Identity is portrayed as malleable, created through society’s views and expectations upon oneself. Cultures, background and peers are all pressures on oneself to assimilate into someone “acceptable” in that culture. This is prevalent in the visual texts Samson and Delilah and Billy Elliot, in which all three of these characters attempt to go against these pressures, to overcome them and create their own identities. These three characters suffer different consequences because of this challenging of the identity of your culture – challenging your own stereotype.
By using symbols, dialogue (or lack of) and other elements such as elder figures, these visual texts highlight the personal cost of breaking the reigns of society. A close study of Billy Elliot shows the viewer that there are many key elements that are required to create a new identity, making a successful transition into a new unfamiliar world, especially when this new world is opposite to the dominant culture that oneself live in. Identity is an important aspect for any individual, as it separates one from another.
This concept that is identity can refer to physical elements, such as gender, nationality and age, or psychological aspects such as values, ethics, characteristics, etc. The visual text Billy Elliot thoroughly explores the idea of identity and conveys how it can be shaped, formed or changed, through motifs on landscape, movement and music to create notions of self. Through techniques such as symbolism, contrast, imagery and language, the viewer gets an indication of the uses and themes of stereotypes, growth and determination.
The metonymic function of the fictional British mining town of Everington is to convey masculinity and hardship. Here landscape is used to demonstrate how our natural and physical environment shape and inform personal responses. The characters are products of the values and beliefs manifested in the world that surrounds them. The restrictive setting of Everington makes it difficult for the characters to understand their definition of self, and thus Billy must move outside of this environment.
The recurring image of the green and lush graveyard in the foreground is used to contrast the dark and ominous mines that command the background. By using these images, the director represents the fate of the characters and the idea that they are trapped by the ideological values and expectations of their society. Ironically, the graveyard also represents hope for Billy through the guiding force of his dead mother. The colour blue in the film is used as a symbol to express the working class environment; the masculine class culture that thwarts Billy’s ambitions.
The doors in the film are either painted red or blue – blue representing the households that support the union, and the red representing the houses supporting the “state”. The union is a male dominated, masculine class group. It is featured in the film as all males, the miners who are on strike. The clothes that are worn in the film are also predominantly blue – the sweaters and the denim jackets for example. These are resemblant of the blue working jumpsuits that are worn by workers, and remind the viewer of the working class and again emphasize the masculinity in this film that Billy is expected to assimilate into.
The individuality and the singularity of Billy are shown when he is limping up the street. In the background, there is a single white yacht – representing purity, and innocence. This yacht is surrounded by the vast ocean of blue, which conveys how billy is the white yacht – alone, pure and innocent in a world of blue, the union, the masculinity, the male dominated society’s pressures placed upon him to conform. The relationship between Jackie and Billy is important, as it is a complete exemplification to the idea of gender role stereotypes, and acceptable male identities.
With Jackie being a typical masculine male in his society, who sees no prospect outside of the mining industry (he hasn’t been out of Durham, and mentions how London “doesn’t have any mines”), this is in contrast to Billy who possesses talent, ability and ambition towards the strongly taboo expression of Ballet, which in turn amplifies the conflict of gender role expectations. Because of this relationship, the viewer can therefore understand the difficulties of creating a new identity in this asculine culture, and also that Billy faces a major challenge to complete his hero journey, if he decides to pursue his ambitions to become individual and pursue a life of ballet. Jackie gives powerful illustration to the stereotypical psyche of male roles in his society. His identity as a miner of North England during the miners’ strike, and ex champion boxer already reverberates the fact that he holds very traditionalistic male values. He literally cannot perceive life outside of the mining industry “Why would I want to go to London?
There are no mines in London”. Because of this, when Jackie sees his son Billy dancing ballet for the first time, there is a major repercussion, dragging Billy home, informing him and expressing his views of gender roles. By Billy questioning him, “I don’t see what’s wrong with it”, and Jackie’s reply of “You know quite nicely what’s wrong with it”, Jackie expects his son Billy to assimilate into his society’s expectations of him, and realise that ballet is a pastime for girls or “poofs”, portraying the traditional gender role stereotypes.
The close-up of Billy’s puzzled and upset expression, oppose to Jackie’s fuming expression suggest their lack of understanding to each other’s different notions of Billy being a ballet dancer. Furthermore, the sequence where Billy is dancing angrily and bashing the posters of the miners symbolize his frustration to the stereotype of the community toward masculinity These aforementioned points show the struggle in which Billy must conquer.
