Blog Directory CineVerse: "No one's paying attention." Until they did--far too late.

"No one's paying attention." Until they did--far too late.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Want to better understand what caused The Great Recession and the burst of the housing bubble 12 years ago? Check out The Big Short (2015), director Adam McKay's riveting treatise on Wall Street greed unchecked. With its fascinating characters and narrative techniques, it makes a convoluted topic comprehensible and unnervingly entertaining. Upon our exploration of this film last week, our CineVerse club reached several conclusions, including:

How did this film surprise you or defy your expectations in any way?

  • It uses a variety of clever and entertaining techniques to educate viewers on the issue, including:
    • Breaking the fourth wall by having characters, especially the main narrator played by Ryan Gosling, look at and talk to the audience.
    • Employing visual metaphors, including the Jenga tower, the vision-impaired credit rating expert, the fish stew story, and the blackjack table sequence, to explain complicated financial terms and concepts in easy-to-comprehend ways.
    • Using brief cameos by celebrities, such as late chef Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and Margo Robbie, to explain complicated financial terms and concepts in easy-to-understand language.
  • The film adopts a variety of styles to impart its message, including:
    • Rapid-fire and edgy music video-like editing
    • Handheld documentary-like camera work (where we’ll often see shaky shots or rough-panning shots that go in and out of focus, for example)
    • Freeze frames
    • Random quotes and unrelated footage of everyday Americans to separate the film into different chapters or sections
    • Definitions of complex terms superimposed as text on the screen
    • Pop and rock music, the lyrics and rhythm of which underscore what’s happening, including Metallica’s Master of Puppets, That’s Life by Nick D’Edigio, When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin, and Money Maker by Ludacris.
  • The Big Short blends a variety of genres and subgenres to tell its story and captivate us, including comedy, thriller, documentary, true crime story, heist film, and character study.
  • It’s easy to root for the three groups who dominate the narrative—Dr. Burry, Mark Baum, and Jamie and Charlie—as they are anti-establishment underdogs whom we want to see vindicated. Yet if they are successful, that means untold misery and ruin for millions of Americans. So by the end of the picture, when they are proved to be correct and profit from their prescience, it’s easy to feel uneasy—as if we’ve been emotionally manipulated by the filmmakers similar to how the stockholders and homeowners were financially manipulated by the puppetmasters who caused the Great Recession.
  • Ultimately, the film proves that, with some ingenuity and creative approaches, even the most complicated and boring subjects can be demystified and accessible to everyday people. Director McKay said in an interview: “The premise was that we were going to take this 24-hour pop-culture machine that tells us what Kim Kardashian is up to, and then say, ‘What if that machine told us real information?’.”
  • As New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott wrote: “It offers no solutions, and no comfort.” The film allows us to draw our own conclusions about its characters, who was responsible, and if our country has learned enough to prevent history from repeating itself.

Themes found in The Big Short

  • The uneasy triumph of the underdog: Dr. Burry, Mark Baum, and Charlie and Jamie, the latter two merely bit players in the investing game, bet their fortunes that Wall Street and the housing market are wrong and are proved correct. Yet their victories, especially to Charlie and Jamie, don’t feel satisfying or celebratory, as they know that it signifies a corrupt and broken system that has failed and will cause pain and suffering to millions of Americans.
  • Gambling on a longshot. Here, the players who buck the system and bet on a long odds prospect are ultimately rewarded; interestingly, we root for Jamie and Charlie, Baum, and Burry because others consider them crazy, misguided, or beneath them—making them more endearing to the viewer. Yet, this is an awkward and conflicting rooting interest, as their success means negative outcomes for countless Americans.
  • The rippling consequences of greed and arrogance. We see how good people, many who aren’t connected to Wall Street, suffer while the rich either get richer or go unpunished for their misdeeds.
  • This film begs the question: Can you be a good person in a bad system and a corrupt world?

Other movies that come to mind after viewing The Big Short

  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Wall Street
  • Moneyball
  • Inside Job
  • Too Big to Fail
  • Margin Call
  • 99 Homes

Other films directed by Adam McKay

  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
  • Step Brothers (2008)
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

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