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Film and American Culture

A well-made film can encapsulate a wealth of socio-cultural dimensions of the producing nation. The way in which characters talk, the progress of the narrative and plot development unfold the vision of the director in terms of what he/she is trying to convey. ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, directed by Gabriele Muccino, hit the box office in 2006 and immediately grabbed the critics’ attention with its real-life rags-to-riches story of stockbroker Chris Gardner. The cultural significance of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ is enormous in the context of the time period shown in the film.

The eighties represented a transforming time for the United States of America in terms of economic boost and a smugly ‘you can have it all’ feeling, as advertised in the famous Michelob Beer commercials. (Shi xi) The story of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ marks a sharp digression from everything that is quintessentially Americanized, so to speak. It is almost like a fairy tale in a realistic drag where no character projects a larger-than-life image. This article is going to throw light on the impact of the text narrative of the film on the cultural values of the contemporary US society.

A Will Smith film based on an apparently dull basic storyline narrating the life of a man who struggles to earn for himself and his son a living, and whose wife forsakes her to pursue her own life in New York doesn’t sound like a cinematic success at all. It was a challenge for Gabriele Muccino to weave a plot that would not turn out to be a clenched-fist, monotonous moral preaching. The brilliance of vision of the director is reflected in the trailer when the protagonist Chris tells his son Christopher, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something—even me.

” (LaSalle E – 1) So the director did never, at any point of time, wanted to mislead the viewers by promising something like a gaga blockbuster. Instead, the film is often referred to as an honest film rather than a corny one. The narrative never wanders into expounding some success tales with occasional pitfalls in the middle before a happy, fulfilling ending. The film follows the course of drab and dreary reality comprising of heartrending failures and defeats; nearly missed opportunities and certain events turning out to be illusive ones.

The Italian director interprets American cultural notions from the perspective of a European onlooker. Poverty and desperation are monitored closely with the precision of an artist’s eyes. In a time when the affluent generation loved to see their lives altered, Muccino picks up things that don’t change on the streets of San Francisco. Chris Gardner is an extremely hard-working fellow who has a five-year old son Christopher and wife Linda. Almost cursed by sheer bad luck, wrong decisions and a shrewish wife, Chris loses his apartment and becomes homeless.

To make matters worse, his investment on bone-density scanners goes bankrupt too. Along with his five-year old son, Chris starts a struggle that would not spare him of a single wrong footing. When his wife leaves him, the viewers get an idea of the uncompromising harshness to follow in the remaining part of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. Despite having the feel of a routine domestic drama, this film surpasses such a tag by exposing the superior and often pretentious cultural values of America in the 1980s.

The concept of ‘go-getter’, which is so very common in today’s world of corporate sheen, is given an entirely new dimension by Chris (Will Smith). Life has worn him to the nub, but he just refuses to give up. His up and down run down the streets of San Francisco is a potent cinematic tool used by the director to illustrate the persistence and strength of mind. If one recalls the rights avowed in the preamble of America’s Declaration of Independence, the one right that could not be guaranteed was happiness. It has to be earned. This film celebrates, in cultural and social contexts, man’s eternal strife for happiness and security.

Inspired by a true story, the film opens up numerous prospective avenues of interpretations of happiness. Happiness, if perceived from a cultural aspect, means more than a passing phase of emotion. It refers to being well suited to one’s place and fully using one’s mind and abilities. Just because Chris gets rich in the end of the film doesn’t make him happy. What makes him happy is the amount of dedication and hard work he puts in throughout the course of his 5 year-long struggle. The premise of culture holds numerous other facets such as humanities, art, philosophy and literature.

‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, if seen from a philosophical point of view, explains the issue of ‘spiritual capital’. (Malloch et al. 1) Money matters a lot in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, as in life. But it matters more explicitly in this film than it does in similar bootstraps stories depicting American dreams and ending with the anticipated ends. Te thematic significance of ‘spiritual capital’ lies in the class struggle of Chris. One can also interpret this as man’s perpetual quest for liberty and freedom. Chris, beaten by glimpses of hard facts, attains truth in the end of his long run.

Compelled to be a self-starter due to his own stupid mistakes, the protagonist Chris goes through incredible upheavals that make him more determined and focused. The cultural undertone again comes in the film when Linda decides to walk out of the family to New York, leaving behind not just her husband, but also her five-year old son Christopher. This central conflict in the plot immediately tells the viewers that ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ is not a film on motherly love. Christopher is reared by his father only; the little boy hardly gets the loving warmth of his mother.

The dazzling smartness of the protagonist in adapting to a changing job responsibilities is worth noticing in the film. Once Linda leaves the household, the way Chris makes himself adjustable at the stock brokerage firm crowded with shouting men and generous bosses is quite impressive. The film also emphasizes success and American dreams. Talking of American dreams and the comment of James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America is worth mentionable: “The American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position. ” (What is the American Dream 2009).

The thesis question that has been raised earlier is affirmed by the fact that ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ does reflect the culture of the United Stats of America during its transitional period. The realization of liberty through dedication to work leads Chris to attain the state of happiness, which couldn’t have come in a shortcut method. So we might conclude that the text narrative, expressed in a realistic fashion, and aided by thoughtful character depiction, goes in favor of the film’s impact to American acculturation. References

LaSalle, Mick. “Down and out in San Francisco, but on a path paved with gold. ” San Francisco Chronicle (2006): E – 1. Malloch, Theodore R, and Scott T. Massey. Renewing American Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness. Washington Street: M & M Scrivener Press, 2006. Shi, David E. The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. “What is the American Dream? ” The Library of Congress. 19 December 2002. 12 February 2009 <http://memory. loc. gov/learn/lessons/97/dream/thedream. html>

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