The 2008 Global Financial Crisis shook the world to its core. When the American stock market crashed, I was eight years old and I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. Eight years later, I still only had a vague idea. Until I saw The Big Short.
To accurately portray what happened on Wall Street less than a decade ago, director Adam McKay assembled a cast as star-studded as the night sky. The acting front includes the likes of Brad Pitt, Steven Carell, Christian Bale, and Ryan Gosling, who seemed to take a break from making rom-coms just long enough to put out a great performance.
The Big Short begins in 2005.
Michael Burry (Christian Bale) discovers that the U.S. housing market is unstable and due to collapse. After having realised this damning trend, he decides to bet against the housing market, placing over a billion dollars spread over a number of banks on this seemingly impossible outcome.
Later, Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears about Burry’s investment, and decides to bet against the market as well. This creates a domino effect, leading Mark Baum (Steve Carell), to invest with his firm, which in turn inspires young investors Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) to hop on board as well, under the supervision of stock market mogul Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt).
The events that transpire are truly depressing.
Our protagonists come to the slow and steady realisation that the foundation of the American economy – housing loans – had been slowly collapsing for years. Houses with AAA ratings were being packed in with lower rated houses in a system rife with corruption, merely to present the façade of economic stability.
Despite the impending collapse of the market promising to turn a more than healthy profit for our main characters, each one is faced with the dilemma of becoming a profiteer.
Mark Baum (Steve Carell) is especially distressed with this notion. His character slowly descends into madness as he tries to hold the big banks accountable for their negligence, resulting in mass loss of homes and income for American citizens (and citizens of the world all over). Coupled with the guilt from his brother’s suicide, Baum wrestles to reconcile his impending wealth against the global tragedy that will soon ensue.
Apart from the shockingly raw emotion of the film’s actors, McKay presents the perfect amount of comic relief to lift the audience out of a depressive state. When the jargon got too heavy, the likes of Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez were brought in to give their take on the crisis in laymen’s terms.
Compared to other films with similar content who merely skimmed over the complex intricacies of the corporate world – namely Scorsese’s ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ – it was a nice change of pace to be given enough credit as an audience member to garner an explanation.
Fast paced cut-shots and montages add flair to The Big Short, which give a soft cushion to land on when the going gets tough.
This cushion comes in handy when our story arrives in Florida. Carell and his team go on a field trip to see if things are really as bad as they seem. They find entire suburbs empty, and on closer inspection of a house, are confronted with an alligator that has taken up residency in a pool.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert on Alligator’s, but one thing I do know is that they can submerge themselves in water for a very long time. Their patience allows them to go unnoticed, but when they strike, their powerful jaws and death roll are catastrophic for their victims. McKay uses this Alligator as a metaphor for Wall Street corruption. When the 99% are driven from their homes, the 1% lurks, waiting for its next meal to be taken without accountability.
McKay does an incredible job of portraying the effects of the GFC on all facets of society. His focus does not only concern the bankers behind the crash, instead, he turns his camera to the working class. Families, pencil pushers and strippers are given a voice throughout the film, emphasizing the indiscriminate effects of a market crash.
Before the credits role, McKay gives an alternative ending to the GFC where those responsible for the market crash were held responsible; bad guys were put behind bars and government reforms were made. Sadly, this is dispelled soon after.
The shocking reality of The Big Short, and its real world implications are that those individuals who caused the market crash went unpunished.
Instead, the banks were bailed out on the backs of the working class.
None of our six investors walked away enjoying their profit, emphasising that even when the individual wins, if the world is failing, we all are.