The film City of God is primarily a story about an insular community necessarily constrained by dependence on the middle class and opportunistic violence. Much like in the film’s very real foundations, violence is paramount and driving, rushing some young men from the cradle to the grave in less than two decades. The favelas are “subaltern” pluralistic localities formed by rapid urbanization and economic necessity, and are linked and identified by economic marginality rather than racial association (Hart 206). Meirelles’ City of God illustrates the marginalization of the favelas to the periphery of Rio de Janeiro’s market and influence, as well as the shapeless violence and crime that permeates the culture of the favelas.
Prior to 1940, agriculture was forestalled for many farm laborers; their resultant exodus to the metropolises led to changes in the structure of the cities’ job markets, entailing growth in “social activities” and “other activities” (Pino 20). Rural immigrants availed themselves of these particular avenues of income because the transient nature of these jobs did not require employers to fill out “social security or insurance benefits” (Pino 19). For the favelados, a peripheral existence at the literal edge of the city was manifest in a peripheral presence in the urban economy, which afforded those who ventured from the favela a meager income, but never anything sufficient to escape. The character of Knockout Ned is perhaps the most emblematic of this problem: he works in public transportation and, as a result, crosses the boundary between city and favela daily, but he is described by Rockett and his friend as never having made enough money to fully escape the favela, probably because he could never afford the rent of the suburbs or city.
While the arguments of Oliveira and Pino are certainly valuable, the area of survival which necessitates drug dealing as a livelihood for many inhabitants is an issue notably absent in their analyses. The economic presence of Knockout Ned and even Rockett’s foray into supermarket employment fit within their analyses, but the existence of a drug culture and the engendered violence which make up major portions of the film are curiously obscured. This is interesting because it is spawned precisely by the transience of employment and the instability of income it produces, which is discussed at length in the Pino article.
The film also absents large segments of the favela culture. While the construction of masculinity around violence is paramount in the film, the lives and contributions of women are almost completely absent, excepting a few notable scenes of wooing, wife-killing, and rape. The exclusion of women to the periphery of the film, and only in relation to sex with the men of the film, likely imitates life in a dog-eat-dog, patriarchal existence of crime and survival, but is notable for its patriarchal implications.
Even if you run, you can never escape the City of God. As Hart notes, Rockett only disengages from the favela after providing a service of interest to the middle-class (207). The violence within the favela is depicted as purposeless and directed mostly at the level of individual gain and conformity, perpetuating a perennial culture of crime. In this way, the film is illustrative of the ways in which Rio and other cities effectively insulate the favelas into inescapable communities.