If you utter the words downsizing or restructuring in today's climate, you're bound to send someone around you reeling. Even though our cruddy economy made it harder to green light new films, it actually drove theater sales -- thanks in part to 3D being so expensive. A little escapism to help us forget that times are tough never hurt anyone, however, cinema that actually delves into the anxiety of rough socioeconomic times often has valuable lessons to share. For the six-figure suits who get laid off in 'The Company Men' -- which hits theaters this Friday (check out Erik's review) -- it's about finding your footing when the private jets and VIP country club memberships go bye-bye, and starting from square one. Other movies have taught us how to deal with the despair, poverty, and strife of the depression (past and present). Find out how they can help you tackle these trying times, after the jump (possible spoilers ahead).
Get mad as hell.
Catharsis! 'Network's' Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is a veteran anchor for the UBS Evening News, but the network has struggled with poor ratings and is doomed to go off the air. Beale doesn't take kindly to this. He admits on live television that since the show is the only thing he had going for him, he plans on killing himself in a week's time. Before he can blink, he's immediately fired and then rehired where in lieu of an apology, he makes a rant for the ages about being "mad as hell." When life has taken a dump on your head and you don't know which way to turn, follow Beale's advice and just allow yourself to be angry first.
Michael Douglas' D-FENS did it in 'Falling Down,' when he raged on about a hamburger ...
Sing, because that's what everyone else seems to do.
Orphans sing about their struggles in 'Annie,' the Soggy Bottom Boys belt it out in 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' and Al Jolson croons about being a tramp in 'Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.' These are just a few of the films that have carried a tune about the sorrows of the Depression-era days. Talkin' 'bout being broke, going hungry and living on the streets sounds better when told during a song and dance number. Tell that to your boss before he lays you off.
When life gets complicated, distract yourself with love ... and bank robberies.
Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) in 'Bonnie and Clyde' (duh) may have been living a couple of miserable, small-town lives in the midst of the Great Depression, but love on the run caught on quick. Stickups and crime sprees shifted their relationship into high gear, until the couple were forced to part in a hail of bullets. Before they met their gruesome end, Bonnie wrote a poem about Clyde so people would always remember him. Clyde made sure to let Bonnie know she was "somethin' better than bein' a waitress." That's love.
Have faith that the good guys don't always finish last.
When The Bobs infiltrate the lives of a group of software engineers and start cutting expenses -- and people -- everyone in 'Office Space' handles the bad news differently. Peter undergoes hypnotherapy. Michael and Samir hack the accounting system. And then there's Milton. He's consistently forgotten (the man was laid off from his job years ago, but was never actually told), ignored and relegated to second-class citizen status after having his office moved to the basement with the cockroaches. Milton decides to turn things around for himself by burning the office down and makes off with the company's cash to Mexico. Not too shabby for a Swingline stapler weirdo.
Meanwhile in the dystopian depression universe, 'RoboCop's' Dick Jones (Ronny Cox) is a total corporate scumbag who gets his comeuppance when the good guy cyborg, otherwise known as RoboCop (Peter Weller), blasts him out the window of the Omni Consumer Products boardroom. When Jones' murderous scheme is uncovered he tries to kill the Old Man who runs OCP, but you can't keep a good robot down.
Consider all your options.
Sometimes you have to be a little ... creative about where your next paycheck is coming from. Chaney (Charles Bronson) in 'Hard Times' gets that, and drifts through the Great Depression on a freight train, eventually making some dough as a street fighter. Even though he gets involved with a "manager," Speed (James Coburn), who gambles his winnings away, Chaney -- the strong, silent type -- knuckles down to make things right before moving on. Chaney's not above beating the daylights out of a guy named Street (Nick Dimitri) to earn a few bucks when the chips are down.
Neither is boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) in 'Cinderella Man' who fights for food and his family during the Depression. He has a bum hand but never gives up -- delivering the blows necessary (in the ring and as a laborer) to fight against the odds and come out a winner.
Hope that Clarence was right.
'It's a Wonderful Life' was released after the Depression, but the sting of failing banks, the anxiety of unemployment and lack of affordable housing was still fresh in the public's mind. You catch a whiff of these problems in Capra's movie. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is a decent, hard-working man who blunders a bank deposit and tries to kill himself in the aftermath of his screw up. An angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) shows up who turns out to be George's heavenly guardian. He's like God's Jack Handey and reveals to George that his life is worth living by giving him a glimpse of what the world would be like without him in it. In the end, George lives and the town comes to his aid. Clarence leaves him with a few words of wisdom: "Remember no man is a failure who has friends." Fingers crossed, dude.
Go to the movies.
And we're back to square one. Movies are a great escape when the going gets tough. They also won't make your butt spread like a WoW bender or a tub of Ben & Jerry's. It's a chance to sit in the dark for two hours (sometimes longer -- thanks James Cameron!) and forget everything going on in your terrible, horrible world. Cecilia (Mia Farrow) has a serious movie habit in Woody Allen's 'The Purple Rose of Cairo.' Her job sucks, her marriage sucks, and she lives in New Jersey during the Great Depression. When a film character (Jeff Daniels) pops out of the screen, Cecilia embarks on a love affair with him while also getting caught up with "real life" actor, Gil (also Jeff Daniels). Cecilia eventually ends up alone (or at least going back to her unhappy marriage), but the film closes with her losing herself in another movie.