A brief analysis on the film, Margin Call.
To avoid getting in to the habit of reviewing films, this will not be a film review, but an observation that has been on my periphery for sometime, and was magnified by the watching of said film.
This last Tuesday, in the middle of the work day, my business partner proposed watching a film, and I easily submitted to the idea. It was one concerning the not so past Wall Street debacle surrounding mortgage backed securities. The film was quite well done, featured an impressive, well chosen, cast and drew to light a series of contemporary issues.
Jeremy Irons: the climactic figure of a corporate power crescendo
The new Spock ( Zachary Quinto): being Spock, but in a financial setting. The new, highly intellectual, face of finance.
Kevin Spacey: a member of the old-guard, who becomes increasingly stressed out with what is going on within his industry.
A Dog: a symbol of whatever it is that Kevin is lamenting- probably loyalty.
There are a host of other characters and actors, all of which play a cliched yet necessary role. The film is complicated by the fact that everyone present evokes sympathy. The type of men featured in this film our often portrayed as embellished caricatures of malignance, so a move away from this kind of populist sentiment allows one to examine some factors of societal decline that transcend the blaming of a proverbial boogie man for all contemporary personal and collective. Perhaps that which is present within them, exists too within the majority, but is simply being expressed on a grander scale.
Opening: Kevin Spacey is distressed about his long time companion and friend, a Dog, who is dying. Simultaneous to this, two traders are getting fired, additional culls may occur at the firm, the industry is about to meltdown, and his long-time job and career trajectory is at stake, but Spacey is crying over the impending death of his dog. This scene draws a distinction between humanity and economics. Capitalism is not a morality, and there is a separation between the two. Since time immemorial, and certainly from the birth of the marketplace, to the advancement of capitalism, to its degradation, up until the form of economy and finance which graces us now, people went somewhere for their morality. It is not overly important where they went, what is important is that they went somehwere, and now many don’t.
Much of what has happened within contemporary economic and financial scheming is actually a series of moral shortfalls. People are disconnected from one another, there is less of an innate community perhaps, and increased technological processes has exacerbated this situation. Francis Underwood, appealing to Aramis’s lost integrity, recalls when they sold things of value to their customers, that no decent sales person would sell a valueless product to their customer base, as this would forsake the union between the two parties, nullifying the potential for future transactions. John Tud (Jeremy Irons), in the moment, is more concerned with the consequence of being stuck with a useless financial instrument.
Obviously, the origins of the problem is rooted not in the present but in mistakes of the past. Greed plays a role, yes, but what in history, if anything, mitigated mans penchant for acquiring more and more, despite the resonating signals of their environment. t
I am not proposing answers here. These are questions that relate to several of our current and defunct systems of commerce, education, finance, and governance. Finance and the wealthy who run it are the brunt of much anger and blame. This is only an aspect of what is wrong. Numbers and models do not have consciences, do not experience fear and joy, and do not care. Unfortunately, the people who have created them have become as clinically callous as their inventions. There is an ingredient missing from most of what we do as people.
In the end Spacey buries his dog. Alone in the veil of night he digs a whole in the grass of an upscale community. A community where he used to live, where only his ex-wife lives now. All the posturing, work, time, and dedication, and there is nothing to show for it, just a pit in the ground that will receive maybe the only true companion that he has ever known.
But what is he burying? Often dogs are thought to be a model best friend. This is probably because they don’t have the capacity to fuck you over. Dogs, in the face of hunger, abuse, and neglect, remain loyal. The man is burying loyalty, which is perhaps the missing link that evaded us only paragraphs ago. Where is loyalty generated from though? Does loyalty come from within, or from a system or structure. Is loyalty taught, is it natural, do we quash it over time, do others rob us of it, or is it simply to difficult to maintain loyal tendencies in an age such as ours?To whom do we owe loyalty? To all? To those we respect? To none?
At one point in the film, in a candid exchange between Irons and Spacey, the former states that he is simply a salesman, and some say we all are. How we sell what we sell says everything there is to say about us. If the essence of how we sell exists prior to the marketplace, then perhaps we should isolate its origins, and begin to seek other sources of blame for our current dilemma.