Conflict in cinema and storytelling is typically seen in four main types: conflict with one’s self, with others, with the supernatural, with the environment, and often the most complex of the four is a conflict with society.
In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into conflicts with society seen in movies with our picks for the 10 best examples of person vs. society. From classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to beloved animated films like Shrek, we’ve put together a variety of unique movies where the main characters struggle against the world around them.
Questions We’ll Answer About Person Vs. Society Conflict In Movies:
- What Are The 10 Best Examples Of Person Vs. Society Conflict In Film?
Note: These films were selected for the ten best portrayals of different types of person vs. society conflict – not the 10 best movies overall! To showcase a substantial depth of person vs. societal conflicts, we wanted to demonstrate all the unique ways to see this conflict come together.
10 Best Examples Of Person Vs. Society Conflict In Film
V FOR VENDETTA
There’s no better way to start this list than with V for Vendetta, one of the most famous examples of person vs. societal conflict.
This dystopian political drama follows the story of a man called “V,” who, in a fascist and authoritarian regime in the UK, is an anarchist freedom fighter who attempts to stage a revolution against the totalitarian government in Britain.
V strives to upend the government and turn society on its head – for better or for worse for many of the characters.
The film’s premise is built around person vs. society conflict as V is trying to change everything about the society around him and is quite literally the opposite of what this fictional society expects of a person.
You might be surprised to find a children’s movie like Shrek on this list, but Sherk certainly has character vs. society conflicts and its core.
Shrek is an outcast. A frank, anti-social ogre who refuses to fit into the mold of what this fairytale society wants its citizens to be.
Shrek embraces himself for who he is and listens to no one to change his habits, no matter how outrageous or off-putting.
Character vs. Society is portrayed differently in this film as Shrek doesn’t care how different he is from everyone else – he embraces and owns his ogre-ness.
In an unexplainable event, two siblings are zapped into their television and transported to Pleasantville, a wholesome, seemingly perfect town that’s entirely black-and-white.
Not too long after arriving in the perfect town of Pleasantville, the siblings learn this black-and-white town is home to repressed people blocked from the rest of the world.
Rather than conforming and continuing to stay in character to fit in with the citizens of Pleasantville, they decide to show their “true colors” and help introduce the town to what the rest of the “color” or real world has to offer.
This decision to show citizens of Pleasantville what they’ve been missing out on is embraced by some but also met with resistance by the town’s citizens who don’t want their lives upended.
Denzel Washington plays John Quincy Archibald, a factory worker and father who takes a hospital emergency room hostage after the insurance claim for his nine-year-old son’s heart transplant is declined.
John Q is a much more severe and gritty example of Character vs. Society in the film than any others on this list and is the stark reality of the difficulties some people face daily.
In the movie, John is constantly pushed back against by society as he tries to get care from his son – everywhere he looks, he finds no support and no one willing to help him and his son.
Without spoiling too much of the movie, this causes John to take some insane actions in order to do what he can to save his son’s life.
THE HUNGER GAMES
The Hunger Games trilogy follows Katniss Everdeen and her conflict with society we see span across the three films.
Katniss’s sister, Prism, is initially picked to participate in the dangerous battle to the death known as the Hunger Games.
Prism is young and has never had to fight for herself, so Katniss volunteers to take her place to prevent Prism from meeting certain death.
Because of the insane risks involved with participating in the Hunger Games, Katniss’s choice takes everyone by surprise as she is essentially volunteering to kill herself.
As the series progresses, we see Katniss become an icon by the tyrannized people of Panem (the world in which The Hunger Games takes place) and lead an uprising against the oppressive society and government that favors only its higher-class citizens of Panem.
Katniss’s decision to challenge the status quo leads her to become the face of a revolution.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest follows Randle P. McMurphy, a mental institution patient who challenges the oppressive and dehumanizing conditions imposed on the patients.
In this case, the “society” is the mental institution, its employees, and specifically its head nurse.
Throughout the film, you watch the struggle between Randle and the oppressive conditions of the mental institution and in a battle against society that’s isolated to a small group of individuals, but a very poignant and unique example of this type of conflict.
Randle tries relentlessly to upend the mental institution’s current authoritarian system in hopes of a better life for himself and his fellow patients.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is an example that one’s definition of society can vary from person to person depending on their surroundings and where they live, with the mental institution acting as the society in which Randle is forced to live.
THE ROSA PARKS STORY
The Rosa Parks Story follows the life and history-defining moment when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
This act of defiance is not only a moment that would reshape the history of the United States but also shows a real-world example of person vs. society.
Rosa Parks took a stand for herself and a stand against a longstanding system of racial segregation and discrimination in society.
The Rosa Parks story is a paramount representation of person vs. society conflict. One person’s determination to be respected and treated as an equal resulted in a challenge to the oppressive and profoundly discriminatory society of the period.
Rosa Parks and her struggles are among the best representations of an unfair conflict between person and society.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri follows Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who struggles with local police who failed to solve her daughter’s murder case.
Despite Mildred’s best efforts to push them to look further into the case, the police aren’t too interested in helping her.
In a desperate attempt to get justice for her daughter, Mildred erects three billboards outside of the town, putting the unsolved crime of her daughter’s murder front and center and criticizing the town’s police.
As you can imagine, this sparks a massive conflict between Mildred and law enforcement.
Mildred’s determination to seek justice, despite the resistance she faces not just from the police but from the local community and even her own family, showcases a jarring example of person vs. society conflict.
The film highlights the tension between individuals who call out society’s flaws and a community that is resistant to change when the issues at hand don’t impact them.
ROMEO & JULIET
Romeo and Juliet is one of the most timeless and well-known examples of Person vs. Society conflict in literature, and in this case, film.
The film follows the romance between Romeo and Juliet, who come from different noble families in Italy.
Unfortunately for Romeo and Juliet, their families have been embattled in a long feud, and societal forces drive Romeo and Juliet to keep their relationship a secret.
To keep their relationship alive, Romeo and Juliet challenge the social structure to mend the conflict between their families.
The film illustrates how two individuals must defy what society says they can and cannot do because of a feud they had nothing to do with while facing exile and betrayal from those around them in their journey for their relationship to be accepted.
Mulan is a classic Disney film that makes a significant and easy-to-understand example of the Person vs. Society conflict for children.
With war looming in China, Mulan sneakily breaks strict gender laws by disguising herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. At the time, China’s society only deemed men fit to go to war.
There’s no better straightforward example of Person vs. Society than what we see in Mulan. She breaks not just the traditional societal expectations placed on women; she commits a crime to do so!
Further into the film, we see Mulan struggle with society’s expectations of herself and her expectations of herself in a Person vs. Self-conflict.
Mulan defies all of society’s expectations and becomes a formidable warrior and even somewhat of a leader to many of the soldiers she journeys with, all under the guise of being a man.
Snowpiercer is another film illustrating the Person vs. Society conflict within a dystopian world. The story takes place aboard a constantly moving train that houses the last human survivors on Earth after a massive catastrophe that left the world frozen and unable to sustain life.
We see the film’s protagonist, Curtis, lead a group of what’s considered “lower-class passengers” in a revolt against the class-based system that rules the train.
The uprising in the film is another powerful example of Person vs. Society as Curtis and the “lower-class passengers” face off against the status quo, social hierarchy, and injustices that rule the train’s society.
As you can imagine, the uprising is met with intense resistance from the “higher-class passengers” and the entire system that rules the train in an attempt to stop the passengers from having equality with the others.
Snowpiercer is a fascinating film full of moral questions and unexpected twists – we definitely recommend watching!
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