See It Instead: Atlas Shrugged Part III
“Everything old is new again” is a phrase Hollywood lives by. Looking at the marquee of your local theater, you might suspect it’s the only phrase they know! Here at See It Instead, we celebrate the old that is actually old, sifting through the mountains of celluloid in order to bring you forgotten cinematic gems. If a recent blockbuster has piqued your interest, or you just want to avoid the lines at the snack bar, count on us to bring you movies you should See Instead.
Concluding Ayn Rand’s weary trilogy about makers versus takers (spoiler alert: the rich win), Atlas Shrugged 3 trudges truculently into theaters this weekend. Including cameos from Glenn Beck, Rand Paul, and Sean Hannity, you can pretty much expect any theater that is showing this turkey to quickly devolve into the libertarian version of Comic-Con, complete with tri-cornered hats and folks in revolutionary war gear, wildly waiving copies of the Constitution (unread, naturally.) I wonder if they’ll serve tea instead of popcorn at the concession stand? Either way, why not avoid the whole mess and see three movies from the past that properly revel in the glory of greed?
The Serious Pick: Wall Street (1987)
“Greed is Good” intones corporate raider and Wall Street icon Gordon Gecko. As audiences watch Gecko swallow up everything and everyone in his way to personal gain, you can’t help but wonder if Oliver Stone hadn’t originally typed that line as “Greed is God.” Michael Douglas adds a seductive and amoral charisma to Gordon Gecko, creating one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history. What Hannibal Lecter did for serial killers, Gordon Gecko does for high-risk finance, and to nearly the same effect. Often imitated (even by a needless sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) but never duplicated, Wall Street is the gold standard by which to judge movies about greed.
Oliver Stone manages to create a world of shady investments, insider trading, and “creative” (read: illegal) financial finagling that not only manages to be interesting, but downright thrilling. Less a cautionary tale than a Greek epic, Wall Street finds the sweet spot between scorn and awe that typifies most people’s reaction to the stock market. This film practically replaced Econ 101 for many of my generation…and well…you saw how that worked out for us, haven’t you?
The Lighthearted Pick: The Secret of My Success (1987)
Ayn Rand loved self made men (as long as they inherited all of their power or money) almost as much as audiences loved Michael J. Fox. Here, Fox plays the plucky mid-west transplant, fresh out of business school who moves to Manhattan in order to make his fortune. When the company he is set to work for is ruthlessly acquired (tragically, they had to let Ruth go) by a rival corporation, Michael is left high and dry. When a gig sorting mail for his rich uncle’s company leaves him young and restless, Fox takes his destiny into his own hands. Discovering a vacant office on the executive floor, he creates a fictitious persona, and commences to dominate the business world. Soon rival companies are out to hire him, and his uncle (involved in dodgy business) is out to fire him.
This film rises and falls on the charms of Michael J. Fox, which are considerable. Unfortunately, Fox can only do so much with the character, who is at base a little shit. In fact everyone in this film is a callous shit-heel, including both of his love interests. It’s hard to root for the underdog when it is abundantly clear that he is just as mangy as the top dog. What could have been an irreverent outsider’s take on the shady world of corporate America instead becomes another ode to self-gratification. When your comedy manages to be even slimier than Gordon Gecko, you know you’ve gotten pretty low.
The Unconventional Pick: American Psycho (2000)
What happens when you take an industry full of sociopaths and hide a psychopath amongst them? Would anyone even notice? American Psycho poses just such a question. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a rich and successful investment banker by day and brutally sadistic murderer by night, yet neither life-style brings him any fulfillment. Riding the excess of the late 80’s financial boom (I’m sure they’ve cleaned up their act since then, right?) Bateman is egotistical, vain, and bored. Deathly bored. Neither decadent parties nor double-homicides can bring him any pleasure. His despair deepens when he is routinely mistaken for other people within the financial world. Is there even really a Patrick Bateman, or is it all the confabulations of a diseased mind, desperate for attention and identity?
Based upon the excellent book by Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho is the photo-negative of Wall Street. Gordon Gecko is a larger than life personality; Patrick Bateman is almost a non-entity. Gecko revels in his power and avarice; Bateman is frustrated and made impotent by it. Both men live lavish lives of excess, but only one of them is enjoying it. Where Wall Street is populated by financial masters of the universe, American Psycho is filled with anonymous and interchangeable cogs, idly spinning in a machine designed to make money.