These films derive their plots from the political, cultural and social environment in the third world countries. In other words, they depict the third world stories as told by the third world citizens. Additionally, the cinemas are used to champion for democracy and respect for human rights considering third world countries are notorious for human rights violation. Other common themes in these cinemas include poverty, revolution, dictatorship and colonialism. On the theme of colonialism, the third world cinemas gives a different perspective as that of Hollywood or European cinemas by focusing on the mistreatment and rights violation over the period. This paper analyses some of the third world films by focusing on the structure, thematic concern,stylistic devices, the gender roles and characterization among other areas. This paper analyzes the film “The Harder they Come. ”
The film “The Harder they Come,” written and directed by Henry Henzell, is based on daily life challenges that ordinary Jamaicans face. The main character in the film, Ivan, is faced with myriads of challenges right from the village into the city of Kingston. Ivan move to the city with hope of having a better life after his grandmother passed on. However, the city life proves to be harder than he expected, no jobs and high level of insecurity. Even his own mother, who he had expected to help him change his fortune, kicks him out of the house leaving him to fend for himself. As a result, Ivan is forced to engage in criminal activities such as robbery and murder to sustain himself (Wilson). Furthermore, his efforts to improve his life is derailed by cartels in the music industry who only pays him a paltry 20 dollars for the right of his song. His attempts to fight off the cartels bear no fruit as the DJs fail to play his song.
Several themes arise from this film based on the lifestyle of most young people living in Kingston Jamaica, and indeed in the third world countries. The first evident theme throughout the film is poverty. The life of Ivan is shaped or destroyed by the poverty of his parents and the society at large. Due to poverty, Ivan could not go to school since he lacked school fees and other requirements. Poverty is a vicious cycle that can be broken only through education or talent. But either of these two, education and talent, seems to fail Ivan as there are no supporting systems. The theme of poverty is further enhanced by the neighborhood where his mother lives. Ivan’s mother lived in a tiny house in a slum where she struggled to fend for herself. When her son comes from the village, she expected him to relieve her the pressure by coming with some food stuffs from the village. However, she gets heart broken after her son tells her all the food he had carried were stolen when he arrived in the city. As a result, she kicks Ivan out of her house due to the dejection. Without job or any academic qualifications, Ivan gets involved in criminal activities to fend for himself.
The theme of poverty also creates other themes such as insecurity that are tied to it. The film depicts Kingston as city where only the strongest survive due to the high level of insecurity. Ivan gets robbed all the food stuffs he had carried from home immediately he arrived in the city, even before seeing his mother. Furthermore, the film Kingston is depicted as city a city where criminal acts like armed robbery and murder, especially in the slums, is common and the people seem okay with it. For instance, Ivan gets involved in criminal activities such as robbery with violence and murder after selling the right of his song for only 20 dollars. It is evident from the film that poverty is the root of nearly all evils in the third world countries.
Besides poverty, poor leadership and lawlessness is evident in the whole of this film. Poor leadership in this case occur at both the family and national level. At family level, it is apparent that Ivan’s mother failed in her responsibility as mother by not guiding her son on how to avoid bad company within the city, it is the company that he kept that influenced him to join criminal gangs (Gaztambide-Fern, 356). Secondly, she left her village for city leaving Ivan under the custody of her grandmother meaning she neglected her responsibilities as a parent. In fact, it is clear that she had stayed for quite long before seeing her son. She even get shocked that her mother, Ivan’s grandmother, had died and buried without her attending burial. Her absence in the life of Ivan contributed to poor morals of her son.
At the national level, most of the challenges faced by Kingston residents are due to poor leadership. The city lacks essential facilities such as running and drainage systems thus exposing the residents to diseases. In fact, the government does not care about provision of medical services leafing to unnecessary deaths like that of Ivan’s grandmother. Moreover, the high level of insecurity in the city means the government has failed to perform her responsibility to protect her citizens. The situation is so bad that even the police officers are killed by the criminals while undertaking their duties. A good example is where Ivan open fire on the police that had laid a seige on him after he became a wanted criminal. The government has also failed to provide accessible basic education to her people since most of them from poor backgrounds like Ivan cannot afford it making harder for them to break the poverty’s vicious cycle.
Besides, poor leadership contributed to the high level of unemployment in Kingston and Jamaica in general. Ivan’s hope of getting job in the city to improve his life get diminished as he fails to secure one despite the hectic search. There are simply no employment opportunities in Kingston for both the young and the old. Even his mother was jobless and struggled to care for herself in her tiny house. It is for this reason that she chased him out as she could not manage to feed the two mouths. After leaving her mother’s house Ivan is confronted with the reality that there are other people just like him scrambling for the non-existent opportunities. As a result, they end up engaging in criminal acts like robbery and drug trafficking.
However, the government is reluctant to venture out and create opportunities for her people. Instead, the people in position of power have formed a cartel that fleece the poor their hard earned cash. A good example is the cartel in the music industry that ensure the poor remains poor by buying the rights of their songs cheaply. Those who fail to resist the blackmail gets frustrated as they denied play time by the DJs. Ivan is forced to sell his song at only 20 dollars to Hilton and his attempts to resist this blackmail is frustrated as the DJs fails to play his song. It is ironical that a the government does not take any action to protect artists yet it is one way of creating job opportunities for the citizens. Moreover, the action by the producer and the DJs shows how the Jamaican society is a victim of powerful and corrupt individuals whose only aim is to derail the progress of talented individuals and instead fill the pockets of the few. Besides, the government do not have any supportive mechanism or structure for the young artists thus exposing them to exploitation by the cartels.
