June 21, 2019

Ocean's Eight

The Sopranos was a kind of breakthrough in American film (or TV), in that the Mafia crime family comes off as more glamorous than sordid (kind of a cool, alternative way of life). Of course, they all get killed off or imprisoned by the end, thus staying within the bounds of conventional American morality: crime doesn't pay. And this is how I remember all of the cops-and-robbers movies of my younger days, namely that the bad guys come to a bad end, and virtue prevails. But the film Ocean's Eight(2018), starring Sandra Bullock and seven other assorted beauties, breaks the mold completely. It not only says that crime pays--the gals rip off $38 million per person from Cartier and the Met--and not only that it is glamorous, but that in its own way it is actually virtuous. As the eight ladies carry out their brilliant heist, step by step, the viewer finds himself cheering for them. And with the massive loot acquired, each of them is able to fulfill a lifelong dream--opening a pool hall, buying into an expensive co-op, quitting work and cruising the California coast on a fine motorbike, and so on--while we in the audience think, "Good on yer, mate!" That they defrauded a private corporation and America's number one public museum in the process--eh! Who gives a damn?

I couldn't help wondering, moreover, if this were a political statement, or even a political shift, whether intentional or not. The girls stick it to The Man, and come off as heroes for doing so. The morality here is hardly Crime Doesn't Pay; it's more the American Dream taken to its logical conclusion: Get Yours and Have Fun Doing It.

Perhaps this is just a shadow morality finally coming to the surface, like Trump, Hustler Extraordinaire, master of the shady deal, winding up in the White House. What is now seen as criminal is getting thrown in jail, as Debbie Ocean (=Sandra Bullock) did a few years prior to this caper, or being stuck in meaningless, dead-end jobs. As the film concludes, we are happy for these babes, and sit there wondering what we would do if $38 million suddenly fell into our laps. (Probably not give it to charity, although I would open up a World Wide Wafer Institute.) Cartier and the Met are just parts of the Establishment, within the Debbie Ocean paradigm; we should care if they suffer?

Thirty minutes before the caper goes into action, Debbie says to her colleagues: "You aren't doing this for me, and you aren't doing this for you. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl dreaming of becoming a criminal. You are doing this for her." So this is what (some) little girls out there now aspire to: a glamorous life of crime with a hefty payoff at the end.

The United States is a new place, really, and this is what I mean by a political shift. Most Americans couldn't care less about the sanctity of private property (Cartier) or about the common weal (the Met). The new morality, the new "virtue," is Get Yours Big Time. Of course, as Kant's notion of the Categorical Imperative tells us, if everyone acted this way, there would be no society--a good thing, according to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. And this is where we have arrived. Nor can you put the toothpaste back in the tube. You can't go from a criminal morality and an ethos of every man (or beautiful woman) for him(her) self to a genuine morality and an ethos of We're all in this together. No way. Ocean's Eight is a kind of instructional film for a society in disintegration. To further that process, we need many more films in this genre.

You go, girl!

(c)Morris Berman, 2019

June 16, 2019



Good discussion, let's keep it going. Meanwhile, check out The World Revolution of Westernization, by Theodore von Laue. It's a bit dated--1987--so nothing on fall of USSR, 9/11, or 2008--but a very close look at world events since WWI. Very prescient abt the US, however: see pp. 351-55.

Later, amigos-