Moral Gray Area and the Myths of Civilization

One of the best ways to teach a lesson is through storytelling. We see this in many children’s books and fairy tales such as the story of Pinocchio. Not only can storytelling teach lessons, but it can also be used in uncovering the myths of civilization. Issues in society today can be difficult to fully understand when immediately faced with the problem. Sometimes it can be hard to cope with or difficult to accept that people are suffering from these complications. In order to find ways to convey the message of these issues, it is best to do it through the use of storytelling. The Battle of Algiers is a strong example of a movie that challenges myth that human beings are violent. The Battle of Algiers strongly shows that when it comes to violence, there is a lot of moral gray area.

“History is repeated” is a known saying when referring to different situations society faces over time. It is true that many cases in history prove to be similar; therefore we have the ability to learn from the previous events. By telling stories of past experiences we are able to learn from them and work to handle the current situation differently. Story telling “sets out to paint a picture of homo sapiens which a being from another world, or, better, being from our own… might recognize as something approaching the truth” (Kingsnorth and Hine). In doing this, we are able to challenge the myths of civilization, such as the myth of human violence, and help to create new ones.

The Battle of Algiers is a French movie about the fight for Algerian independence from France in 1953. It tells the story of the FLN and the French Military battling in guerilla warfare. The director, Gillo Pontecorvo, made the attempt to produce an objective film from the side of both the FLN and the French Military/police force. Through the use of this strategy we are able to evaluate the myth of violence. The movie portrays a very violent image of human nature, especially when portraying attack scenes. There are two scenes in the movie that provide us with the image of extreme violence. The first scene is the scene in which the three ladies each take a bomb and bring it to the café, disco, or airport. The bombs then go off killing many innocent French people including children. The second scene that conveys the image of violence is the scene when the French Military retaliates and blows up a house killing many innocent Algerians. Both of these scenes are extremely upsetting and are followed up by scenes of people rushing to help those who were hurt. This movie portrayed humans as violent and somewhat merciless, but it also challenged this portrayal through several other scenes.

One of the techniques used in making this film was the use of the documentary style. During the 1950s, people would go to the movies in order to receive their news and watch clips that appeared to be in the style as a documentary. Pontecorvo’s use of this technique is effective in the sense that it makes it so that it feels less distant for the audience (as this movie was made in 1966 so much of the audience had received the news in this way). By making it so that is was less distant and being objective in portraying each side, Pontecorvo is able to challenge the barbaric myths of society. As people are able to closely connect to the film they have a harder time distinguishing which side they should be partial to. The audience feels sympathy for both the French and the Algerians. Each side attempts to justify their reasoning behind killing. In a scene that shows one of the leaders of the FLN, Ben M’Hidi, is questioned if it is cowardly using the baskets of his women to hide bombs and kill innocent people. M’Hidi responds, “isn’t it even more cowardly to attack defenseless villages with napalm bombs that kill many thousand of time times more?” (Pontecorvo). In order to justify the FLN’s acts of violence, M’Hidi points out that the French use equally, if not more violence. If one side can use violence, it is only right that the other side get to use violence as well. We see France as this “civilized” nation, however they are committing extreme violent acts as well. This calls into question what is actually morally right and morally wrong. Each side sees justification of their violence, however, the audience sees the violence differently.

Another way in which this movie challenges the myth of human violence is the soundtrack the movie uses. In scenes illustrating the post-attack, Bach is playing in the background. The song is very solemn and melancholy and produces a mournful feeling. This sadness makes it difficult for an audience member to find justification in the violent acts, as many of the people who were killed were in fact innocent. There is repetition of this song as well in the scene in which the bombs go off killing the French as well as when the bomb goes off killing the Algerians. This provides a connection because the two scenes and the two different sides, making it difficult for the audience to sympathize with one side more than the other. The feelings of those who suffered from the violent acts can be seen as similar for both the Algerians and the French by the use of the same sad song. By employing the use of the same sad song, Pontecorvo is challenging the myth of human violence, however challenges the audience in determining exactly what is morally right and wrong.

As the audience sees the violent acts of both the French and the Algiers, there are moments that offer potential new stories in place of others. In one scene when the character Ali is talking to M’Hidi, they are discussing the effectiveness of the strike and Ali mentions he was not in favor of it. M’Hidi responds, “acts of violence don’t win wars, neither wars nor revolutions, terrorism is a useful start, but then the people themselves must act” (Pontecorvo). This suggests a possible new story in that violence may not be absolutely necessary at all in starting a revolution. If a group of people can get enough attention through an act such as a strike, it is possible to avoid violence. Even at the end, Colonel Mathew offers Ali the chance to surrender in order to avoid death. With the old stories of this movie provides, it is possible to create new stories through the lessons learned in the old stories. An audience today can use this movie as an example on ways to evade violence based on the mistakes and good decisions these characters made. Although this is a fictional story, there is some truth in the events that are portrayed as it is based on the actual Algerian war, however there are still substantial amounts of grey area in terms of what is morally right. The underlying message and truths of the war can still be seen in the movie The Battle of Algiers.

These possible new stories can offer potential hope in situations we are facing today. In the United States today we are battling against new terrorism from the Middle East. Stories like the Battle of Algiers offer hope because we can see the successes of the Algerian War and learn from them. This offers hope because we now have access to information that could help in the United States’ current situation. Based on how France and Algeria handled the situation and documented the events that occurred, the United Stats can base their actions on the successes of France. The ability to learn from the old stories is what creates new stories and hope for the future. Eventually, the Algerian War ended and the violence subsided. Seeing that the violence did eventually end provides hope for future situations that it will end.

Story telling is absolutely crucial in learning lessons of the past. Through these lesson we can learn how much more effectively handle situations. The movie, The Battle of Algiers tells the myth of human violence in society and challenges this myth through the ways in which the movie was made. Because the movie was produced to be viewed in an objective manner, it challenges this myth of violence, as it is difficult to justify the violence of either side. Through these stories we are able to create new ones by choosing to act differently in situations similar to the old story. Seeing the successes and failures of the old story can provide hope because we have access to information on a similar event to the current situation. This information can then be applied to the issue at hand in hopes of a more positive outcome. Without storytelling, we would never be able to learn from the past and history truly would repeat itself. Humans do tend exhibit a violent nature, but through the use of stories from the past, we can attempt to avoid as much violence as possible. In Battle of Algiers we are challenged to sympathize with the terrorists, which provides us with their prospective. This can be applied to the current situation of the United States, and, if we work to use non-violence and understand the terrorist side, may result in less violence. Although storytelling is highly effective in teaching lessons of the past, it also leaves large amounts of moral gray area when facing certain situations.


Works Cited

Kingsnorth, Paul, and Dougald Hine. “Uncivilization Manifesto.” (2009)Print.

The Battle of Algiers. Dir. Pontecorve, Gillo. Perf. Jean Martin, et al. , 1966


















One thought on “Moral Gray Area and the Myths of Civilization

  1. MnarviDZ says:

    Just a say that the movie is Algero-Italian and not French.

    People tend to reproduce the same behaviours and the strong doesn’t always accept to talk to the weak. Perhaps one day…


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