Through its portrayal of oppression, Seren Yüce’s multi-award winning debut film “Majority” (Çoğunluk) (2010) offers a social critique of contemporary Turkey, and its slow pace is not a cinematic weakness but an asset encouraging the audience to question not only himself but also the limiting values of the society he is a member of. From the very first moment till the end, the film uses Mertkan and his upper middle class family as the microcosm of Turkey to convey its messages.
We are first introduced to young Mertkan and his father, a contractor, in a flashback scene where the two are jogging in a forest. The look of the tall leafless trees in the forest does not create a sense of joy or relief; they look like iron bars. In such a setting, Mertkan runs reluctantly after his father who just asks him to catch up. This is probably one of the earliest indications of the mindset of a father who pushes his son to be his mirror image leaving him no space for developing his own unique identity.
When they get home, we find out more about oppression. The hallway is narrow and not well-lit; we will indeed later see Mert and his parents many times in this hallway. And the doors and the doorways: the flat has too many of these; all contributing to the film’s suffocating atmosphere and Mertkan’s inability to pass the threshold to challenge his father and find his own voice. In the early moments of the film, the hallway sequence shows another moment of oppression: Mertkan bullies the cleaning woman, an act reminding us of what the father does to his son.
Mertkan’s father owns a construction company, and Seren Yüce’s choice of this profession can be quite significant because it helps us understand that the father actually wants to “construct” his son’s mind by imposing his own values regarding manhood, religion, nationalism and ethnicity. According to his mindset, Mertkan needs to do his compulsory military service as soon as possible to be a man (Mertkan’s name is symbolic too: “mert” means “brave” and “kan” means blood”); he needs to join his father in the mosque prayers on Fridays (probably mainly to keep up appearances because later we see that the father runs his business with his own unique sense of “ethics”), he needs to stop his friendship with Gül whose ethnic origin, he claims, is a problem. In addition to all these, the father’s profession also reveals how İstanbul is being destroyed by newly emerging middle class businessmen with ugly looking blocks of apartments. When Mertkan’s girlfriend gives him a book of architecture as a gift, he says he never reads books (probably like his father and many others in the film) and adds, “We never build such houses”.
The discourse the male characters use in the film is also an indication of the prevalent phallocentrism in Turkish culture. The jokes the men in the sauna make about women, Mertkan’s friends’ jokes about girls, Mertkan’s unfulfilled and disillusioned mother are all strong indicators of the prevalent macho culture. The mother desperately wonders how she has ended up in life with such two indifferent and insensitive men. Mertkan’s girlfriend Gül, the girl from Van, a city in Eastern Turkey, has to survive in this macho culture, too. We find out that working as a waitress at a bistro, she studies sociology at university but is afraid of being discovered by her family who would take her back to her hometown; this is the rule of the macho culture and the feudal system which require women to be submissive. Gül seems to be one of the very few characters in the film who tries to challenge what is imposed on her. However, it is also a contradiction that she wants to marry a handsome and rich guy like Mertkan to get liberated.
As can be seen in the examples above, oppression exists in many different ways in “Majority”, leaving no room for individuality. Mertkan has no potency to stand up against limiting traditions. He suffers, he is confused and disillusioned, he sometimes wants to change things; however, he never succeeds. He can’t even fight with his parent for Gül because he is never sure whether he really loves her or not; he has always been warned by his father about her ethnic origins.
Towards the end of the film, Mertkan’s father sends him to their construction site in Gebze, a town near İstanbul. Here he is still disillusioned and unhappy and very unfriendly with the workers. When he calls his father to ask for a gun, we can’t help thinking whether he would need it to commit suicide or to defend himself against the construction site.
In Gebze, Mertkan sees the taxi-driver whose car he had crashed into in İstanbul; his father had humiliated him and not given him all the money needed to repair the damaged car. Mertkan’s encounter with the driver is one of the most special moments in the film. He hugs the driver and bursts into tears – helplessly: And later, at the very end of the film, we see Mertkan and his parents at the dinner table back in their flat. The father quietly tells his son that he has “got it” (the gun, of course, is a symbol of masculinity, isn’t it?)…. We look at the family again and again, we keep listening to them and we can’t help asking ourselves the following question: Is Mertkan now fully part of the majority?
Seren Yüce’s film is one of the best films of 2010 in Turkish cinema. Its success is based on its realistic script, superb performances and Yüce’s directorial talent. Its messages as examined above and its social critique are universally appealing and worth considering.
“Majority” (2010): Directed and written by Seren Yüce / Starring BartuKüçükçağlayan, SettarTanrıoğen, NihalKoldaş.
Ali Nihat Eken, İstanbul, March 2011