Because capitalism plays a crucial role in any estimation, description, or evaluation of American society, an expectation exists among film-critics and popular audiences alike that American filmmakers will find suitable traction for meaningful and socially relevant films by taking up themes with financial or capitalist themes. Three films which meet this expectation are: Boiler Room (2000), Wall Street (1987), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1982).
Each of the films forwards what can only be regarded as cautionary themes based around the idea that capitalism encourages egocentrism and selfishness which, itself, contradicts the notion of a democracy and undermines fundamental cultural and sociological traditions, such as communalism, which are necessary to sustain any society. All three of the films attempt to connect the abstract financial concepts and activities which are integral to capitalism to the everyday world of working people and families.
In each case, the degree of success which may be attributed to any of the three films actually resides in how effectively this connection can be made by the respective filmmaker. For example, Glengarry Glen Ross succeeds quite well at demonstrating the corruptive impact of capitalistic ideals on individuals, but fails in demonstrating the means by which capitalistic ideals are instilled into society. By contrast, Boiler Room shows clearly the inner-workings of a corrupt brokerage, but fails to deliver a meaningful connection to the lives of ordinary people.
The least successful of the three films, Wall Street fails on both accounts, as will be evidenced in the following examination of the three films. In the case of Boiler Room, the thrust of the film centers around the individual capacity for corruption and the individual ability to resist corruption. The agency of corruption is, of course, economics. The film is widely acknowledged to portray the disreputable, “underground” world of a “boiler-room” brokerage with startling, even frightening detail and authenticity.
It is important that the film portray the inner-workings of the brokerage and the means by which it dupes investors as realistically as possible because the film is attempting to demonstrate that individual corruption precludes a “fair” playing field when economic interests are concerned. By revealing a “boiler-room” brokerage’s inner-workings, the filmmaker is attempting to stimulate both concern and fear on behalf of the audience.
It is likely that anyone who views Boiler Room will walk away with a greater understanding of what a corrupt brokerage consists of and how it operates; they will understand that they, as average citizens, are not privy to being on the “dump side” of economics where “insiders cashed in (usually surreptitiously) before the stock collapsed-selling their holdings for fantastic profits- while employees and other investors ended up with stocks that were worth a fraction of what they paid for them, or nothing at all” (Tillman, and Indergaard 5).
That said, the film offers little or no alternative vision to the rampant (nearly ubiquitous) corruption which is depicted in the film. This results in a feeling of one-sidedness and even worse, as though the film’s ostensibly cautionary themes are, in fact, pointless in the face of greed and self-interest. Greed and self-interest also form the heart of the themes presented in Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Obviously, the film draws a great amount of inspiration from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but with the stipulation that Glengarry Glen Ross does not attempt to resolve itself or provide closure for its characters or its audience.
The film’s plot and backdrop are very similar to Death of a Salesman: that American Dream myth: unseen capitalist bosses pit four real estate salesmen against each other. At stake is their jobs, and since these men define themselves according to their place on the sales “board,” what transpires is a desperate struggle for these men to retain not simply their sales positions, but their sense of masculine identity. (Greenbaum) Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” offers a similar thematic impulse as “Death of a Salesman,” in that it explores the dissolution and degradation of a “little man” in American society.
However, Mamet, rather than opting for warm, empathetic audience identification, seeks to lead his audience to his thematic message by way of a study in ambition and moral ambiguity. Shelly Levine aspires to be a thief and a selfish and materialistic person. The impact of his selfishness and materialism is conveyed, often ironically, through his entrance sand exits in the play. An example of this is in Act Two when Levine bursts onto the (ransacked) office-set with tremendous glee and confidence.
Meanwhile, it is clear to the audience by the mere fact of the office being in shambles, that Levine’s victorious tone is completely inappropriate. This is an ironic gesture, created by Mamet from the dissonance created by Levine’s up-beat entrance and the shambled state of the set he enters on. The irony generated in this gesture is central to the play”s themes of selfish dissolution and culpability. Mamet utilizes audience expectation and the sudden change of the play’s pace and mood to transmit important thematic information tot he audience.
