The 2010 feature The Company Men makes a significant statement about corporate morals, or lack thereof, and how corporations view as acceptable the devaluing and discarding of the men and women whose life’s blood made them what they are while only caring about the bottom line and shareholder interests. Naturally, it begs the question of whether it is enough to merely compensate such people with mere wages and benefits, or is respect and honor, and thus the acknowledgement that their wisdom and experience make them indispensable to a company’s continued future, due as well.
It also quite expertly showcases the immense greed that takes place in all of these places where – on the one hand – the executives who sit in their cushy 400 square feet corner offices with ceiling-to-floor windows and mahogany desks talk about cutting down and casually and without compunction lay off thousands of people while – at the same time – somehow having found the funds to buy a brand new building whose entire floor they retrofit to house three executes each pulling $15 million a year in cash plus about half of that in stocks and securities.
They lay off hard working, middle class, mind you, folks who have put in decades and endless hours into their jobs and who have mortgages to pay, kids to send to college and lives to live while in the same breath planning their exclusive winter getaway to some luxury resort with $500 dinners and $5000 a night suites. And these very men have gotten this rich not by actually producing something, or building something tangible that you can feel, touch and smell, but by pushing figures on a sheet – which is perhaps why they view their employees as nothing more than said figures on a sheet to be added or deleted off at will.
The sad reality is that too many of America’s companies (which means, not just Wall Street) have gotten quite cozy with this callous arrangement whereby actual people and their lives have stopped mattering, while greed and the bottom line have fully taken over. One example in this movie is the CEO who fires his best friend (Jones) whom he’s known from college and who helped him build the company he is being fired from, from the ground, without a trace of irony and compunction and even a smile on his face because hey, “business is business” and apparently nothing else matter; friendship, loyalty, devotion, honor and just doing the right thing are secondary when it comes to amassing wealth.
Companies today seldom strive for a higher standard of value that extends beyond the dollar and this movie does a great job at showing that.
That said, it still felt a bit out-of-touch and as if it was written by people who have genuinely never experienced economic hardship. So, if you are into movies where for some of the characters the idea of being poor is that they are no longer multi-millionaires but just regular millionaires or whose idea of being broke is that the wife cannot take the company jet to go shopping or that you may have to do the unspeakable, which is rent a town home instead of living in an estate with twelve gardeners, then this is the movie for you. Have at it.
Try feeling bad for people who went from 180k a year to half that. Try feeling bad for people who own ten million dollar mansions, who won’t be eating filet mignon and lobster every night anymore ’cause they got canned; try feeling bad for people who commit suicide because they can’t send their kid to a senior trip to Italy or just don’t have the heart to tell that kid what is going on (but think that being dead is apparently a better option than admitting that they have no money to send them on such a trip).
Try feeling bad for people whose monthly mortgage is just as high as one year’s tuition at Brown. Try feeling really sorry for someone who no longer gets to start their work days at 11am because they had just spent the last three hours on the golf course; feel heartbroken that some rich puke had to sell his overpriced sports-car or could, god forbid, not buy his kid a $400 dollar x-box.
I personally found it hard to feel entirely too sorry for them because real struggle post recession for many was facing card-board boxes as an alternative to a home, bankruptcy, loss of their entire life savings and retirements, loss of their health care as a result of loss of their jobs, not to mention chronic unemployment with sustenance level unemployment insurance pay (which ran out), the inability to feed their children and themselves and generally having to navigate a tedious existence stuck in the trenches of destitution without any real prospects in sight, thanks to a host of middle-class busting policies by both of our parties and a practically non-existent social-safety net.
It is amazing how the architects of the Ownership Society and Hard Work – people who carelessly assert that those who don’t have everything they need just aren’t trying hard enough or are lazy mooches and and who tell those very same people to “live within their means” and “suck it up” – themselves fall into a deep emotional and existential crisis when they are tasked with the unspeakable act of having to navigate life not as a semi millionaire, but as an ordinary, middle class person, and thus like hundreds of millions of others, who rent instead of owning and who drive one car instead of housing six in a garage the size of a family town-home.
These people expect poor people or just the normal guy on an average salary to not complain about being poor, low wages, lousy benefits and exploitative employers, but they themselves aren’t even willing to live, literally, even for one second without the luxuries and perks that come with immense wealthy and, who view their lives as so worthless without such wealth that they, in fact, commit suicide when all the luxuries, emphasis on luxuries, are taken away from them.
Objectively, none of the people in this movie, even after they lost their jobs, was in such a bad shape that one could call it destitute and, in fact, they were better off than most Americans today. It’s just that they no longer could spend $600 a month on dry cleaners or thousands of dollars on the country club membership.
As mentioned above, one of the characters commits suicide because he cannot pay for his kid’s tuition and his mortgage at the same time. While watching that I was sitting there thinking: really? You are willing to throw your life away and die because your head is so high up in the clouds that you cant even conceive to oh, I don’t know, maybe get a student loan for your kid and rent? You’d rather be dead than to tell your daughter that she may have to take a job to pay for her senior trip to Europe? You’d rather be mud and worms than to take out a student loan and rent the roof above your head?
Watching members of the 1% – which these people were, more or less, hit “hard times” – which really just means not living in obscene wealth they mostly cheated others out of (hence the economic meltdown), is not interesting and it does not evoke my sympathy. Yes, it really is bothersome to go from an almost 200k salary to a 90k one, but not as troublesome as going from a 50k salary to 0 without a job in sight and unemployment running out. Not being able to go to the country club doesn’t make you poor, but making $12 an hour, paying 35% of that in taxes and renting, does.
Halfway through the movie i realized that these people don’t know what real struggle is. What it means to only have 5 dollars left in your checking until payday, what destitution really is and it made me realize that being poor is not for weak and lazy people, but apparently being rich is.