Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Very Bad Things (1998): Purposefully misconstruing a movie

Very Bad Things (1998)
dir: Peter Berg

I've loved Very Bad Things since it came out in theaters. It was savaged by critics upon release for its myriad of issues regarding gratuitous violence, black as black humor, and even attempts at seeing it as a racist movie. Yes, it very much is gratuitously violent, as it is a horror movie dressed in comedy clothing. No, it isn't racist, fuck you very much Roger Ebert.

One thing I noticed after watching the movie post-financial crisis is that this movie could easily be construed as a financial crisis allegory. Now, obviously, this is a completely wrong interpretation as the movie came out 10 YEARS before the financial crisis reared its ugly head, but if you indulge me I'm going to misconstrue this movie in every possible way in order to see something that's definitely not there, but I found fascinating nonetheless.

First thing's first. This is a bachelor party movie that also has a wedding in it. The party consists of five guys, and we're introduced to most of them at or through their jobs. The bachelor is Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau), who works in banking or finance. He works with two brothers, Michael and Adam Berkow (Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern). The best man of the wedding is Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), who is introduced by way of his real estate sign. The last partygoer is Charles Moore (Leland Orser) who is a blue-collar mechanic.

So, 3 financial workers, 1 real estate agent, and a mechanic.  Kyle is getting married to Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz), and Adam is married to Lois (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Adam also has two kids, one who is angry as fuck and the other who is a crippled kid. Laura is introduced in a government office waiting with Kyle to sign their marriage certificate and stating demands and rules while constantly demanding validation of their connection. Lois is introduced watching over the group with a camera and also setting rules for the group (No Smoking), which Boyd flagrantly breaks in front of her.

It's easy to see this as an allegory where we have the financial and real estate sectors with a token blue-collar friend. And, two of them are married or getting married to the government. And, the two kids represent America and its future.

This group of financial and real estate sectors go to Las Vegas to celebrate the inevitable further tying of finance and government. While in Vegas, they drink, party, do drugs and talk about things from the dumbing down of the future generations ("I'm not going to force my kids to learn"), how to manipulate the next generations through marketing tactics ("Don't eyeball your kids"), delusional paranoia, and Scorched Earth Scenarios while watching WWF wrestling. Then, as they're partying down, the hooker comes in.

The hooker, like Moore, is representative of the workers in America. She knows what she is, and she does what's asked, but charges for it. Moore is blue-collar while the hooker is more white collar. Moore is more middle class, but the hooker is lower-class (despite her charging exorbitant amounts of money). The lower class seduces the upper class, sort of in a game. And, she pays for that by being killed on a towel rack through the head. So, the financial sector used the lower class, didn't pay them for their work, then ultimately killed them while fucking them. Simultaneously, the middle class is rough and tumbling with the financial and real estate sectors, and almost kills himself by jumping through the glass table.

Uh oh. This is not good. Everybody starts to panic, but their fearless leader tells them that they can hide this. And, then the security guard shows up. The security guard is like the pathetic arm of the government that wants to enforce the laws and make sure everybody is going OK. Maybe get a little hand out as long as nobody is dead. The cops are corrupt. And, when he gets a glimpse of the dead lower-class, and starts to ask about it, he gets killed with a corkscrew. So, now the finance and the real estate sector together have killed the lower class, had the middle class hurt itself for its entertainment, and then killed an enforcement or regulatory agency.

They then chop up the bodies, and hide them to clean up their crimes. Of course, they are going to bury them in the desert, but you can't bury the lower class with the regulatory agencies. They'll find out about each other. So, they get buried in separate packages. On their way home to the government, they get cleaned up and go through a slight remorse that lasts for the total duration of the ride home. There's no real guilt. There is mainly the worry that they'll get caught. And there's mainly the worry that the security guard has children who will increase the likelihood for the search.

They return home, and the government-as-wives are waiting to see them with open arms and wanting to make sure everything is OK for their press conference...er...wedding that will happen in a couple of days. But, Adam, the financial sector already married to the government with two kids who are the future generations, catches the fear. In a gas station scene where he is filling up his minivan while the family is waiting, Adam isn't wanting to talk to anybody about anything for fear of giving up the game, meanwhile the future is starting to ring in his ears. The government distracts the next generation with a new shiny: Whizzers. But, the government can't get them for the kids, so the financial sector has to get it for them. When he can't produce the pacifying candy due to his distracting paranoia, he almost gets into a car accident, damaging the surface of the government.