In this, both playwrights partake of musical composition where the various entrances and exists of melodic themes and passages indicate a shift in mood and thematic direction for the listener. Similarly, Aaronow’s exit into the side-office in the same scene discussed above indicates a pending plot complication. His line “We had a robbery. ” which comes just before he moves from the office-space to the inner-room indicates a shift in the plot. The line indicates that the motion of leaving the main office is somehow tied to the fact of the robbery.
And at this point, the audience feels intensely, the ironic impact of Levine’s enthusiastic entrance earlier in the scene. The energy of the scene is tied directly to the play’s themes and, in fact, encapsulates them for the audience. Levine’s initial excitement and dialogue are indicative of the ambition which drives him; Aaronow’s line and subsequent stage-movement indicates both the moral ambiguity of Levine’s ambition and the potential repercussions for this naked ambition.
For Mamet, the rather hectic and ominous entrances and exits of the characters in “Glengarry Glen Ross” symbolize the disorder and fragmentation of modern society. When Shelly Levine is guided meekly away in handcuffs by detectives at the close of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” the audience is left with the impression of tragedy, but also with a sense of ironic justice. The meekness of Levine, in contrast to the ambition which has propelled him through the events of the play and given rise to the play’s complications is reduced, at last, to helpless culpability.
This resonance drives Mamet’s theme of social disintegration for it is not merely a moral failing on Levine’s part which incites the play’s final, ironic tragedy, but the hopelessness of ambition and competition in an economically driven society, which values money over human relationships or moral fortitude. For Miller, the sanctity and nobility of the individual was more important even than death — for Mamet the destruction of the individual through submission to material ambition was viewed as thoroughly corrupting, so much that his protagonist perceived victory only at the moment of his actual defeat.
For Loman, some form of self-reclamation took place in his final, tragic exit form the stage; for Levine, self-reclamation is left as an ambiguous and unlikely possibility. Miller and Mamet each chose to articulate the story of “little’ men. In keeping with these portrayals, they examined the moral implications of materialism, ambition, and classicism in American society. Ambition is the main theme of Wall Street (1987) a movie that represents a cautionary tale of greed, ambition, and self-discovery. The theme of the movie is both pointedly modern, inditing against the excess of American materialism in the 1980’s, and hauntingly timeless.
The timelessness of the movie derives from the positing of an archetypal hero and an archetypal villain who are, respectively, the movie’s protagonist, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) and the movie’s antagonist, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglass), in a man against man struggle with both power and riches in the balance. The cultural specificity of the movie derives from the fact that Stone consciously sought to capture a certain feeling of selfish ambition which was prominent, in his opinion, throughout American culture in the decade of the 1980s.
In fact, not only did Stone view this attitude as prominent in America, the movie Wall Street suggests that Stone saw this attitude as nearly ubiquitous in American culture. As critical opinion typically holds, Stone’s film is an exploration of how “1980s America became seduced by fast money and a slippery-slope morality” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 124) and, as such, the film stands as a moralistic narrative: ” Now is the time to wake up, the film screams, and realize what we have done. Wall Street is our cleansing, our rite of passage” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 124).
The implication is that Stone has fashioned a sort of 1980’s “modern fable” in order to deal with a deeply consequential theme in American society which, itself, represented an almost universal struggle for all Americans. The progression of the film’s central character, Bud Fox, is the progression from an ambitious young stock-broker to criminal and then back, again, to hero: “Although Wall Street’s Bud Fox is seduced by the world of corrupt corporate finance, learns his lesson, and ultimately redeems himself by rejecting Gordon Gekko” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 125).
The almost too-pat “fairy-tale” conclusion of the story, taken as a portion of the film’s, critically claimed viability of theme, strains the credibility of those critics who have seen, in Stone’s film, a “true” portrait of American greed, let alone a portrait of American redemption. The film, as such, is a traditional moralistic film despite its modern veneer and the film in this function is not uncommon in American cinema.
Like many other traditional American novels and films, Wall Street seeks to formulate “the American fiction of the self-made man or success hero has been used to reformulate an older republican dream of individual freedom in the context of an increasingly organized, consumption-oriented, corporate capitalist society” (Traube 1992, 67). In this regard the film maintains an overt reliance on universality, it is necessary that the film portray not a restrictive experience of a minority section of society, but capture a cultural “wave” and one which merited serious inspection and creative interpretation.
