Tuesday, 5 January 2016


The Big Short is a clever, engaging, and enraging movie about the predations and depredations of a criminal ruling class.

Like 2014's Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short is based on a best-selling non-fiction novel detailing Wall Street high-stakes sleaze and fraudulence. This time, however, instead of being an autobiographical account of one man's life of unrelenting sociopathic greed, the tale is told from the collective point of view of a gang of both insiders and relative outsiders to the New York financial establishment.

Each of these men, in his own way, catches wind of an unprecedented scandal in the making with regard to the bursting "bubble" of the United States real estate market, an event which plays out in extreme slo-mo over the course of three years. While Wolf's focus was on one stockbroker's life of depravity (albeit in the context of a culture of extreme and at times hilarious decadence), in Short, the presentation of depravity remains mostly vague and amorphous, because – paradoxically enough – it is so ubiquitously pervasive. There is no "bad guy," per se, here, because everyone is bad; the system taints everyone within it, to one extent or another, rendering corruption the norm, rather than the exception.

The movie itself is engrossing, but not exactly entrancing; while certainly very good, it cannot really be called great. I am quite sure that I'll forget about it in a few months, and that – a fine performance from Christian Bale as a socially awkward, glass-eyed metalhead idiot savant notwithstanding – it will fail to endure through the ages as a powerfully lacerating depiction of the evil that men do to obtain filthy lucre. In fact, what really fascinated me as I walked out of the theater wasn't anything directly pertinent to the film itself, but rather a sort of "meta-" question relating to the riddle of the film's very existence.

He saw it comin': Bale as eccentric savant Michael Burry
The Big Short, in short, goes out of its way to make clear that the real estate market meltdown was a global phenomenon. I mean "global" in both senses of that word: it was "global" in that it affected the entirety of the world (not just one country in the world), but also, it was "global" in that the problem clearly wasn't limited to bad decision-making from a few outliers in the banking industry. Instead, it appeared that nearly everyone involved was in some way complicit in the "subprime" shenanigans, wherein shortsighted greed steamrolled over common sense, leading to widespread fraud and unparalleled, nation-wrecking debt.

But The Big Short goes even further in its indictment. As one character soberly observes near the end of the film, the mega-banks, creditors, and predatory scam-artists couldn't finally claim ignorance due to neglect or stupidity. In fact, they must have known all along that their imprudent mortgage-lending would cause the bottom to fall out of the economy, leaving millions of people homeless and jobless and the world in chaos, but they pressed forward anyway, fully aware of the devastating crisis they were creating, out of a sure conviction that, after all, their bought buddies in the government would bail them out (which of course, happened), forcing law-abiding taxpayers to cover the obscene bill they'd run up.

The movie, that is, could not have been more scathing an indictment of the oligarchic financial elites of our age. And yet... the movie itself is obviously a high-budget venue, produced by a major Hollywood studio, featuring a top-dollar cast, including A-list stars like Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. Which is to say, the film is surely financed by the same claque of multimillionaires and billionaires whose behavior it so readily condemns.

What, then, does it mean that the very ruling class has seen fit to chronicle its own malfeasance in excruciating detail, dressing it up as a morality play about the wages of sin? Is it mere shameless cynicism, or something more complexly sinister: a sort of cinematic expression of #sorrynotsorry, that is, a "revelation of the method"?

Andy Nowicki, assistant editor of Alternative Right, is the author of eight books, including Under the Nihil, The Columbine Pilgrim, Considering Suicide, and Beauty and the Least. He occasionally updates his blog when the spirit moves him to do so. Visit his Soundcloud page.

No comments:

Post a Comment