The etymology of “monster” offers a few entries into Jodies Foster’s thought-provoking movie. The Latin term monstrum highlights the ominous (and signifying) dimension of her filmic project. The story calls forth different features of our world, with some underlying ethical call(ing).
“Money Monster”, avowedly referring to the name of a TV program that occupies center stage in the film, conjures up the Sphinx of Antiquity who would devour those who could not decipher its riddles. The TV show turns serious matters (investments) into a form of crude entertainment, trading numbers and human existence.
A cruel game dematerializing real-life consequences, dismissing responsibility as role-play, reenacting the cruel gods but without the relief of a deus ex machina.
Chronos eating its own children.
Let’s consider the different protagonists/players in this highly choreographed cinematic achievement (show) and Kaleidoscopic collision of images and motifs.
Money as monster, monster as money
THE DRAMATIC TOOLS
The movie successfully combines comedy and terror while rehearsing the strategies of the grotesque mode (with a gothic streak). The tenets of the grotesque—exaggeration and excess, distortion and incongruity, the monstrous and monstrosity—are indeed cleverly featured with a twist: in this case, the grotesque IS the real. The real IS grotesque.
The movie creates a scenic space (a gap) for us to see the abyss between different groups of people, within the Western world (such as between Kyle and Walt) and beyond.
The script stages a rich variety of characters
Heroes or no heroes? A good topic for discussion…
In the meantime:
A self-immolating figure who is willing to jeopardize everything he cherishes and owns.
Kyle’s desperate gesture recalls the luddite tradition of breaking your own working tools as a form of protest. But in this case the only tool at hand is his own existence.
In this media-dominated world, how can he (you) be heard or even seen? How can he gain access to the prized live coverage? The only solution he sees is to hijack—if only very briefly—the very tools of power. He becomes the “Glitch” in the well-oiled machine (s) (machinery) of high-frequency trading/capitalism, the cog that actually puts the unyielding money monster to a halt. He performs chaos in front of an invisible audience, speaking for and speaking against, blurring the line between the rehearsed line(s) and the improvised cue(s), echoing the despair of millions who have lost all their savings and dreams.
Some have even lost their lives.
The individual and the collective keep intersecting as the parallel editing registers the dynamics of effect/affect.
In the end Kyle falls prey to the very terror he has built up and acted out.
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” Audre Lorde
He is quickly marginalized as “unstable and crazy”, and ousted as a legitimate/reliable voice of protest against the “money monster” as a system. Yet his anger is easily identifiable, and can be heard all over the world today. The rapid dismissal of his act as an individual distortion suggests some pervasive blindness in a culture obsessed with seeing and being seen. The master narrative generated around Kyle’s gesture silences the possibility of entertaining his actions as a symptom of a real and collective madness.
The TV host who is faced with a deadly reality check.
Lee’s part illustrates the contrast between the apparent strength of the system and its vulnerability: a young man passing for a delivery boy walks into the studio and holds everyone hostage within a couple of seconds, in a tragic reversal of events. So used have the staff members become to excess infiltrating reality that his appearance on stage—as threatening and ominous as he creates it—is first perceived (and dismissed) as a “trick”. A few minutes are necessary for the flesh and blood protagonists in the wings to realize that the threat at hand is not “part of the show”. The theatrical illusion is broken as the reality of the monster is unveiled: money—won and lost—sets up this kind of terrifying script which turns out to be a fatal trap. Sometimes, indeed, things are lost. Never to be “reinvested” again.
Lee’s sudden awareness of his bodily vulnerability functions as a cathartic wake-up call to the monstrosity of the game he has played. The eye-opening moment comes for him with the realization that his jeopardized life does not trigger the empathy that, in his arrogance, he has assumed. “How much do you value my life?” He, like the people he entertains and deceives more or less knowingly, is no more than a pawn on a monstrous board game—a disposable commodity, actually, as he discovers with terror. Loyalties, like the markets, are volatile.
There is no human compassion to be called to the rescue in the merciless world of the money monster he has himself engineered.
The CEO who has played and lost
A gambler? A puppet? A risk-taker?
“What law did I break? What did I do wrong? Is it wrong to make a profit?”
When is it right? When does it become wrong? The twisting of a deeply entrenched credo of the American dream has turned the business ethos into a grotesquerie.
His statement “that was wrong” is pitted against the erasure of the very notion of wrongness.
As CEO of Ibis Clear Capital, he is the (true?) villain who capitalizes on people’s misery and can “afford” a strike.
PR consultant who has turned into a vigilante.
Even people who seem to walk above the fray such as high-powered consultants may be dismissed as disposable players in the money monster economy.
Yet, when Diana discovers her boss’s corruption, her agency counters the sentence according to which “women like you” can be used and thrown away. Her character provides an interesting variation on the figure of the con (wo)man.
– Patty Fenn
The show’s director who tries to provide the show with some ending
She tries to juggle the threat, the fear, the hysteria, the live TV playing with death. As a professional she still aims at perfection, trying to fix the shadow” on Kyle’s face.
As a woman, she also wants to go after truth. The truth.
Diana’s double, in a way.
–Lenny (just Lenny)
The cameraman who just gets to say: “I was just doing my job”.
Standing for the millions of people on the job, doing their job, fed to—rather than feeding on—the money monster
The union leader who will not strike a deal with the dark side by refusing to be bribed to break the strike.
At first mistaken for a place and/or a thing, Mambo is in fact a person in a place (South Africa). Incorruptible and unbending. The (other) unexpected cog (glitch) in the well-oiled logic of fraud via insider trading: he cannot be resolved or processed.
