Monday, April 29, 2013

More Is Not More: Identity Thief & Big Government

"Look at her, she looks like a hobbit. I'm going after Bilbo." Why would this comparison be made? In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is a thief, hence the reason Gandalf chooses him to accompany them on their quest; Bilbo, however, steals back that which was stolen by the dragon Smaug (I know we haven't covered The Hobbit yet, but the act of stealing from the dragon illustrates the "recapturing" of what the devil stole from Adam and Eve when they committed Original Sin; more on this and the snake bite below). Diana (Melissa McCarthy) isn't Bilbo, Sandy the accountant (Jason Bateman) is Bilbo because he's trying to "take back what is rightfully his"; so, symbolically, who is Diana?
Big government.
We have mentioned the term "black hole" appearing more and more often: for example, in the upcoming Brad Pitt zombie drama World War Z, one character claims, "Russia is a black hole," and Disney films has committed to remaking it early 1980s sci-fi drama, The Black Hole. We have also discussed how the character of Mavis (Charlize Theron) in Young Adult is like a black hole, sucking up and using everything that comes in her path; similarly, we can say the same of Diana in Identity Thief, sucking everything up and leaving only destruction in her wake because it's through her astronomical bills and criminal record that she's tracked down by the police, Sandy and the drug dealers following her (next year's release Godzilla also shows us a monster leaving a massive wake of destruction across the country just like Diana). On a different note, why does Diana always punch people in the throat? Granted, it is a strategic, vulnerable place where a woman can maximize her advantage, however, the neck symbolizes how we are lead, the way a leash or a yoke can be put on us to guide or lead us in a certain way. Diana probably always goes for the jugular because she herself is so easily led by her appetites, she thinks everyone else is as well. What would stop a normal person (being punched in the throat) doesn't stop someone like Sandy who is driven by his morals and ideals. Additionally, Diana always seems to be "crashing," usually some kind of vehicle, but also emotionally (the emotional crashes we will discuss below) however, we can easily conclude that the vehicular crashes refer to "economic crashes" as in 2008, as well as the crashes between the American public over policies and the government over their lack of leadership.
A controversy was started when a critic made a shallow comment with regards to Ms. McCarthy's figure and weight; we have to ask objectively, however, with such an extensive pool of actresses to choose from, wouldn't there be a reason to go with McCarthy if size was an issue? In other words, isn't is fair to assume she was chosen because her size aides the audiences' understanding of who her character is? All we need to ask ourselves, then, is what is it in today's world that is "too big" and has an accountant as it's enemy?
Who else wears blue-and white checkers? Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz. This might seem like a stretch, I won't deny it, however, are we to make the connection to the young, innocent, beloved Dorothy (who is from Kansas, and sunflowers--like the ones on Diana's shirt--are the state flower) who was symbolic of the US government preparing to go "over the ocean" to the battlefields of World War II where socialism was ravaging Europe, a comparison for how unlike Dorothy our government is today for espousing socialism? We could say that, whereas the American government waged war against socialism then, today, our socialist government is waging war against us (please see A Call To Arms: The Wizard Of Oz & World War II for more).  If you will note in the background--and this isn't a fraction of everything she has, including the jet ski in her front yard that cost $4,300--just above her head, on the shelf, is two, unopened boxes of exactly the same thing, more unopened boxes stacked up behind her, a guitar she doesn't know how to play and just "stuff" all over the house. Just before this scene above, Diana stole Sandy's rental car; why is it a rental car? Because each of us is only "renting" the "vehicle" of the economy, we have to give it up to others and to the next generation (leaving the economy in good shape for the future Americans who will need to make their living from it). Diana, on the other hand, wrecks and disposes of everything without care, just like the government today with its outlandish spending (including Michelle Obama spending $10 million on vacations just in 3.5 years!) and bad programs, racking up the massive debt and attacking the Constitution.
When Sandy has tracked down Diana, she gives him the slip and steals his rental car and she goes through his luggage and randomly appropriate his toiletries for her own use. Please watch this clip, after Sandy has walked to Diana's house from where she left him on the road (Sandy found the registration with Diana's address on it in her car she wrecked after stealing his car); this scene provides a classic example of when there is more information in the background than the foreground action. A compulsive shopper, Diana has three of everything--at least--and all still in the boxes (the clip doesn't give a great view of how she has packed her house full, but it provides a glance):
Who else is so wasteful?
