Student Feature: The Cycle of Violence in “City of God”

Below is a notable perspective on the 2002 film City of God, written by Lewis University student Sarah Simar. Spoilers ahead.

Guns, gangs, crime, drugs, power, wealth, survival — these are the most obvious themes in City of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. There is no way out, no safe place to hide in the City of God. If you are not in a gang, you are forced into one at a very young age.

One of the main characters and narrator of the story, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), dreams of being a photographer and getting out of this violent world. The other main character, Ze Pequeno (Leandro Firmino), wants to rule the city from a young age with his partner Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), and accomplishes just that through a series of malicious acts. Rocket and Ze are so radically different, but their paths cross more than once throughout the movie. These moments reiterate the theme that there is no way out, even for Rocket, who wants nothing to do with any gang.

The use of narration in this film works well, especially for viewers who need a little more explanation and clarification. The audience always knows what is going on. Throughout City of God, each character’s story is woven together in a way that we do not need to question their importance or purpose. It’s not that the character’s story does not lack significance; it’s simply that their role in this cyclical violence is constantly being replaced. When someone important dies, they are immediately succeeded.

City of God is a film that opens the audience’s eyes to a world where no one is safe. The film is honest and does not hold anything back. Children are turned into gangsters to follow a leader that wants to rule the city. The movie leaves us with the feeling that this vicious cycle will loop endlessly, best evidenced by the the final scene in which we are shown children who are planning to take over the city again. Although Rocket is able to escape this dire situation, the overall mood is hopeless; there is no hero to stop the cycle.


Sarah is a student-athlete at Lewis University where she is getting a degree in biology along with a minor in psychology. After graduating, she will be applying to medical school in hopes of pursuing a career in medicine. She is a club swim coach for the Joliet Blue Tides, as well as a lab assistant at Lewis. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, discovering new music, writing poetry, and watching movies of all genres. On a typical day, she is most likely doing one of those five things and/or watching Rick and Morty on demand. Recently, she has begun to watch The Good Doctorwhich she highly recommends!

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