January 23, 2016

‘The Big Short’ … clever, smart and frightening



‘The Big Short’ is nominated for five 2016 Oscars. No wonder. It is exceptionally well done, cleverly presented, very well acted and directed and may leave you unnerved about the economic system we live in. That is, if you weren’t already unnerved and downright ticked about the 2007-2008 financial situation that was a result of the housing market “credit bubble” to put it more nicely that it deserves.

The truth is, the big player is this film is greed. Basically, in 2007- 2008, people bought homes they could not afford, people signed up for mortgages they could not afford, banks, private sector and government sponsored enterprises loaned them the money without careful review of the loans and when these “subprime borrowers” couldn’t pay their mortgages, it all went belly up.

Who bites the bullet? The homeowners did. For most homeowners, their home is their largest equity. When the bottom falls out, they are the ones who take the biggest hit. Although this film touches on how this situation affected regular people, the film is mostly about the once high rollers, how some of them saw what was coming and even made money on that.

The stunning part of this film is the number of characters we meet who seem to have no conscience at all. “I just like to make money,” says one hedge fund operator. The possibility that millions could lose jobs and homes doesn’t seem to faze many,
but a few struggle at the prospect.

The cinematography, editing, and breaking the fourth wall sometimes feel more like a docudrama than a feature film. Given the complex nature of these financial practices the producers use very clever ways to help us understand them. Celebrity cameos explaining financial situations humorously (and a bit condescendingly) attempt to shed light on complex situations that led to the crisis. Creative moviemakers succeed at explaining how clever creative crooks nearly destroyed the world economy. But there is little mention of who ultimately paid for this mess.

After seeing this film one is not surprised that greed is one of the seven deadly sins. This film shows in spades just how deadly this sin can be. And if you wonder just what the Bible says about borrowing and lending there are at least 29 different verses to consider.   

After all, as said years ago by American Catholic Bishops, “The economy should serve people, not the other way around.”  Why should the economy serve the people? Because we believe in a God of abundance. There is enough for everyone. This film painfully demonstrates that we have a long way to go before greed is replaced by a harvest to be justly shared.

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