Notes From the Margins…

The Big Short

  • February 17, 2016
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Broadly speaking,  there are three types of political or socially-engaged cinema within  Hollywood.  The first category belongs to movies in which the politics are implicit rather than overt, but can nevertheless be detected or interpreted in the underlying ideological, cultural or racial assumptions and priorities that determine plot structures and storylines, or the way that certain characters or groups of people are represented.  Within this category you could place most Westerns featuring Native Americans, not to mention a whole range of science fiction films such as Independence Day, Starship Troopers andAvatar.

In the second place and this category can sometimes overlap with the first there are films whose overall intention is entertainment, but which nevertheless incorporate ongoing political debates or social issues into their plotlines, and make more overt political statements or messages without departing from the conventions of their particular genre.  Here you can find a vast list of films such asMagnum Force, The Green Berets, The Deer Hunter, Top Gun, Apocalypse Now, State of Siege orDjango

My review of The Big Short for Ceasefire magazine.  You can read the rest here:

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  1. Richard Carter

    19th Feb 2016 - 9:06 am

    Matt, I hate to disagree with you (first time this has happened!) but I went to see The Big Short after your recommendation and some quite good reviews, but I thought it was hopeless! It didn’t explain for me the business of ‘shorting’ and as for CDOs and the other stuff, I’m left as uncomprehending as I was before seeing it. I thought the joky methods (woman in a bubble bath drinking fizz, for example) were silly and anyway they didn’t work. And was it true that the whole shebang was orchestrated by just a few weirdos (as they were presented)?

    Admittedly, I may have missed something, perhaps something vital, since I fell asleep through boredom somewhere around the middle – I’m not sure for how long – but I’m afraid to say I thought the whole thing puerile, trivialising something hugely important in a failed attempt at explanation. Sorry!

    • Matt

      20th Feb 2016 - 7:52 am

      Sorry to hear it was a wasted experience for you Richard. Obviously I won’t attempt to persuade you to revise your view of the whole film – I take Freud’s view on jokes here: if someone doesn’t get a joke there’s no point in trying to explain why it’s funny. Falling asleep can’t have helped, though a film like this, caught in the wrong mood could have that effect. I would quibble on two points though 1) I thought the ‘joky methods’ using celebrities were partly a satirical take on the idea that people won’t actually listen to anything unless someone famous is saying it 2) I don’t think the film trivialised its subject matter – this was strictly gallows humour, and the underlying tone was one of gobsmacked anger and horror that such things were able to happen and are still happening.

      As for whether the whole thing was ‘orchestrated by a few weirdos’, don’t forget that the credit default betters didn’t orchestrate the crisis, they merely benefited from it. Paul Krugman thinks the film was mostly accurate, though he says it wasn’t just eight people who foresaw the crisis. See here:

      And no need to apologize, I’m sure we can survive not liking the same movie!

  2. Guano

    19th Feb 2016 - 9:14 am

    It’s a great film and you have done a great review. The film is about what are called today “the markets” but probably are not markets in the original sense: the product is not on display while the buyer and seller haggle over its value, and the assessment of its value comes from group-think rather any kind of examination of the product.

    Viewing should be compulsory for anyone who claims that Gordon Brown crashed the economy.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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