City of God is the story of a metropolis and its people in a time of change and turmoil. Rio de Janiero was an urban center rapidly growing in the latter 20th century- from this growth came the crime and culture manifested in City of God. The economic situation of Brazil leading to this time was unstable and surely contributed to the establishment of favelas that began to permeate the city. These shantytowns serve as the main setting in City of God, where an honest living is shadowed by the temptation of crime and robbery. In this, the characters of City of God live in a world where if you fight you’ll never survive and if you run you’ll never escape; they view their situation as hopeless, and from this comes a dangerous side of humanity.
Julio Pino describes an urban poor that was split between three working classes and were commonly found in the favelas. This situation heightened from the 1940s until the 1970s, providing the city of Rio de Janiero with a massive class of people intent on improving their situation through any means necessary. The characters in City of God show every sign of this feeling: Li’l Ze’s sociopathic actions and sadistic violence, Benny’s affable character and his desire to be finished with favella life for good, the charismatic Knockout Ned who becomes so disgusted with crime he risks his life to end it, and the genial Rocket who experiences the favella and seems to somehow remain above it. It seems City of God is some final battle for good and evil in the urban slums of Rio.
The subaltern holds major influence over the characters as well; this class of uneducated and violent people who still hold ideas of individualism and self-importance. Li’l Ze epitomizes this trait, according to Hart, in his inability to consider others before himself and his obsession with violence. A theme of City of God is the persistence of crime and its increasing prevalence in Rio. The audience discovers a massacre in a hotel as the product of a boy; yet as the film ends, the evil incarnate is replaced by the runts, a group of young boys who murder their model and further the crime he began. In this, City of God holds a plea of concern for the direction of society. From corrupt officials, murderous children, and self-obsessed individuals there is a constant struggle that seemingly erupts throughout Rio in a series of battles.
Yet there is a glimpse of hope that City of God leaves its audience with. In a city of people who seem unable to reach any rational agreement without the use of violence, the audience is filled with the morose face of humanity. Abuse, rape, and murder have become part of the rhythm of the story by the film’s end; yet, there is Rocket- a young man who was able to survive by rising above it all and lifting himself up. City of God seems to be a message of hope in a time of hopelessness and can be furthered to be a main theme of Latin America and its continually oppressed state either by domestic or outside forces.