Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps

While Money Never Sleeps ostensibly takes place amidst the cutthroat world of high finance, the real theme of the film is fathers - failed fathers, surrogate fathers, would-be fathers, the fathers of Wall Street - and the guilt they often carry. It is also about the struggle for success and how often we are muddled about how to talk about it, define it and live with it.

Upon leaving prison, Gordon Gekko sets out to frame the time that he has left through two goals. He wants to reestablish a relationship with his now grown but estranged daughter and get back into the "game" of manipulating money, companies and people, the other part of his life that once provided meaning. While Gekko has already lost his son through a drug overdose while he was in prison, he is still not clear about which of his goals takes priority. He is, so to speak, emotionally over-leveraged. Jake Moore, an ambitious Wall Street investment banker, complicates matters as he is living with and plans to marry Gekko's daughter Winnie.

Sigmund Freud wrote a paper in 1916 titled 'Those Wrecked by Success,' the product of his clinical work with patients who fell ill "upon fulfillment of a wish and put an end to all enjoyment of it." Freud wrestled with the implications of desire - the ways in which guilt can surface at the most unexpected times, turning the anticipated satisfaction of achievement into symptoms.

The four main protagonists of the film - Gekko, Jake, Winnie and Bretton James (a contemporary version of Gekko's younger self) can't seem to succeed without also failing. If Gekko goes back to his old ways he loses his daughter. When Jake focuses too much on succeeding he loses Winnie. Winnie can't seem to distinguish between her father and Jake, even though she has agreed to marry him. And Bretton James, who runs a top investment bank and has Goya's Saturn Devouring His Children (a painting representing in part an uncontrollable appetite) on his office wall, is so hypnotized by his pursuit of success that he can only answer "more" when asked by Jake what his monetary end-game is.

In analytic terms the characters are compulsives, determined to act out repetitive patterns that they are not aware of. Freud, who also wrote about repetition compulsions, outlined not so much the cliche that if we don't remember our (unconscious) past we are condemned to repeat it, but rather that we often lack the ability to remember in ways that are healthy - or at least in ways that allow us to develop a different vocabulary when talking about ourselves. It is pretty clear to Director Oliver Stone that this compulsion to repeat can paralyze not only individuals but a whole society. If, as the British psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips suggests, the task of psychotherapy is to turn personal pain and crisis into meaning, then something similar can be said about an economic and social crisis. Politics is partly about who wins the battle of providing that meaning.

For Phillips, a breakdown can often be the precursor of a breakthrough, where previously repressed questions find their way to the surface. Some people go "insane" while others develop healthier ways of living. Applied to a society - our society - we face the same question. Will the most recent failure of capitalism - not crisis of greed - presage a further repetition and breakdown or a different way of talking about and debating what we want to be successful at? If, as Jon Stewart suggests, the Tea Party is an insane wing of our social life, then who represents the healthy political patient who is confronting the dirty and repressed secrets of poverty and inequality? Can we, in other words, fail in a way that is more productive because we actually learn something from it?

Stone, through the film's narrator, repeatedly invokes the word "insanity" to describe engaging in the same behavior but expecting a different result. The content of the film's economic message is not bad. During a talk at what looks to be a college, the fawning students cheer Gekko, now a celebrity criminal, when he channels historian Kevin Phillips to the effect that our country's economy has gone from manufacturing products to packaging and selling arcane financial instruments. Collateralized Debt Obligations anyone? We have a "disease" he says, that is "systemic and global." But the virtue of Kevin Phillip's book Bad Money is that he actually names the system - "global capitalism" - that organizes a large part of our lives and structures the logic of Wall Street. Stone, on the other had, lets Gekko get away with propounding the supposedly universal principle that the key drivers of human behavior are greed and envy. Greed is not good if it is used to explain too much, to reduce a historically contingent economic system to individual psychology. In fact greed is not an emotion that the vast majority of Americans have the ability to either experience or act upon. Most people are merely trying to survive.

Money Never Sleeps lacks what C. Wright Mills called a "sociological imagination," the analytical ability to describe "the problems of history, the problems of biography, and the problems of social structure in which biography and history intersect." What Stone does show us is that in the tortured logic of Wall Street, a person or company can only succeed when another person or company is failing. The appropriate analogy is Las Vegas.

Fathers disappear, are taken away, are thrown out or kill themselves. They also attempt to devour their children. But they also keep coming back to ask forgiveness and to reclaim their rightful place in the social and familial order. Wall Street is, after all, a very high end boys club. The movie implies that one of the only places of repose from the viciousness of economic life is the family - that haven in a heartless world.

