Reel Reflections: The Big Short


BigShortEconomic Jenga

By E. P. Whinters

What if you had the opportunity to make your most incredible dream come true, to actually achieve the success you have always dreamed of for yourself? … But it comes far from great for many others? Or at the collapse of an institution our reality is built on? It’s coming anyway; would you still take the opportunity and benefit if you cannot stop it from happening?

That’s the basic premise of the movie The Big Short, up for 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, and Supporting Actor. This movie is an incredible combination of basic lessons in finance and banking, quirky and odd characters that are comical and occasionally ‘break the fourth wall’ as they speak directly to you, and sickening, gut-wrenching realization of the tip of the iceburg that led to the housing and global financial crash of 2008. How the director managed all this in two hours is impressive!

The narrative, based on the novel by Michael Lewis, follows 3 real-life small groups of people, generally unconnected, that clue into the impending global financial/economic collapse of 2008 and how they go about benefiting from the ignorance of the entire system by shorting the housing mortgages (simply explained). For the viewers in banking and finance, the fuller explanations scattered throughout are not necessary, but for the rest of us, they are required; even if not completely understood, you get enough to wrap your brain around the general gist of the information to understand the real-life story behind the film. My one caution: if you have sensitive ears, this script is blue with f-bombs and those with delicate hearing need to ignore it for the worth and value of the film.

The three groups of people are all quirky, odd-balls in their own ways (you might not even recognize a few top-billed actors!). Glamourous Hollywood actors playing and becoming characters so far from ‘glamour’ that those people we see in the film that are polished and have all the allure of opulent beauty are the ones that are distasteful and gaudy and misplaced. Perhaps it is possible to find a new respect for Hollywood in this film.

Christian Bale’s portrayal of Dr. Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager (with a background in medicine and likely suffering from Asperger syndrome) is exceptional. You really sense the indescribable genius, the uncanny “how did he see that?” of the real Dr. Burry who was the first to read the signs of the impending catastrophe, to put everything on the line with his convictions, while at the same time, your heart aches with empathizing with the internal struggle he goes through as he doesn’t fit in, as people don’t understand him and dismiss him because he’s so odd. Kudos to Bale for bringing Burry to life for us!

The movie is a comedy … but unlike most comedies presented to us. It’s not a physical or dark comedy, like we are used to, but the “humour” comes from the unbelievable ignorance of an enormous system that is so caught up in their greed as they play the masses who blindly follow them like lemmings over the edge to unbelievable destruction. Perhaps this film plays more a parable, a true-life parable, for I can guarantee you, for all the chuckles you will have, by the end of the film, you will not be laughing. A friend compared it to being hit by a Mack truck … that you sensed was coming, but completely blindsided you in your ignorance with its power and sickening realization as it sinks into you with all the kick-in-the-gut reality it has to give.

As full of comedic moments as this film is, the movie delivers one of possibly the most power ful and eye-opening, as money-hungry-Hollywood, has ever delivered. It reaches the point where one more laugh will make you sick, and the director plays this delicate line with finesse and point. By the end of the film, you knew you laughed, but now you might have tears in your eyes, and you also might have that sick feeling that we are on the edge of another catastrophe; same? different? The similarity in signs is frightening.

My thought as I left the theatre – Humour can play a powerful purpose: a very difficult film, seductively wrapped in frothy paper of comedy that we need to see and use to open our eyes to each situation so we don’t get blindsided in our own worlds. Yes, this movie made me distrust the banking and financial system … but more so, it made me sceptical of other controlling groups in our world today. We don’t have the banking system that the United States has, but we have other systems that control us and our future just as much if not more. “For every 1% rise in unemployment, it results in 4000 deaths,” a character quotes in the film; fully true or only in part, the fallout is staggering and signs are there for us to see. Oh, that every one of our government officials, municipal, provincial and federal, would see this movie and use what they know to change the path we, the people and society depending on them, seem to be on!

So, would you? Succeed, regardless the cost? A difficult answer … society teaches us to say ‘yes’, this movie reflects that answer, especially when you can’t change the outcome anyway. Your answer is for you alone. Regardless, keep your eyes open; who knows what is around the corner.

Academy Award Nominations for:

  • Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Best Achievement in Directing: Adam McKay
  • Best Performance by a Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
  • Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay: Charles Randolph
  • Best Achievement in Film Editing: Hank Corwin