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Monday, September 08, 2014

When You're Rich, it's Easy to Win The Game

This afternoon Sylvia and I watched David Fincher's 1997 thriller The Game, starring Michael Douglas as a wealthy investment banker who gets caught up in the twists and turns of a labyrinthine conspiracy that turns his world upside-down.


I enjoyed the film's good performances, taut pacing and creepy atmosphere. And I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, where it turns out that "the game" was a plot engineered by the lead character's family and friends to save him from an isolated life of self-inflicted depression. I was half expecting a double-twist at the end, revealing that "the game" would continue after all, but the film plays it straight and the happy ending retains its integrity. It was even a little heartwarming.

But then, about thirty seconds after the credits rolled, I considered the film's unintentional subtext. Yes, the banker is at peace by film's end, thanks to his loving friends and family and their amazing gesture. But the game of the film is amazingly expensive, requiring dozens of actors, elaborate stunts, props, location rentals - it's enough to beggar the imagination, really. Luckily the people involved are rich, so they can afford the game's unique therapy, carefully chosen to meet the needs of the main character.

Furthermore, like many (if not most) works of popular culture, The Game sells the American Dream very hard; the lead drives a beautiful car, lives in a beautiful home, works in a beautiful office. Douglas' character enjoys a lifestyle most of us can only fantasize about - and fantasize we do, so efficiently are we programmed to serve as consumers rather than to act as citizens.

For the vast majority of people who don't enjoy such riches, mental health options are limited. There are no Games personally engineered to provide ecstatic catharsis. The fortunate might be able to afford a therapist and medication, while most simply fall through the cracks, where games of any kind are a luxury.

Perhaps it's unfair to weigh down Fincher's film with such baggage, but the assumptions of any work of art reveal much about our culture and its growing inequities. 


Totty said...

Thank God you warned me about spoilers regarding this 1997 movie. After 17 years, people are starting to talk.

Totty said...

Although, to be fair, my queue of unwatched DVDs might take me 17 years to catch up.

But I've seen The Game, more than 10 years ago.

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

Not everyone thinks the idea is far fetched; from IMDb's trivia for the film:
"Though the idea of drastically manipulating one's life, as it was done in the movie, may seem far-fetched or almost impossible, it does take place in real life, involving real people, and used as psychological operations or "psyops", overseen and controlled by various local and federal governments in United States."

Is it cold in here all of a sudden?

"Jeffward" said...

I had a friend spoil "The Village" for me not that long ago - I have yet to watch that film, and I doubt I ever will. And I watched "The Game" myself only a couple of months ago.

I've spoiled enough films for others, that it's just better to add the SPOILER comment no matter how old the film or book than it is to be the spoiler.

Another subtext to "The Game" is the idea of predeterminism. Can we control our own fate? In movies, the answer is almost always NO (I'm thinking of the rare film that uses unscripted footage to tell the story, but even so, once you've seen it, the film won't change the next time you care to watch it.).

Everything is scripted just like a Game, and of course, there are actors, props, effects and all of that same stuff that is in the movie. And The Game can only ever return identical results, which is why SPOILER warnings are so important.

The Game as a film is a simulation about a person leading a simulated life. So what we see is warped like a photocopy of a photocopy. I'm not sure we can find much truth in such third-hand storytelling, which is one thing that bugged me about the show. It's like a film about magicians: the director can just use movie logic to explain things that are otherwise impossible - Now You See Me, Now You Don't.

Still, the case for predeterminism is strong in movies, so it's seductive to assume that what goes for the movies also goes for real life. But does it? Really? YULETIDE CEPHALOPOD!

(But you knew I was going to end with that, didn't you!)