“South Africa” conjures up poverty, violence, wealth and inequalities, trumping Geneva—in this script—as the site for questionable business ventures and other shady dealings.
The “subalterns” in the postcolonial phrase and image
–The crew, the PR staff, the miners, the police officers. All the underdogs who do the clean-up, risk their lives, their savings, their dreams. American or not.
And others beyond.
Tragic pawns rather than players on the board game of capitalism/the new global order.
Their strike allows a sneak preview of the real poverty of the real world that is set to undermine the system sooner or later.
They offer a mirror image of ourselves toiling in urban mines, shouting our protest, striking when and if we can.
A quick but powerful glance at the other gap (the Other’s gap): their screaming functions like a chorus. Real workers perform some dance in the shadow of the money monster, evoking characters backstage as those haunting the scenes of A Streetcar Named Desire or/and echoing Linda’s phrase in Death of a Salesman: “Attention must be paid”
Will attention (ever) be paid?
Footnote on the protagonist “the mine”
Nick Richardson writes in his review of the 2014 V&A exhibition titled “Disobedient Objects”: “The cleverest thing at the exhibition is an app created by the Italian tech-activist group Molleindustria called Phone Story. It’s a computer game in which you have to manage the production of an iPhone: you start by forcing Congolese children to mine coltan, then you try to prevent workers at a factory in China from committing suicide; in the final level you dump tons of electronic waste in Pakistan. ‘Don’t pretend you’re not complicit,’ a robot wheedles at you” London Review of Books (LRB vol. 36, No 19, 9 October 2014, full review available online)
(see the recent demonstrations such as in Montreal in June 2016 against Apple and other smart phone manufacturers regarding the traceability of their cobalt parts extracted by children in some parts of the world)
–In other parts of the world (Seoul, in the movie)
Enslaved mathematical minds lured to/bound for/bound to money making endeavors—the algorithms designers referred to as “quants”, which sounds like the name of a new species. Anonymous, invisible…the contemporary invisible hand of trade perhaps…
A two-tiered audience: the audience of the program (seen and invisible, real and imagined), and the viewers: us.
The parallel editing of the movie lets us glance at our doubles: citizens of the working world (the reality of bills to pay, investments to be made or cancelled, decent wages to be sought) momentarily arrested by some images on a screen, before going back on the tread (trade) mill….
People who walk away to act out Kyle’s cycle of poverty: “How can you live on 14 dollar an hour wage in NYC?”.
That is the question.
Them and us, us and them, tied up in the same conundrum, sharing in the same hopes and fears, skepticism, disgust, excitement and weariness.
Like the audience in the film, we have to move on. We leave the movie theatre to resume our daily lives, as they do in the film.
Like them, we will await the next show—next week’s show or movie.
High tech cameras
Life vests full of explosives (or clay)
Letting the monster (cat) out of the bag.
Or is it an octopus?
Or a whale?
Intrusion of the gruesome reality of terrorism, fear and human vulnerability
High frequency trading “incident”: as a result, 800 million dollars have “vanished” (this unimaginable amount—a figure of excess and hyperbole— becomes a grotesquerie when Kyle spells out his hourly salary and life savings)…
Human tampering of the sophisticated science and beauty of algorithms, the new (hot) traders.
High frequency trading pitted against fraud
Dysfunctional universe of high-frequency trading
Echoing a real incident called Flash Crash that took place on May 6, 2010 and inspired Michael Lewis 2014 book Flash Boys: Cracking the Money Code (reviewed by John Lanchester for the LRB, vol. 36, no 11, 5 June 2014, available online)
In the movie: human tampering of the algorithms is the real problem
The computer becomes the easy culprit (and scapegoat) as it is faulted for having lost 800 million dollars.
Streetcar comes to mind again/anew: Stanley cannot grasp and process Blanche’s mantra “We have lost Belle-Rive”
As it turns out, “human touch” (read: greed) has twisted the grand design of mathematical precision. The fault-proof design is undermined by basic human corruption.
Omnipresence of e-trading
People’s whims dictate the market
The master/servant dialectic takes many forms and postures:
Kyle and his job
Lee and his studio
Diane and the company
Walt and the “others” out there doing better business
Mambo and the miners
THE ACTIONS (PERIPETEIA)
The walk down Manhattan streets—the day that world stood still—would have been dismissed as a good comic scene, in a different context and time. Today we can only too tragically relate to the pervasive feeling of dread and fear—the sense of being held hostage to our own fear of death and destruction, our very lives dependent on being in the right place at the right time, as opposed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The clock ticking, the life vest full of explosives, the guns.
The shadows—or are they the Shades of our cave—gather up in broad daylight.
Lee and Kyle are (re)united in a grotesque march down the streets: when Kyle reveals to Lee that the jacket is in fact full of clay, another point is made: as long as you can walk the walk and talk the talk, the simulacrum works. Pretense and truth? All bombs look the same in this context of terror. No way to tell whether they are acting or acting out.
The theatre of terror and horror.
THE CATHARSIS (?)
Kyle extorts “The truth” from Walt:
Cathartic moment of relief at retrieving another “human touch”: the moral distinction between what is right and what is wrong.
“That was wrong” and ”I just wanted you to say it”: the two key lines rehearse the urgency of the performative agency of words that are uttered and heard/that are uttered to be heard/that are heard because they are uttered.
Yet, we fathom an uncanny gap between the means and the end in a replay of Conradian horror in the midst of our heart of darkness.
The flat and incongruous question—“What are we going to do for next week’s show?”—opens an interpretative game without play.
The show—literally—must go on, clearing some space and providing surprise anew.
What kind of ending will it provide?
« Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. » (Macbeth , Act V, Scene V)