However, the area in which the film is most obviously lacking is in its implied (and necessarily so) universality. If the film is viewed as the rather esoteric story of a short-lived “Bull Market” which actually did take place in America during the 1980’s, rather than an account of rampant and universal greed which held Americans in universal lock-step for almost a decade, then, obviously, the overall impact and relevance of the film will be judged in a much different way.
That said, there is more than ample reason to not only question, but to outright deny, the universality of Wall Street not only as a film which takes as its theme corporate greed in America, but to challenge the universality of the sociological and cultural assumptions which drive the entirety of the film itself. For example, during the scene when Bud Fox confronts Gordon Gekko about his relentless ambition, the viewer is made to realize that “glimmers of Bud’s consciousness have begun to emerge” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 125) and that, perhaps, Gordon Gekko’s greed is a symptom of a kind of insanity.
When Bud asks “How many yachts can you waterski behind. How much is enough? ” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 125) Gekko’s reply is that “”It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero-sum game–somebody wins, somebody loses” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 125). Although this scene is intended to function as a way of deepening the viewer’s understanding that Gordon “Gekko” is a symbol of a limited rather than expanded personality, the overall impact of the scene actually functions to create a cultural gestalt in the opposite direction from the evident moralistic theme of the film.
In other words, if Gordon Gekko is supposed to represent “a “lizard” of ego consciousness in the modern age and in the “me” decade of the 1980s,” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 125), the implication is that Bud Fox’s character development represents the “individual[… ] separated from the trappings of ego consciousness–fame, fortune, possessions, reputation” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 129) which is discovered “as a result of some inner strength of character, which allows the individual to explore or at least acknowledge the abyss and in losing the self, find the Self again” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 129).
The entire principle of the film’s moral expression that greed is universal but also universally corruptive rests on the transmission that Stone’s equation of the material world with the world of “ego” would be the primary impetus driving the film’s tension and thereby be a method toward generating a universality of theme and impact. This last aspect is worth repeating: the success or failure of Wall Street as a film rests up in the reception of the film as a universal expression of moral conflict between materialism and moral “goodness.
” In order to the film to succeed in articulating its theme properly the viewer must walk away from film convinced that “If faced with the abyss and separated from the trappings of ego consciousness, Gordon Gekko would have to leap in” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 129). Furthermore, the viewer must experience an inward catharsis (based on universal experience) by way of the Bud Fox character’s progression from hero, to villain, and back to hero.
If the transformation of Bud Fox, alone, were not enough to induce even the most dense of viewers into understanding that the “zero sum” game of Gekko’s imagining actually is a self descriptive for the materialism’s emptiness, Stone resorts to, as mentioned earlier, an ensemble cast which is meant to function as a social microcosm and which, ostensibly, demonstrates the vile consequences of Gekko’s greed. In this way, “Stone continually reminds us in Wall Street of the error of Gekko’s ways by opposing him with the voice of reason, represented by Bud’s father, Carl Fox, and Bud’s fellow stockbroker, Lou Manneheim” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 127).
The idea is ridiculously simple: “If Gordon Gekko represents the amoral high-rolling player, Lou Manneheim, even more so than Bud’s father, represents the ethically conscientious” (Mackey-Kallis 1996, 127) character of the film who is, not coincidentally, also identified with the “labor” class of American society. The obvious nature of the social microcosm extends beyond “labor” to include a single primary female character.
This character, Darien (Daryl Hannah) functions as both a love-interest and a materialistic “trophy” for Bud Fox as he claws his way into Gekko’s world of insider trading and high-finance. During the final confrontation scene between Gekko and Fox, Gekko intimates that he has “given” both Darien and Fox’ “manhood” to Fix, as a father-figure. So the character of Darien is “fixed” in the reader’s mind as being a part adn parcel of Gekko’s ego-bound world. There is even a scene where Darien and Gekko confess to having been lovers during the time when she is dating Fox.
