Why do our films toe the moral line?
Ever wondered why many of our films feel the need to spell out the moral of the story? Or leave us with a responsible message at the end of it. Hollywood never feels the need to and is not afraid to take sides, even if means being politically incorrect. European cinema often questions the very notion of morality. Right and wrong sometimes is too simplistic and reductionist a lesson shoved down our throats.
Rewind your mind to this brilliant exchange in David Fincher’s The Social Network when the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is being interrogated.
“Lawyer: Do you think I deserve your full attention?
Zuckerberg: I had to swear an oath before we began this deposition, and I don’t want to perjure myself, so I have a legal obligation to say no.
Lawyer: Okay — no. You don’t think I deserve your attention.
Zuckerberg: I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try — but there’s no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention — you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and, especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing.
[pause] Zuckerberg: Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”
And we almost clapped. We were on his side though the lawyers were just doing their job.
There’s a similar moment in Martin Scorsese’s morally questionable The Wolf of Wall Street when FBI officers land up on corrupt stock broker Jordan Belfort’s yacht to question him about his trade practices and he kicks them off the boat insulting their pay grade when they seem too righteous. He pulls out a wad of cash from his pocket and teases them that he had what they made in a year and throws the notes away, calling them fun coupons. The audience clapped. They just loved him.
The Wolf of Wall Street is based on Jordon Belfort’s book and came to be severely criticised for glorifying the “greed is good” behaviour. And producer and lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio went on record in an interview to clarify: “This film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behaviour, that we’re indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you’ll realise what we’re saying about these people and this world, because it’s an intoxicating one.” (Interview in Variety magazine)
But in today’s times, everyone who uses Facebook is in awe of Zuckerberg. In our times of recession, everyone wants to get rich and is in complete awe of men who turned their lives around and got what they wanted. Cautionary tales sometimes caution you the other way around, especially since Fincher and Scorsese make it look so damn cool.
Are these films telling you “This kind of greed will make you pay?” Or are they saying “It’s good to be greedy but don’t get caught.” Is the cautionary bit or the moral of the story: “Don’t get caught”?
Both these modern heroes — Zuckerberg and Belfort — ended up choosing personal gain over friendship. The movies DO show us that they lost something, though they made truckloads of money. How we respond to this loss tells us something about ourselves more than the films or the filmmakers or the flawed “heroes” of these films.
Back home, we have moral custodians, the Central Board of Film Certification that makes sure that every film ends with the right message. If the hero becomes a vigilante, the Censors, until recently, made sure there’s a clip inserted before the happy ending that tells us that the hero served some time in prison. They couldn’t get away with murder. If a girl is shown drinking, the board members are quick to ask you to remove it because it shows women in bad light. They couldn’t even get away with drinking.
The Wolf of Wall Street has all kinds of drinking, drug and sexual content and it’s quite a miracle that the film made it here, with only seven minutes of moral policing, despite being rated as an Adult film. Moral of the story? Even adults in India are not allowed to watch debauchery or morally wrong content because... Well, it is bad behaviour, children.