Sample Essay on Analysis on The film City of God using Foucault, Zizek and David Harvey theories

Set in a lawless slum in Rio de Janeiro, “The City of God” tells the story of a young boy seeking to escape the treacherous life of the slum with the intent of attaining his dream of being a renowned photographer (Lins, 2014, p.1). This movie is told from the viewpoint of an aspiring photographer named Rocket. As a fisherman’s son who has been bred in the slum, Rocket tells the tale of the state of lawlessness and violence existing in the poverty and crime manifested in slums. The crime level further soars to a devastating state after Li’l Dice takes over as the ruler and owner of the slums (Lins, 2014, pp.4-6).

It is certain that poor leadership results in an elevated state of criminal activities together with devastating states of poverty. Power and violence are two interrelated aspects of life. Furthermore, violence stems from bad leadership and governance.  This paper thus seeks to analyze the film whilst based on the theories of power and violence.

Foucault’s Theory of Power

            Foucault and Nietzsche propounded the theory of power without being influenced by the already existing political theory. According to Foucault, power is omnipresent and man can simply not evade the complex relations of power that makeup society (Daldal, 2014, p.161). Foucault further tries to elucidate how human beings are transformed into subjects through power relations. According to Foucault, the man may serve as a subject when he/she is objectified in scientific paradigms, in “dividing practices” or by self-subjectivizing oneself (Daldal, 2014, p.164). However, man can alleviate himself from being a subject of the other by developing some form of resistance such as “anti-authority” struggles against the above-objectified power relations (Daldal, 2014, p. 161).  Aside from the struggle against domination and exploitation, Foucault puts more emphasis on man’s struggle against subjection so as to support the aspect of human will (Daldal, 2014, p.162). The power of Christianity, also referred to as pastoral power is what has been exercised on man in the pursuit to manipulate him into being a subject. Foucault further argues that the State utilizes the ‘pastoral’ power in society to assure the disciplinary normalization of individuals (Daldal, 2014, p. 162). For the power of the State to be functional, the citizens have to support and approve of its existence. According to Foucault, there is no binary opposition between the ruler and the ruled as power comes from below (Daldal, 2014, p.165).

Zizek’s Theory on Violence            

Slajov Zizek is a renowned political theorist who has developed several frameworks covering a wide array of issues such as cross-cultural exchanges, trade, politics, and social movements. Zizek defines violence as two distinct forms; subjective and objective violence. Subjective violence is regarded as that whose perpetrators are clearly known (Weiss, 2015, p.2). Examples of subjective violence include acts of terrorism and criminal activities. On the other hand, objective violence differs from subjective violence as the perpetrator/s remains unknown. To add to this, subjective violence outbreaks usually overshadow objective violence in such a way that it becomes difficult to identify the perpetrators. An example of objective violence is global poverty. Zizek further uses a real-life scenario where the government may act in the interests of trade networks and capital gains at the expense of its citizens (Weiss, 2015, p.4) Zizek also elucidates how subjective violence not only detracts people’s attention to deeper issues but are also born from those deeper issues themselves (Weiss, 2015, p.5). People have however developed the virtue of tolerance towards objective forms of violence as most would only react if they felt that they are under strict oppression from the other party.

David Harvey’s theory

David Harvey is renowned for his concept of space and time.  Harvey elucidates the topic of “time and space compression” by discussing the possible definitions of spatialization and spatial practices on the aesthetic level, political level, and social level (Harvey, 2006, p.2).   He uses the concept of time and space compression to illustrate on how capitalism is transforming from “modernity to post-modernity.” Harvey regards to time and space as the primary sources of social power (Harvey, 2006, p.4). In addition, those who are able to access social power are able to manipulate the perception of time and space in a Marxist sense (Harvey, 2006, p.5).  In addition, Harvey suggests that the proper conceptualization of space can only be resolved through human practice. Space can thus be defined by using the concept of property relationship where space is within monopoly control or by using the concept of relative space (Harvey, 2006, p.5). Thus, man can only be in control of an absolute kind of space as opposed to relative space where his behavior and communication is influenced by the theory of relative space. For instance, a citizen may find the government to be infringing some of their rights. However, the citizens may talk in low tones about this issue and fail to notify the government of the fact that its action is infringing on their rights.

 Examples and explanations in relation to the theories

            “The power exerted over the body is more real than the power to transform in the Gramscian sense the popular mentalities (Daldal, 2014, p.165).” Foucault said this statement in relation to the power ideology. This is clearly depicted in the City of God film where the residents of the slums are forced to live with crooked people who prey on the little that the residents make from their businesses. The slum-dwellers are subdued by Li’l Dice using violence including cold-blood murder. Li’l Dice’s subjects evidence the fact that the road to a man’s soul passes from his flesh and bones rather than his mind (Daldal, 2014, p.166). According to Foucault, there is no power without objective (Daldal, 2014, p.165). This is displayed by Li’l Dice and his friend Benney who decided to eliminate their drug pin competitors, in a bid to attain the drug kingpin status in the area.

In order to reduce crime rates in the slums, the government together with the citizens must efficiently utilize the available absolute and relative space. Relative space is one of the concepts that was displayed by citizens who continuously suffered in silence. This is due to the concept of absolute space and relative space where the citizens could communicate freely within themselves whereas they could not freely address their grievances to their leaders who possessed social power.


            The people residing in the slums suffer from both objective and subjective violence. In addition, the residents self-subjected themselves in fear of Li’l Dice’s retaliatory violence. The people also chose to tolerate the gang members who would terrorize them for the hapless businessmen in the slums. Furthermore, poverty, a form of objective violence is what resulted in the subjective violence which was in the form of the soaring levels of criminal and inhumane activities such as murder. The subjective violence thereby distracted the general public from seeking solutions to the different forms of objective violence. Therefore, to find stellar solutions to subjective violence, it is important for people to identify the root cause of subjective violence.


City of God.Directed by Fernando Meirelles, &Kátia Lund. Santa Monica, CA: Miramax, 2014.

Daldal, A. (2014). Power and ideology in Michel Foucault and Antonio Gramsci: A comparative analysis. Review of History and Political Science, 2(2), 149-167.

Harvey, David. Space As a Keyword. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.


Weiss, B. (2015, October). SlavojŽižek and Violence – Not Even Past. Retrieved February, 2017, from