Who else buys more of what it needs, and fails to obtain what it does need? Who lies constantly, always giving us the "slip?" Who is consuming, consuming, consuming and running up a massive debt? Who is "too big?" There is only one answer to these questions: the government. The government's inefficiency and massive waste has, like Diana, racked up a now $17 trillion debt, we have lost our credit rating thanks to the Obama administration's failure to budget and its creation of programs such as free cell phones which has given the dead (as in, people who are buried and in their graves) their own cell phones costing at least $2.2 billion in 2012 alone. Why does the democrat/socialist government do things like this? Watch this clip, where Diana and Sandy are going back to Colorado and they have stopped on the road for dinner; please pay particular attention to the waitress:
Nearly every single thing out of Diana's mouth is a lie and she does it to get what she wants; specifically, she tells lies she thinks will play on the emotions of someone and, feeling sorry for her, they will give her what she wants, like the waitress in the clip above, who symbolizes you and me, the viewer, because we are supposed to feel as victimized as Sandy is because our identity has been stolen just like his: by the government. Diana making up stories about emotional abuse or communicating feelings of lack of self-worth stem from a culture of "entitlement" resulting in the creation of liberal entitlement programs which feed the downward spiral of people like Diana (there are people who genuinely benefit from assistance and deserve it, however, we all know there are people abusing the system and that is the point: people like Diana are bankrupting individuals by bankrupting the country, and the waitress in the clip doesn't do anything to help the problem.
There's another reason why Identity Thief would site The Hobbit: again, we haven't covered The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey yet, however, the film includes an entirely original scene of the wizards meeting to discuss Gandalf's fear that an old evil has risen anew and Saruman the White dismisses Gandalf's fears as unfounded; we know, however, that it's Saruman who--if not all ready at this point in the story, then shortly to follow--will fall victim to evil and turn from good to evil, so when Saruman speaks in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, we know this is a "dead man talking" because he has failed to heed the advice of Gandalf, either knowingly or unknowingly, and the good within him is dying as he gives himself over to evil. The scene reflects the growing portion of Americans reacting to the behavior of the government while those who support the government dismiss our concerns and agitation as petty. In Identity Thief, the outlandish behavior of Diana--symbolizing the government--validates the concerns of the growing socialism in the government and living at the expense of others, particularly the plans at wealth redistribution.
After Diana gets Sandy's credit card, what does she do? She parties at a bar. There have been numerous parties in films as of late, but what sets these recent party motifs apart from others is the outlandish nature of them and who has them. There is, for example, Project X, Spring Breakers, The Bling Ring, The Collection (at the night club they go to, and the same scene is in The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones) and The Watch. In Identity Thief, a revealing conversation takes place after Diana has racked up a $2,000 bar bill buying drinks for everyone all night: as Diana makes a spectacle of herself getting drunk (we could interpret that as "drunk on power") someone asks someone else, "Who is she?" to which they reply, "Who cares?" When the bar tenders--acting like Sandy in this scene--cut her off, Diana mentions that all those people at the bar are her friends, to which the bar tender replies, "People like you don't have any friends," and the scene exposes the kind of strategy typical of the Democratic "Party" securing votes from people who they promise food stamps to, free health care and free cell phones in exchange for being put back in power.
A big deal is consistently made over "Sandy" being a (traditionally) female name so why does a man have it? Sandy reveals at some point that his parents were big ball fans and he was named after Sanford "Sandy" Koufax; why is this a big deal? Koufax was the youngest ball player ever inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the first major league player to pitch four no-hitter games, so Koufax was an excellent ball player, a legend; where else has baseball played an important role in a film lately? Brad Pitt's Moneyball, a perfect metaphor for the "game" of capitalism and how America makes it work. That Sandy is named after such an important and famous ball player (and time is taken to inform the audience about that connection) clearly indicates that we are to understand him as a symbol of baseball and competition (we'll expand this discussion below regarding his role in the new business his colleagues start up). Given this important bit of information, we can now understand another detail about Sandy's character. May 18, 1974. The date upon which a character is born usually refers to an event or circumstance which "gave birth" to a new understanding or condition that character symbolizes within the narrative. In Sandy's case, that day saw the completion of the Soviet-sponsored Warsaw radio mast which was the tallest land-based structure ever built (until 2010) but then collapsed. Remember, please, that the film specifically sites Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead when mentioned by Cornish who tells Sandy to look it up (although the way Cornish understands the principles are not what Rand wrote in the book, more on that below), and that means we are to consult it as well in understanding the framework of the film, so the anti-socialist framework of The Fountainhead is mirrored in Identity Thief, strengthening the likelihood that the collapse of the Warsaw radio mast is meant to remind us of how unsustainable socialism is and it never lasts.   