The sequence where Jackie returns to work on behave of Billy’s dream of being a ballet dancer symbolizes a traumatic turning point of Jackie’s attitude and an development of Jackie’s acceptance to Billy’s identity, aswell as highlighting the tribulations involved with “betraying” the society’s views and expectations. The long shot showing Jackie walking alone surrounding with hills of grey mine acts as a reflection to Jackie’s mood after abandoning his loyalty to his colleges and choosing to support Billy, as well as his sense of isolation and awkward situation where he is caught between the two worlds, i. . his striking miner mates and the “scabs”. The rejection of the scabs is also conveyed through the sarcastic rhetorical question “who is the big man now? ” Billy is trapped within barriers. The use of doors is a recurring symbol that represents new worlds, or barriers between worlds and these barriers are used throughout the film. Billy’s initial vision of the ballet class through the door, and the hesitant way in which he enters this room, symbolises the new world that Billy is entering into.
When his father finds out that Billy is doing ballet, instead of boxing, the door motif is again prominent, as Billy’s father Jackie physically prevents Billy from going through doors, physically holding Billy back from continuation on his journey into a new world and environment. By featuring many of the doors as shut, it represents how Billy must fight to break open these barriers and fight to break them down. By Billy dancing to become individual, this dancing becomes a means of escape from his surroundings, a refuge and a form of self-expression that ultimately is a way through these barriers into the larger world.
When Billy is limping up the street, he is surrounded by brick walls – brick walls of the lower class suburban houses which threaten to enclose Billy in a predetermined future. These walls of suburban houses are also used to show how Billy is trapped, when they are used when Billy is placed upon the table in his house, being yelled at by his brother to dance (as his brother thinks he is a “poof” for doing so), his dance teacher yelling at him not to, and his father staring at him in disbelief. He is caught between worlds.
The director then uses a montage of scenes that features switching between Billy’s point of view, looking down upon onto his dance teacher, his brother and his father, and then featuring Billy running and dancing around a small alleyway, dancing into walls and hitting them out of frustration. He is surrounded by these brick walls; he is surrounded by this dominant low class masculine society that threatens to enclose him. However, further on in the film, it features Billy running and dancing down the street I previously mentioned.
He is no longer alone, with his father with him. These brick walls that used to threaten to enclose him now form a vector that leads to the blue sky and sea in the background, now representing hope for Billy’s dream, and not the masculine environment trying to conform him. The white yacht is now gone, symbolising how Billy is now not alone in this world of blue – he is not alone in his journey, with Billy now being supported by his community and family. Billy Elliot draws a parallel to the fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling” and the elements used throughout the film tell this story.
The colour yellow is used as a predominant motif; the interior of Billy’s house is yellow and there is a scene in the cemetery where Billy and his father are surrounded by a yellow wheat field. This colour of yellow is used often in the visual text as it is similar to the colour of a baby duck, and symbolizes Billy’s transition from a duckling to a swan. Also, sans are used as motifs in the movie. The wallpaper of Debbie’s room is filled with swans, and in the same sequence Billy is covered with feathers as a result of a pillow fight with Debbie. Also, while on the ferry sitting in Billy’s dancing teacher Mrs.
Wilkinson’s car, they are listening to the score of Swan Lake. As a result, Billy’s transition is reinforced by the music of Swan Lake. The use of personal letters such as the one Billy’s mother wrote to him before she died, and the letter Mrs Wilkinson wrote to the Royal Ballet School about Billy, are used to symbolize maternal figures (the character of Mrs Wilkinson a surrogate mother figure). Then finally, at the end of the film, a mature and fully transitioned Billy Elliot leads the play Swan Lake – he has become the swan, transitioned from the “ugly duckling”
Billy’s father and brother represent traditional masculinity, a masculinity that is represented in this film as in crisis. The poverty and gloom that is represented by the lack of colour in the film, and the constant conflict make their world a very dismal and unattractive place. The “state” or the government, in the form of mine closures enforced by riot police, represent the unstoppable forces of history and progress, against which the strikers stand, boldly although ultimately doomed. Billy and his homosexual ross-dressing friend Michael represent a new phase of human development, a new form of self individualism. Over the course of the film, we do see Billy’s father Jackie and brother transform however. At the beginning of the film, they are traditional working class men, coal miners, who implacably oppose any kind of effeminacy; political and economic defeats force them to re-examine their beliefs; by the end of the film, they are attending Billy’s ballet in the company of a transsexual, Billy’s friend Michael.