Another important theme in this film is the broken social structures within Jamaica and indeed the third world countries. The plot of this film is based on Ivan’s family that is broken from the first scene. Ivan visits his mother in the city after the death of his grandmother and instead of her getting a warm reception she is kicked out of the house. The conversation between him and his mother reveals even a deeper trouble in the family. First, it reveals that his mother abandoned him under the care of his grandmother and secondly there was likely a bad blood between his mother and her mother (Ivan’s grandmother) as she never attended her burial, even though she feels bad about it. The film also does not give any hint on the whereabouts of Ivan’s father. But it is evident he was not part of the family leaving the viewer to guess on his whereabouts.
The theme of broken families and by extension the social moral fabrics is further enhanced by how Ivan’s mother mistreatments him. As a mother we expect her to show some compasion towards her son, especially after losing his grandmother. The family blows away the chance to get re-united as Ivan is kicked out of the house. After leaving his mother’s house, Ivan also meet other young people with broken families just like him. For example, his friend Jose too did not have a good family he could rely on.
Betrayal is also shown in various instances in the film. First and foremost, the government betrays her people by failing to provide a working health care and education systems. Ivan’s grandmother died due to lack of functioning health care system and at the same he dropped out of school due to poverty. Secondly, the government betrays her people by failing to provide security yet they pay taxes. There is no doubt the level of insecurity is so high in Jamaica, both in Kingston and villages that incidences such robbery and murder are very common occurrences. Ivan alone is involved in so many crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder of police officers and shooting his friend Jose.
Apart from the state betrayal, there are instances of betrayal at individual level. Ivan gets betrayed by her mother on two instances. First when she abandoned him at the custody of his grandmother and secondly when she kicks him out of her house. As a mother we expected her to show some love to her son but this does not happen. Instead, she betrays the hops and expectation of her son by not providing or nurturing on the ways of the city.
Ivan also felt betrayed by his friend Jose whom he believed informed the police on his whereabouts after he escaped to the village. Initially, Jose was one of his best friends who introduced him into the marijuana business. But as time goes by the trust between them fades away and rivalry sets. The friendship dies and the two becomes foes. Ivan fire several shots at Jose to revenge the betrayal, however, Jose survives with bullet wounds. Moreover, Ivan betrays the lady she had slept with by shooting her several times after suspecting she was colluded with Jose to inform the police on his hiding place. The turn of events in these scenarios indicate that the lost of trust among one time friends was due to betrayals and counter betrayals. Other themes that feature in the film include corruption, immorality and politics.
Perry Henzel uses several stylistic devices to create the themes and maintain the plot in the film. Some of the styles include flashback, irony and suspense among others. The plot of this film is full of ironies, both at individual and national level. At national level, it is ironical that the government is using maximum force to deal with the criminals yet it does nothing to address the fundamental issues resulting to crimes. In fact, the government is protecting people that push the young people into crime. Music producers like Hilton have formed a cartel that exploits the young artists leaving them frustrated and dejected. Due to the hopelessness they end up in criminal gangs. The government of the day does not show any commitment in dealing with such issues instead focuses on the victims of her failures.
Another irony in the film is when Ivan is kicked out of the house by her own mother. The viewers expected her to cover the back of her son, especially after abandoning him with grandmother, instead, the exact opposite happens. She does not show any compasion and treats him with cruelty.
Henzel also uses flashback in the film to help the viewer understand how deep Ivan was involved in criminal acts. The film uses flashback at the point where Ivan is surrounded by police officers to bring to the viewers the crime he committed earlier. Through the flashback, we get to learn that he had chopped off somebody’s hand after disagreement over a bicycle. The owner of the bicycle had accused him of stealing it after he repaired it. Finally, the movie ends in suspense as we are left wondering what happened after the shooting. The film ends abruptly as soon as Ivan falls down.
The gender roles in this film sticks to the traditional responsibilities of both male and female. The male actors take the center stage whereas the female are reduced to supporting them. For example, Ivan meets several female actors in the female including her mother but they only contribute to the development of his character as fearless character. We see towards the end of the film a female character is used as an “entertainment object.”
There is no doubt the film is set up on a patriarchal society. Male characters are involved in nearly all aspects whereas the females are pushed to the periphery. In fact women are displayed as weak characters who cannot even defend themselves from the aggressors. For example, the lady towards the end of the film could not defend herself against Ivan yet other characters like Jose and police officers fired back when attacked.
Even though there are elements of gender bias, the characterization in the film is fairly good. It depicts the real struggle for people living in slums faces daily. It is a classical case of survival for the fittest as only the brave and daring are capable of hacking it in such an environment. The main character, Ivan, is both brave and daring making him outstanding. His daring trait is evident in various instances in the film. First, he moves to the city where he barely knows anyone except his mother. Secondly, after being kicked out of the house take risky and bold steps like trying to fight off the cartels in the music industry. However, he is unsuccessful in this quest.
In conclusion, “The Harder they Come ” is an excellent film that depicts what happens in third world countries. Its production, plot and setting is excellent thus making it to convey the intended themes in a simple and clear manner. There is no doubt the third world cinemas have a brighter future as they are instrumental in telling the third world stories to the world.
Gaztambide-Fern ndez, Rubn A. “Reggae, Ganja, and Black Bodies: Power, Meaning, and the Markings of Postcolonial Jamaica in Perry Henzell s The Harder They Come.” The Review of Education, Pedagogy & Cultural Studies 24.4 (2002): 353-376
Wilson, Paula J. There’s a new sheriff in town: Caribbean rewriting of the American Western in Perry Henzell and Michael Thelwell’s” The Harder They Come” and Paule Marshall’s” Praisesong for the Widow” . Florida Atlantic University, 2015