There are allot of shiny baubles in Money Never Sleeps: new motorcycles, diamond earrings, and shimmering dresses. They are commodities and therefore come with a dis-satisfaction guarantee. But other than a vaguely "lefty" website that Winnie runs and Jake's earnest belief in investing in hydrogen fusion as the source of environmental redemption, there is not much dissent against the powers that be. If money never sleeps, the rest of society apparently does.

In this respect, at the end of the movie I felt like an activist's version of Bretton James. I wanted more.

Further Readings:

Adam Phillips - Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored
Adam Phillips - Flirtation
Kevin Phillips - Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of Capitalism
Goya - Robert Hughes (see the last chapter for the Spanish political context of Goya's Saturn painting)
C. Wright Mills - The Sociological Imagination


  1. great article kell. i'll send you a copy of the play i'm writing soon as it's finished - very similar themes. xoxo

  2. "It's an entertaining story about ambition, romance and predatory trading practices, but it seems more fascinated than angry. Is Stone suggesting this new reality has become embedded, and we're stuck with it?" Ebert.

  3. Admiring the hard work you put into your blog and in depth information you
    provide. It's nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same old rehashed information.
    Excellent read! I've saved your site and I'm adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

    Here is my web site ... sex verhalen incest

  4. I think this is one of the most important information for
    me. And i'm glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The site style is great, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

    Also visit my blog; erotic child stories

  5. I nеeԁed to poѕt уоu one very small worԁ to help thank уou ѕo muсh agаin foг the superb solutions уοu've featured on this site. It's сеrtainly generоus ωith ρeople like you to ѕupρlу
    without reѕtrаint what exaсtly a lot of fοlks would've distributed for an e-book to get some dough for their own end, precisely since you could possibly have tried it in the event you wanted. These advice likewise worked to provide a easy way to realize that other people have similar keenness just like my personal own to know the truth way more on the topic of this condition. I know there are lots of more pleasant opportunities ahead for people who check out your blog.

    Feel free to surf to my site porno opowiadania

    Work from home theory is fast gaining popularity because of the freedom and flexibility that comes with it. Since one is not bound by fixed working hours, they can schedule their work at the time when they feel most productive and convenient to them. Women & Men benefit a lot from this concept of work since they can balance their home and work perfectly. People mostly find that in this situation, their productivity is higher and stress levels lower. Those who like isolation and a tranquil work environment also tend to prefer this way of working. Today, with the kind of communication networks available, millions of people worldwide are considering this option.

    Women & Men who want to be independent but cannot afford to leave their responsibilities at home aside will benefit a lot from this concept of work. It makes it easier to maintain a healthy balance between home and work. The family doesn't get neglected and you can get your work done too. You can thus effectively juggle home responsibilities with your career. Working from home is definitely a viable option but it also needs a lot of hard work and discipline. You have to make a time schedule for yourself and stick to it. There will be a time frame of course for any job you take up and you have to fulfill that project within that time frame.

    There are many things that can be done working from home. A few of them is listed below that will give you a general idea about the benefits of this concept.

    This is the most common and highly preferred job that Women & Men like doing. Since in today's competitive world both the parents have to work they need a secure place to leave behind their children who will take care of them and parents can also relax without being worried all the time. In this job you don't require any degree or qualifications. You only have to know how to take care of children. Parents are happy to pay handsome salary and you can also earn a lot without putting too much of an effort.

    For those who have a garden or an open space at your disposal and are also interested in gardening can go for this method of earning money. If given proper time and efforts nursery business can flourish very well and you will earn handsomely. But just as all jobs establishing it will be a bit difficult but the end results are outstanding.

    Freelance can be in different wings. Either you can be a freelance reporter or a freelance photographer. You can also do designing or be in the advertising field doing project on your own. Being independent and working independently will depend on your field of work and the availability of its worth in the market. If you like doing jewellery designing you can do that at home totally independently. You can also work on freelancing as a marketing executive working from home. Wanna know more, email us on and we will send you information on how you can actually work as a marketing freelancer.

    Internet related work
    This is a very vast field and here sky is the limit. All you need is a computer and Internet facility. Whatever field you are into work at home is perfect match in the software field. You can match your time according to your convenience and complete whatever projects you get. To learn more about how to work from home, contact us today on workfromhome.otr@gmail.comand our team will get you started on some excellent work from home projects.

    Diet food
    Since now a days Women & Men are more conscious of the food that they eat hence they prefer to have homemade low cal food and if you can start supplying low cal food to various offices then it will be a very good source of income and not too much of efforts. You can hire a few ladies who will help you out and this can be a good business.

    Thus think over this concept and go ahead.