The viewer witnesses the miners’ (and therefore masculinity’s) defeat and humiliation, aswell as re-invention. The only men who emerge at the end of the film with their identities intact, unchanged in their environment are Billy and Michael – the ballet dancer, and the transsexual. What we see, in allegory, is the defeat of the male by the traditional masculine culture views and expectations. This portrays how traditional identities have been conforming and assimilating people for years.
However, characters such as Billy (whose robust dancing that lacks elegance highlights the “not just poofs do ballet” attitude) and Michael who do not conform, and create their own identity and become individual, succeed in this world – the traditional masculine identity fails. Billy Elliot challenges the predetermined assumptions of the society he grows up in; the film linking self acceptance with the struggle for acceptance from others. The film element of music is used effectively in the film to unify the narrative.
The tone and pace of the music that is used, changes to represent and reflect the events that are occurring. Billy’s self journey towards acceptance in society is backed up by lyrics from the songs of Cosmic Dancer and I Love to Boogie from T-Rex. This conveys the feelings of Billy, and his self expression. However, when he is in his home, music is stopped abruptly. This shows how this creativity and self expression is repressed in this society of masculine dominant society.
During the scene where Billy is having his first ballet lesson, by switching between the scenes of Billy, and then to his brother, grandmother and father dancing, it gives the film the purpose of making the viewer thing why although Billy and the rest of his family are dancing, the dancing of Billy’s brother is more socially acceptable than of Billy’s. The film Samson and Delilah also focuses on the concept of identity. Like Billy Elliot, the visual text emphasizes the difficulties of creating a new identity and individualism in a world that is dominated by a traditional culture that is unwilling to change and adapt.
The identity of aboriginals in aboriginal culture is conveyed in this text, through the lack of communication, the emphasis on repetition and the lack of personality and difference between characters; all expressing to the viewer the conformity that aboriginals are forced to accept, and cannot challenge. Samson and Delilah are shown to be outliers, exceptions to this rule and go off on a tangent to create a new life and a new identity, breaking their society’s reigns and pressures on them to fit in with the rest of the community, to be infused into their cultures traditional expectations placed upon them.
One day, Samson and Delilah are both beaten and ostracised; Samson for hitting his brother over the head with a log, and Delilah for supposedly allowing her decrepit grandmother to die in the night. This visual text does convey a large amount of male chauvinism running through the film. This is used to highlight the aboriginal culture, and the lack of masculine figures, elders and traditions to support the people that fall under this culture. Samson is a loser with no prospects, Delilah is strong willed and capable, however she does so much for him and he does so little for her.
He occasionally makes flaccid attempts at being helpful, such as placing a blanket over her, but the only time he is actually useful is when he opportunistically kills a kangaroo. He barely notices when she is abducted to be raped, and later hit by a car, because of his petrol-induced stupor. In contrast to this, she buys him food, cleans him, pumps water for him, goes successfully hunting for kangaroos, cooks for him, rescues him and bathes him when he is barely conscious, for no reason.
How this story can be a love story, when she gives so much, and him so little, is what the director expresses to the viewer. This visual text expresses to the viewer the problems with masculine identity in the way that traditional aborigines do things. The series of camera shots from the close up of Samson walking, with Delilah walking behind him conveys the problem with masculine identity in this aboriginal culture. Samson is ignorant in the two events that this camera shot is shown in; Delilah being kidnapped to be raped and Delilah being hit by a car.
By showing Samson in front, in the foreground, this challenges the traditional values of western society. The man is not behind the woman, protecting her and saving her from harm. With Samson completely ignoring the suffering of Delilah, this makes the viewer feel uncomfortable as this ignorance towards pain and suffering, and the inability for the male character to protect his partner, is unnatural in our society. The scenes that follow this event are on Samson, and his petrol-caused stupor, falling asleep under the bridge that he calls home.
He doesn’t care that Delilah is missing, he expects her to follow him, and he doesn’t protect her. In this community, the similarity between the characters is highlighted with Samson’s brothers “verandah band” ever-repeating the same three chord riff, every morning. As well as being something of a leitmotif (a motif that is attached to a specific character or emotion, in this case the aboriginal culture); this encapsulates the hopeless boredom and repetitiveness of these people’s lives.
