The Big Short, or why Margot Robbie explaining economics in a bathtub works

Margot Robbie in "The Big Short" via YouTube

Just how often does one leave the cinema these days having actually learnt something?

It’s a question The Big Short, a movie about the men who managed to profit off the 2008 financial crisis, seems badly poised to answer in the affirmative. Economics plus douchebags seldom, if ever, equals entertainment.

Yet somehow, The Big Short works. And why? Because you’ll leave the cinema both smarter and angrier.

The reason for this is that film is a cleverly disguised two-hour crash course in economic history. And whilst this sounds terrible, the film is designed to give the power back to audiences by revealing to you how we all got screwed.

Have you ever trusted someone just because they sound like they know their stuff? Of course you have – we all have.

But how many people actually understand the financial crisis? It’s a subject shrouded in terminology designed to make you feel stupid, with phrases like “subprime mortgages”, “credit default swaps” and “collateralized debt obligations”.

As the movie highlights, the truth is that these terms – indeed, the details of the 2008 crash – are purposefully off-putting. They’re deployed to inflate the egos of academics and bankers whilst keeping the public ignorant of what the 1 percent get up to with our money.

The director and co-writer Adam McKay may not be known for serious films – this is the guy behind Anchorman. But without a doubt he is the film’s secret weapon.

There is indeed a scene, maligned by some on the internet, involving Margot Robbie in a bubble bath talking economic theory to you sexily. Far from being exploitative, this scene deliberately highlights the absurdities of the banking sector.

For instance, it’s no mistake that the aforementioned scene is delivered by A) a woman and B) an actress who starred in The Wolf of Wall Street.

McKay wants you to provoke you: After all, if the hot and (supposedly) ditzy trophy wife from The Wolf of Wall Street can understand this stuff you can too! (And that’s before we get on to the meta-narrative about women in Hollywood.)

Every scene has been meticulously crafted to try to empower and outrage you. Even at the end, the film features a disturbing prediction for our futures set to the music of When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin. If that isn’t a call to get pissed off before we’re all fucked, then I don’t know what is.

Hollywood has a history of making supposedly “socially important” films that are actually soothing. Think Schindler’s List or 12 Years a Slave – films that implicitly congratulate us for coming so far and doing so well.

In contrast to these, what makes The Big Short so exceptional is its willingness to point out how little you know and to explain to you that we’ve learnt nothing.

Image Credit – Margot Robbie in The Big Short via YouTube

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