In this post, I will be discussing Louis Althusser’s theories on ideology and relating it to the film The Riot Club (L. Scherfig. 2014). I will mostly be basing this post on the trailer for the film, as well as picking apart a scene or two.
In the first couple of frames into the trailer, you can already tell it is a film that focuses purely on class. Based on the gender, race, and costumes of the people in the frame we can tell it is going to be a film about filthy rich spoilt rotten young white men. However, this is the narrative of the film. I will be looking deeper into how classes and genders are divided in the film through ideologies Marx and Althusser have explored in their theories.
On the surface, The Riot Club has minimal or poor representations of other parties other than privileged, white, young men. This gives off the impression that people cannot be successful if they are not white or rich or a man, in other words, a WASP. The film is also set in one of the most prestigious university in the world, Oxford University.
“What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live” (Althusser, 2001: 37)
The main ideology that is apparent in this narrative is that of Capitalism. The young men in the Riot Club believe they can destroy any place anywhere and pay their way out of their troubles. This issue is raised when the owner of the family-friendly pub, Chris (Gordon Brown) where the club have booked a room confronts them by saying that they can’t buy their way out of everything, while money can fix the pub it won’t fix the permanent psychological damages to the landlord and his livelihood. Alistair (Sam Claflin), who the property owner is trying to reason with, then shouts that he “hates poor people” and begins to beat him to death. The club’s problems with Chris lie with the fact that he is older and poorer than they are, and that he has more authority than them because they are on his property.
“All ideology represents in its necessarily imaginary distortion not the existing relations of production, but above all the (imaginary) relationship of individuals to the relations of production and the relations that derive from them.” (Althusser, 2001: 37)
Getting into The Riot Club is perceived as achieving the American dream. Two new students have to go through rounds of initiation to get into the club, focusing on their knowledge on a range of subjects that only higher-class males would know, or that is how it seems. Once they are a part of the most prestigious club in the most prestigious university, they are invincible and can get away with anything.
One of the only female characters in the film is Charlie (Natalie Dormer), an escort who the boys hire to perform oral sex on all of them. Charlie refuses to do so, being a subversive character and not conforming to the boys’ needs. Charlie then runs out after the boy who hired her, Harry (Douglas Booth) throws a tantrum, reminding everyone that filthy rich white boys are not extinct.
In Performance Analysis: An Introductory Coursebook Althusser argues that ideology is an illusion that provides a distorted view of us, as well as our place in the world, and everyone is put in place by an elite class. It re-enforces that elite classes exist rule and to be separate from the working class. This is pretty much the narrative of The Riot Club, as club is the most elite “class” in the university; they believe they can get away with “ruling” everyone who is not in their class, like the Chris, the pub landlord and Charlie, the escort.
- Althusser, L. (2001) ‘Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses’ (extract).In Counsell, C. and Wolf, L. (eds.) Performance Analysis: An Introductory Coursebook. London and New York: Routledge
- The Riot Club (2014) Directed by L. Scherfig, UK: Universal Pictures International
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fic0e8uspLI The Riot Club UK trailer