Without jobs, and the dole keeping them fed (besides Samson, who has no one to buy him anything and relies on Delilah to keep him alive), there is nothing to do. When Samson attempts to break this pattern with his loud strumming, his brother hits him and takes back the guitar, imprinting the same feckless, accepting mindset upon the next generation of aboriginal kids. Delilah listens to an Italian cassette, and Samson listens to rock on the radio. This expresses to the viewer how they want more than the band members, who ave probably played the same chords for years, and have no intention of changing them – no intention of this aboriginal culture changing and adapting, allowing aboriginals to have their own identity. Samson’s petrol sniffing habit grows worse as his, and Delilah’s situation and prospects become bleaker by the day. This is a symbol of the self-destructive habits that are seen everywhere in modern Aboriginal culture. Even the character Gonzo, who lives under the bridge, conveys this message; “you’d better cut that shit out, it’ll fuck up ya brain” he said, before taking desperate gulps from his goon bag of wine.
These habits have not been changed, and by featuring the character of Gonzo as a homeless “parky” who lives under a bridge, and eats canned spaghetti, this expresses to the viewer the challenges of an aboriginal from a traditional aboriginal community to create their own individual life in a new western culture. This traditional culture that is leading to this self destruction, does not change and adapt, and instead continues to conform characters such as Samson and Delilah into this culture, disallowing them to have their own identity.
The aboriginal culture and the lack of a masculine identity that is self sustainable is expressed through the wheelchair which is a prominent motif in this film. Samson rolls around the streets in a chair which he took from another able-bodied boy, which Delilah pushes her invalid grandmother around in one, and later does the same for Samson for his overdose. This is a symbol for dependence; Samson plays with one, showing how he willingly makes himself dependant on everyone around him; later he is dependant on Delilah, and very content to be so.
It is always Delilah pushing someone in the chair, because she’s such a strong and generous person and she will take responsibility for those who will take none. This dependence that aboriginal men in aboriginal culture need portrays to the viewer the problems with the aboriginal identity, the aboriginal society’s present attitudes towards women, and the difference in values between the viewer’s western culture and the aboriginal culture. This is ingrained into the characters, as the culture tries to assimilate aboriginals into its culture. This visual text features the opposite to the text Billy Elliot does.
In Billy Elliot, Billy breaks free of his society’s reigns and creates a new identity. However, in Samson and Delilah, these two characters struggle to become individual and create a new identity, instead still being a part of the general tradition based Aboriginal culture identity. When Samson believes that Delilah has died, he cuts his hair (a biblical reference to where by Samson losing his hair, he loses his strength), and this giving up of strength was shown earlier in the film by Delilah cutting her hair when her grandma had died – when she was fully under the control of the aboriginal identity, without her own identity.
This shows how this practise is a traditional ritual, and it symbolized the difficulty of defying of the aboriginal identity that they are expected to fall into, and creating their own individuality that their culture disallows. However, after being raped and beaten, Delilah almost succumbs to the stereotype of aboriginals that is conveyed in this movie, by taking up petrol sniffing. She almost becomes a stereotype, a victim of this aboriginal culture. However, she breaks through this barrier with her strong will, creating her new identity and taking Samson back to “her country” a new world that she has created.
The difficulty Samson and Delilah have in verbalising their feelings is another expression of their poverty and oppression by the dominant traditional aboriginal culture and identity. Although the movie’s last scenes attempt to provide a sense of hope and optimism (Samson’s father dedicates a song to him mentioning how he will be out of prison in six months), but apart from their love, there is not much to suggest that there is any real escape for these teenagers from the social misery that they confront from their culture.
This is not too different from the film Billy Elliot, however Billy breaks through his social misery and creates a new identity and joins a new world. Although Samson and Delilah do create a new world, taking them both to “Delilah’s country”, they are still stuck in this desolate world that they live in, Billy has broken his society’s views and expectations placed upon him and completed his journey into a new world away from his culture that tried to conform him. Samson and Delilah have not completed this journey, and are still ingrained into their culture.
These two visual texts are similar however, in featuring how location, cultural and social context has an influence on characters, and also highlights the difficulties that one must overcome to break free from this context and become individual, succeed in their journey and create a new identity. By featuring this, the films also focus on acceptable identities and the consequences when characters do not fit into these expectations to become an “acceptable identity”. Samson and Delilah are ostracised, and Billy Elliot is screamed at by his masculine brother and father who feel that Billy is betraying their cultures identity.
The liberation and freedom of becoming “acceptable” is expressed through the optimism that is shown in the end of these films. This shows to the viewer how the film has “rewarded” these characters for breaking free and becoming individual. The texts focus on how identity is malleable, it can adapt to different environments, and in the visual texts of Billy Elliot and Samson and Delilah, this lack of adaptation into the dominant culture is a good thing; not being assimilated into their dominant class culture that represses the individuality of characters, is important in creating a sense of self, and fulfilling your own ambitions.