Monday, 11 June 2012

Philosophy in Film: The Individual vs Society

In a platonic society, everybody has their designated place. Are we automatically assigned a place in society from birth, or are we able to choose our own adventure? The Dreamworks film, Antz, shows what can happen when you buck the trend.       

When growing up, our parents filled us with dreams and never-ending possibilities about the world. We could set out to do anything we wanted to; we could accomplish our dreams. But in life’s harsh reality, we are faced with many obstacles in our way. Many don’t have the opportunities or the motivation to achieve them, and so stick with the status quo.

Many argue that this status quo is beneficial to society; if everyone achieved their dreams, would we be in surplus of actors, rock ‘n rollers and sports stars, and have a deficit of the menial but necessary societal tasks? In a Platonic society, everyone works together for the benefit of the group. It is society’s needs over the individual’s. Everything is done for the ‘greater good’ of society, or for the colony, as seen in Darnell and Johnson’s Antz (1998).
The worker ant Z, with the soldier Weaver

In this colony, the ants are assigned a place at birth; either a worker, or a soldier. The individual ant is insignificant, and their only role in life is to support the motto “for the good of the colony!” (Darnell & Johnson, 1998). This motto, which is being drilled into the ants continuously, has conditioned the ants to be satisfied with their conformity, and believe that this is the life that they want. These existential limitations put upon the ants don’t allow an individual identity (Falzon, 2007). The social demands made by the colony force the ants to lose their freedom as they become a sheep in the herd, conforming for the greater good. 

The soldier ant mob
Although, Z, a worker ant, is not happy being the bottom rung of the colony’s ladder. He struggles with the concept of becoming a faceless part of the mob, and fights the urges to become an individual. In the film, Z breaks free from society’s binds, and like a Hollywood movie, it works well for him. But in a real context, it could be argued that if Z and other ants like Z started to contest the status quo, the colony would fall into chaos. It raises the question, if the colony was made up of all individuals, would the colony still function successfully?

Plato argued that some rules and regulations are needed for a positive and well functioning society (Falzon, 2007). He stated that different people were destined for different roles in society. Like seen in the movie, the larger ants were ‘born to fight’, while the others were left to work. Plato’s stance could be seen as oppressive and authoritarian, but he also stated that in a well functioning society, an individual’s needs are met; this allows the majority of society members to be satisfied (Falzon, 2007). Litch (2010) agrees, saying that a harmonious society is beneficial for the people and their happiness. While this doesn’t allow the ants to become as individualist as they’d like, it could be argued that it would help society function to its highest capabilities. So what should the priority be?
The colony

At the end of the film, Z works together with the ants to overthrow their dictator and help return the colony back to normal life. The character realises that he must go back to his place in society, for the colony to work efficiently, but this time he is happy to do it. The difference now is that Z has made his own conscious decision to return; “I finally found my place. It was right back where I started, but this time I chose it” (Darnell and Johnson, 1998). Does this then mean Z is a free and individual ant? Is this the society we have been living in? Although making our own choices, are we conditioned to choose based on what is best for the greater good? Does this still make us individuals?

Reference List
Falzon, C. (2007). Philosophy Goes to the Movies : An Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Routledge. Chapter 4: Antz – Social and Political Philosophy.

Litch, M.M. (2010). Philosophy through Film. 2nd Ed. New York: Routledge. Chapter 7: Political Philosophy.

Rowlands, M. (2005).The Philosopher at the End of the Universe: Philosophy Explained through Science Fiction Films. Pp. 156-168. London: Elbury Press.

Darnell, E., Johnson, T. (Directors). (1998). Antz [Motion picture]. Dreamworks Pictures.


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