Remember that iconic scene at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life where the whole town of Bedford Falls comes together to bail out George Bailey from his financial losses? They save his life. They prove how much he’s worth to them.
What if that was you? Who would answer the call if YOU needed bailing out? Would people empty their pockets for you, or would they shrug away uncomfortably and avert their eyes?
In Jodie Foster’s newest directorial feat, Julia Roberts (Mother’s Day) plays Patty Fenn, a woman tasked with cleaning up after a lot of difficult men (raise your hand if that feels true to life!). More specifically, Patty is the director on a live TV program called Money Monster, where the host Lee Gates (George Clooney, Hail, Caesar!) makes stock tips and market predictions just a few steps away from Wall Street in New York City. Gates made a prediction recently that went pretty sour; a major organization (IBIS) is claiming an $800 billion loss due to a glitch with their computer algorithms.
A young man named Kyle (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken) sneaks his way into the studio posing as delivery man. With a gun. And a bomb. Which he then straps to Lee Gates, live on air, and starts demanding answers about the vanished $800 billion dollars, which happened to include his own life savings.
Greed, he says, is what causes these kinds of unexplained “glitches” at major corporations. Greed is what leads men like Lee Gates to be dismissive of the poor and unlucky. That much, Kyle insists, he understands, as he waves the bomb detonator in front of the cameras.
Has money turned us into monsters?
Or have we always been monsters?
I live in a highly capitalist country - one that’s zealously, proudly so. We assign monetary value to everything: time, effort, years. We make it easy for the rich to become richer. But at its core, I’m not sure Money Monster is quite a critique of that system. It seems to be about something a little more universal, a little harder to pinpoint.
The modern age of screens and lighting-fast information has made certain vices all too simple. It’s unbearably easy to sit back and watch someone else’s suffering, transfixed, without moving a muscle to intervene. The temptation to steal, hide, and lie becomes even stronger when it means simply moving numbers instead of banknotes, or tucking away data behind passwords and code.
No matter our country of origin or political system, a big enough bribe can induce almost anyone to silence. Sometimes the only ones willing to speak the truth are those already living in poverty and depression. Those who have nothing to lose.
At one point in the film, Lee Gates begs the viewers watching for help, saying, “we take of each other.” I know that’s my ideal reality for humanity - one like Bedford Falls where my neighbors come out in droves to make sure I’m not in harm’s way. But in reality, do we make that sacrifice? Am I living like your life is worth my sacrifice?
Do I want to? Is there hope for us?
Or are we living like monsters?