Watching John Wells’s The Company Men, I couldn’t help but recall the emergence of the faceless proletariat drones from their subterranean prison in Fritz Lang’s silent-film classic Metropolis from 1927. True, the systems employing the workers depicted in the two films are superficially quite different. On the one hand, few films seem a more scathing commentary on the evils of communism than Metropolis, with its critique of the expendability of the worker masses employed by a city ruler. On the other, the Global Transportation Systems (or GTX) executives in The Company Men would probably be viewed by many Americans as ruggedly individualistic capitalists who have deservedly eaten their slice of the American pie. However, the end results of the economic philosophies underlying the two films are not so dissimilar. Slaves towing the corporate line are just as expendable (and faceless) as slaves toiling for a commonwealth.
No, it’s not about horse betting or thieves divvying up their spoils. The subject of 50/50, a dramedy directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Will Reiser (and based on Reiser’s own battle with cancer), is confronting mortality. How would we (and our loved ones) find the strength to persevere if life handed us a cancer diagnosis and a one-in-two chance of surviving? Like Adam Lerner (Joseph-Gordon Levitt), we’d probably be wavering between despair and denial and be smoking medicinal grass (some of us anyway), wanting to experience any new pleasures that life had to offer.
Sam Mendes’s American Beauty (1999) is a movie I’d highly recommend to anyone who is as jaded and cynical about modernity as I am. Frankly, I can’t recall another film with more delightfully fatuous caricatures. But it’s so much more than that. Indeed, the film’s mordant satire can belie its depth if the viewer doesn’t heed the tag line’s admonition to “look closer.”
Given better forethought and more skilled direction, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan could have been great—or at least lived up to its reputation as a “psychological thriller.” Although its premise is compelling, its development is tedious and predictable. The film really is little more than a smutty teen flick disguised as a pretentious tale of character metamorphosis.