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Netflix: If You Can Still Afford It

Feeling broke?  Feeling angry?  Bwog’s Movie Marathon Man Mark Hay offers up three films about people who have even less money than you do.  Mmm…schadenfreude.

The Full Monty (1997)

The message of director Peter Cattaneo’s film wavers back and forth somewhat between a grim conclusion on the economic plight of the workingman and an uplifting assertion of man’s nature. On one side, Cattaneo’s Sheffield cannot support its population anymore and its citizens have been reduced to scavenging the corpses of their old workplaces. The characters in this film are all either desperate, deadbeats, or just defeated. Never does Cattaneo offer hope – there’s no economic stimulus cavalry charging into the pub after the men bare their bits to give them new jobs and resolve their crises. Their fate stays largely loose and dark.

But “The Full Monty” is a comedy, and it doesn’t even feel like dark humor. This is largely thanks to the character of Gaz (Robert Carlyle), whose boisterous resilience lifts the others out of their suicidal sense of worthlessness and turns their anguish into humor. That such downright miserable conditions may believably be twisted into an upbeat comedy speaks not just to the power of Cattaneo’s directing and Simon Beaufoy’s writing, but to the power of the human soul. Ultimately, Cattaneo’s film asserts that, even a man emasculated by unemployment and forced to peddle his flesh – to sell the last good he has to offer – can maintain his pride; that the people around him can understand and lift him out of misery; and that no matter the depths of our depravity, we may keep our dignity – a useful message and a glittering bit of situational humor for those about to embark into the job market.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

 Whereas “The Full Monty” speaks to the ultimate redeemable and resilient nature of human beings, director Arthur Penn’s film offers only the most feral and base components of our nature. Clyde (Warren Beatty) starts off like a mangy cat, pawing at Bonnie’s (Faye Dunaway) mother’s car, but ultimately failing to steal it. That Clyde should steal cars in the Great Depression is understandable, – everyone has to get by – and that he should perpetually fail (both here and in his bank robberies – always bloody, never lucrative) also attests to his economic displacement. Clyde was not made for this life. However, when Clyde fails he does not pull forward with renewed vigor or face his true dilemma like Robert Carlyle’s Gaz. Instead, Clyde grows into more of an animal, a street cat, starved and lashing out at everything around him. That Bonnie should become preoccupied and run off with Clyde reflects even more darkly on the nature of man in desperate times. 

Clyde’s listless wandering becomes an infection spreading to those around him, attacking the moderate discontent of Bonnie and transforming it into an animal cancer. He co-opts everyone around him into a lustful and wild romp, not in search of a solution (as is ostensibly the case, but clearly the money doesn’t really matter to the gang), but in search of self-destruction. The character of Blanche (Estelle Parsons), the repressive foil to the duo’s depravity, ultimately reveals Penn’s verdict on humanity. The man in lack of meaningful work, of sustenance and structure, denies his plight and may either whither away (Blanche) or go out with a bestial bang. Watch this film, then graduate, wander around for a few weeks in search of meaningful employment, and wait in fear for the animal within your breast to come tearing out.

Chinatown (1974)

No genre can more perfectly capture the grimy and despicable greed and swindling behind our recent economic downturn than noir. Of all the films in the noir catalogue, though, none better encompasses the massive scale of our situation, the individual agency that drove it, or the ultimate swirling inability of the populace to fully digest the full view than Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown.” During his investigation of a plot by officials in the water department of Los Angeles to undermine farmers in the San Fernando Valley, gobble up their land, and turn a profit at the expense of thousands of livelihoods, private eye J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) confronts the wealthy, suave and degenerate mastermind of the plan. During this confrontation, Gittes smoothly asks the water magnate the burning question, both for modern investors and the film’s audience, “How much better can you eat? What can you buy that you can’t already afford?” to which the man has no substantive answer. This, then, may be the most concise summary of the situation both Gittes and we find ourselves in. A flawed, but fundamentally moral and intelligent man seeks to unravel, out of a sense of justice a duty, the dirty workings tearing apart the lives of those around him. The scheme he discovers and the reasons for it transcend any logical desire and reveal a groping, monstrous nature in their perpetrators. Unable to fully comprehend the massive misdeeds of his enemies, Gittes falls to focusing upon his nemesis’s personal corruption, only to find himself blocked at every turn. It’s a sense of despair and confusion – a dirty and hopeless journey – that one cannot help but connect with just now. And what is Polanski’s only advice on how to live in such a world, amidst such people? “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

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1 Comment

  • how says:

    @how many Bwog articles in the last week are using the word ‘schadenfreude’?

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