At the rehearsal wedding dinner, which normally happens the night before the wedding, the family financial sector, who owns a minivan aka the American symbol of family, loses his cool, and fights with another financial sector, his brother. Michael is intent on insulting the families and future of America ("your kids are one crutch away from a telethon"). But, Adam is steadfast in his beliefs of the union of finance, government and the future. Still, Michael in his SUV (a symbol of emptiness, testosterone, and waste at that time), wants to kill the old ties by way of killing the minivan. Adam gets in the way, and down goes one financial institution at the hands of another. And, to display how untouchable these people are, in the hospital, the police don't even arrest Michael.

The widowed government gets hints of what has been down, but doesn't have the details. So, she calls everybody into a hearing to try to figure out the facts. First the boys pull the wool over her eyes by telling her that Adam had played with the lower class (fucked a hooker), and that he had a habit of fucking the lower class. She breaks down and tells them, impotently, that she doesn't believe them, half because she can't, and have because she doesn't want to.  But, then Boyd kills half of the government by fighting with it, and strangling it. Then, Boyd kills the second financial institution, Michael, and makes it look like the now-defunct financial sector and that part of the government killed each other.

Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz government has been looking after the future who are pissed as fuck. They destroy her well laid out plans to have a happy celebration by throwing a basketball on it. Then Diaz and Fisher find out they're responsible for looking after the future by themselves. So, the whole financial sector has been consolidated to one person, looking after the future.  The future goes from one financial sector/government pairing to another. And, there was no real win for this transaction as the money has been leached out of the supposed payoff.

You may have noticed that the worker, Moore, hasn't been killed yet nor has he been talked about much since Vegas. In reality, he doesn't really do anything from the hooker scene until the climax. Oh sure, the worker is still hanging around, but does absolutely nothing throughout the course of the movie until the very end. Because, you can't kill the workers completely, otherwise you have no product.

At the wedding, the government puts the final nail in the real estate sector. The worker tentatively checks on him when the real estate leaches on to him. Thusly, the knot between government and finance is tied and at peace. Until the government wants to make sure that none of the bodies are found and demands that the financial sector re-bury them in the desert, kill the worker, and the dog.

And, it's only here, in the finale, where the details turn from allegorical summation into revenge fantasy. In the real world, the financial sector would have killed the worker and lived with the government happily ever after while keeping an eye on the crippled future of America. That's how it really would have ended had Peter Berg not wanted to make this a morality tale. And, to be honest, most black comedies are morality tales. Most of the times, the morals come together in the bad people getting their dues and morality living on, but luckily we don't get that either.

In the movie's ending, the financial sector, realizing that you can't completely kill the worker, lets him live. Until they get in a car accident, crippling both the financial sector and the workers. Which leaves a now commoned and ugly government to try to clean up the mess. And the future of America is either angry and crippled, or just angry. One calls the government "your bitch wife" while the angry one pointedly asks "Is the bathroom clean? It better be spotless."  The worker is now paralyzed in a wheelchair doing circles. The financial sector lost his legs. And, the government freaks out and trying to kill herself in traffic.  Which isn't that bad of a guess either, all things considered (government stoppages, etc).

Of course, none of this is really there. It's all a little like looking at Nostradamus' predictions and trying to assign value to their words and placing the warnings on the phrases after the events happened. See? He was trying to tell us that there would be an Earthquake! See...Peter Berg was subliminally preparing us for the oncoming financial and real estate crisis that would be happening. It could be a little PKD'ish if this were true. Or, maybe it's more Room 237 where people are seeing things they want to see.

Even though this allegory is very much not true, I love Very Bad Things. It's one of the bleakest most horrific belly laughing comedies that was never going to make the mainstream I have seen. It ranks close to Man Bites Dog with its blend of horror and gallows humor.  But, unlike Man Bites Dog, Very Bad Things ends with a scene of passive-aggressive revenge that doesn't sit well with people who want the bad people to suffer.  Recommended.

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