Sunday, January 15, 2012

Margin Call

"We used to make stuff in this stuff. Now we just put our hands in the next guy's pocket." 
- Frank Sobotka

Margin Call comes at the problem from a different angle than season 2 of The Wire, and comes at it 8 years later too, and with far less subtlety, but the similarity of perspective is found in this fact: two of the key players in Margin Call are engineers who turned their hands to the intangible world of finance; who went from building bridges to putting their hands in the next guy's pocket. What's more, it is these two who form the moral centre of the film. That they do so and it makes perfect sense is what makes the film so compelling, if not disturbing and even flat-out wrong.

Season 2 of The Wire begins with a party-boat full of rich people that has engine trouble. They are in the shipping lane and need to be brought in to shore to fix the damage. But one of the party's hosts takes a police officer aside, dips into his deep pockets, and pays the officer to simply toe the boat out of the way of the ships so that the party can continue uninterrupted: "A lot of partying going on now and I wouldn't wanna cut it short for a little engine trouble." Metaphors right, left, and centre here.

Margin Call shows us what happens to this party when someone informs the hosts that they -- and the many people who've accepted the invitation to come on board -- are in a boat that is about to go up in flames.

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