Why no one is really free : The panopticon

I stumbled on a fantastic movie last night :”Enola Holmes” .It follows the journey of Enola holmes , the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes . Though the movie is a delight for any Sherlock or mystery fans out there , it was Enola’s personal journey that stood out for me .

The movie starts off with Enola finding out that her mother missing . A few scenes her elder brothers come into the frame . Mycroft ( her brother ) disapproves of Enola’s ‘wild’ behaviour and wants to make her ‘acceptable ‘ for the society .

The school curriculum is involved in teaching the girls how to laugh ‘politely ‘ , how to walk ( practicing with a book on your head ) and how to ‘ eat’ properly .The idea of a cultured woman is the one that always talks politely , never raises her voice and is happy with a domesticated life . This movie depicts a society of the 1900 yet since then, this idea hasn’t really changed .In a similar vein , even men are subject to the patriarchal stereotypes of strength and courage . There is a strict code that everyone has follow . There are predefined notions of ‘good and acceptable behavior ‘ which every society swears by .

As the characters again and again lectured Enola of good behavior it reminded me of Michael Foucault conception of ‘panopticon ‘ . A panopticon is prison with a tower in the middle where the guard sits . From the tower, a guard can see every cell and inmate but the inmates can’t see into the tower. Prisoners will never know whether or not they are being watched. Due to the fear of constant survelliance , the prisoners behave themselves and do not even try to escape .

The panopticon

Michael Foucault uses this concept to explain how our society functions . Our society is like a prison .The opinions of other people , the social norms ( for eg : having a great salary , being married being preconditions of success ) are the guards in the tower . The rest of us in the society are like the prisoners . We follow these norms sincerely as we know we are being watched , by our families , our friends and the society . To gain social acceptance , we often give up things unique or different to us, never daring to even know who we are and what we really want . This holds true in every aspect of our lives . One’s job , one’s marriage or even the selection of subject in high school. Most of our decisions are guided by everyone’s preferences but our own . Quite sad , isn’t it ?

There was another scene in the movie that stood out for me . The headmistress assures Enola that she can provide her with all the answers in life. Enola will never have to question anything ever again in life But I wonder why is that a good thing ? We seem to hate confusions , situations and problems in our life that make us think and question things around us . But isn’t it our ability to think that makes us human. The ability to analyse things and give it our meaning .Humans are the only species on this planet with this ability , yet we give it up so easily for the sake of others

The headmistress also disapproves how Enola mother left her to fend her for herself . In my opinion , this is exactly what we should be doing . Letting people life their lives on their terms , commit their own mistakes and find their own purpose .