By this point in the film, the confrontation scene between Gekko and Fox, the villainy of Gekko is meant to have been devastatingly revealed and part of this revelation is transmitted by the objectification and “branding” of Darien. Stone, like many film-makers in America, resorts not only to creating a stereotypical character to stand in Wall Street as the microcosmic representation of an ambitious and young woman, but he uses that “cardboard” character to forward traditional misogynistic perceptions of women.
This aspect of the social microcosm comprised by the minor characters of the movie is, itself, enough to rob the film of any serious claim to universality. Instead of representing the vast real-life experiences of women in America during the 1980’s, Wall Street offers a cardboard figure of a “femme fatale” one whose weapons are sex and money and one whose rejection means the simultaneous embrace of “moral character.
” Far from finding a universal expression for a cultural consciousness of note in American society, Stone merely followed other “Hollywood filmmakers[who] returned to the moralistic version of the success myth, which had seemed to have been superseded” (Traube 1992, 121) and where this moralism is conveyed in Stone’s Wall Street, there is an implied “appeal in their various ways to fears of moral breakdown, and they assert the need for moral restraint” (Traube 1992, 121).
For Stone, in Wall Street, part of this “restraint” has to do with the implied rejection of women’s ambition and women’s sexuality and continues a traditional mind-set, beginning as far back as “Adam and Eve” of blaming women for the faults men discover in themselves.
As if this were not enough to destroy any illusion of universality ion Stone’s film, there is the fact that “Yuppieness” was, itself, a representative culture that impacted the select, rather than the mean-average: “Yuppieness became a form of protective coloration against the economic and status threats from ethnic minorities and the poor, from a questionable national economy, from an increasingly competitive world” (Palmer 1995, 280).
The whole idea of Yuppieness was an “us versus the rest of the world” mentality which wholeheartedly precludes universality. In addition to the exclusionary and decidedly rare experience of the Yuppies themselves, there is the historical reality of the 1980’s Wall Street boom, fueled by corporate raiders and junk binds, to contend with. The historical reality lends little credence to Stone’s portrayal of broadly painted good versus evil.
Obviously, Stone’s film speaks to the experience of only a very small segment of American society and attempts to remedy this reality by enclosing the story in a traditional moralistic package. The fact is that Stone’s movie is represented, sometimes even by critics, as being of a universal intent and theme, but it is in reality, like so many other Hollywood films based not on the experiences of its potential mass-audience.
In reality, “audience preferences are only one of many factors that influence production decisions. Producers also shape their work to conform to dominant sensibilities and values, including those of the producing community itself” (Traube 1992, 69) and in the case of Wall Street, although the film represents itself as being “An intended return to the countertradition of moderate success through honest labor,” the film is more appropriately regarded as a narrowly defined and very personal vision of greed.
An extremely telling point regarding the actual popular embrace of the film is that it was the character of Gekko, rather than Fox, which found widespread cultural resonance and enthusiasm: “Douglas’s performance (which won the film’s only major Oscar) overpowers the plot. It is as if a transformer from the other pole of success mythology had somehow wandered into a cautionary tale and then proceeded to wreck it, as easily as Gekko wrecks the companies he buys” (Traube 1992, 105).
And this latter reality is, after all is said and done, the most obvious indication of all that what little universal resonance Wall Street generate was in direct contradiction to its proposed, highly moralistic theme. Works Cited Geisst, Charles R. 2004. Wall Street: A History : from Its Beginnings to the Fall of Enron. New York: Oxford University Press. Greenbaum, Andrea. “Brass Balls: Masculine Communication and the Discourse of Capitalism in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. ” The Journal of Men’s Studies 8.
1 (1999): 33. Mackey-Kallis, Susan. 1996. Oliver Stone’s America: Dreaming the Myth Outward. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Palmer, William J. 1995. The Films of the Eighties: A Social History. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Tillman, Robert H. , and Michael L. Indergaard. Pump and Dump: The Rancid Rules of the New Economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Traube, Elizabeth G. 1992. Dreaming Identities: Class, Gender, and Generation in 1980s Hollywood Movies. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Sample Essay of Edusson.com