Sandy, being an accountant whose family is struggling, is easy for us to identify with because those of us keeping "accounts" on what the government are doing, realize the government pretends to be acting in the name of "We the people," but are far from doing the will of the people in what it does and doesn't do, so, in this democracy, our own leaders have stolen our identity and are making us pay the bills for it. How can this be happening?
Bad capitalists.
Director Jon Favreau plays Sandy's boss Harold Cornish and provides us with the perfect example of what "bad capitalism" looks like. The painting behind Cornish's head is a perfect, graphic illustration: barrenness. The tree that doesn't bear fruit, the desolate landscape and the dark skies of a coming storm perfectly details the consequences of bosses who behave like Cornish. There is a part, just before the "set up" of robbing Cornish when, in the woods, Sandy is bitten on the neck by a snake (the same way Diana punches everyone in the throat). Given the setting is in the woods when it happens, and Diana has made an attempt to "come onto" Sandy, we can take this to be a "Garden Of Eden" moment with the same kind of consequences for Sandy as for Adam because, what follows is Sandy losing his status as a professional accountant and instead becoming a thief (the way the Forbidden Fruit was stolen from the Tree of Knowledge). That's why Sandy ends up wearing the shoes of a dead hobo, Sandy has sacrificed walking (the shoes) among the living--those employed--to be among the dead (the unemployed hobo) because he has been bitten by desperation to do what Diana has done, steal for what he needs. The dead hobo is an interesting introduction into the narrative, because usually a zombie bites someone and the newly dead person becomes a zombie (this includes the act of eating them), and we can see this in Sandy suspending his moral judgment to rob Cornish, that Sandy is the "walking dead" without his moral integrity to keep him alive. It's a plot device, commonly employed so an artist can show the viewer the digression from a state of (moral) well-being to a state of (moral) corruption and death. It warns viewers that it's not just "that character" or "those type" of people who can behave that way or commit a particular crime, it can happen to us as well.
Whether it's Bernie Madoff or the Lehmann Brothers, certain individuals who abused the system gave capitalism a bad enough name that revolutionaries felt 2008 was a good time to switch America over to socialism and Identity Thief certainly explores the role that greedy individuals like boss Harold Cornish contributed to ruining capitalism for everyone who was making it work. Giving himself and other senior management a $1.2 million bonus instead of the employees isn't good for the economy, it's not good for the business nor is it good for the ones getting the bonuses, and it's the brilliance of Identity Thief to categorize that accurately: for example, not giving the employees like Sandy a bonus when they need it so desperately decreases the employees' loyalty to the company (so he's willing to leave and start in the new company with co-workers), so the employees suffer from not getting the bonus, and the company Sandy works for suffers because it's losing its best employees who go off and start their own business which is exactly how good capitalism happens, the bad companies die and the good, hard-working employees get rewarded.  But it's also not good for the ones getting the bonus because Sandy is then tempted to "take revenge" against Cornish and steal his identity, so Cornish made himself a target for revenge.
The suit Sandy wears in this clip is stolen so Sandy could appear to be Cornish and get his personal information and rob him. The neck has played a pivotal, symbolic role in the film, so the bright red tie leads us to ask the question, what is it "leading" Sandy at this point in the story? Red symbolizes either love--because we are willing to shed our (red) blood for the person we love--or anger, because we are willing to shed their blood to compensate for the wrong they have done us. Clearly, the anger at how Cornish treated Sandy leads him to steal from Cornish because Sandy repeats to the accountant trying to keep him from getting Cornish's records, the same thing Cornish said to Sandy when Sandy got upset about not getting the bonus. There is nothing in capitalism rewarding greed, or revenge and Identity Thief wants us to be clear on what successful capitalism is and why it's worth hanging onto.
Cornish's character doesn't make the film anti-capitalist because we see good capitalism taking place and benefiting the new company that is started from the disgruntled employees as well as the continued interest Sandy shows in helping Diana when she's in prison; Cornish's character does show how he ruins it for everyone: it's not his wealth that's the problem it's his attitude about his wealth that's problematic but, again, Sandy demonstrates the "good capitalism" in helping Diana to become self-sufficient once she's out of jail because the well-being of others is in all our own best interests.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner