Arbitrage The Movie As Commentary on Western Women?
By Rod Van Mechelen
Is Arbitrage a masculist movie subtly commenting on the character of the modern western woman?
A deeply flawed man
2012 Olympia, Wash. - I just watched the movie, Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, and Brit Marling. (A big fan of Lie to Me, I was also delighted to see Monica Raymund, albeit in a bit part.)
The story is about Robert Miller, a self-made member of the infamous 1% who needs to sell his company after an investment goes wrong. He cooks the books and takes a secret loan to hide the loss. Ultimately the sale goes through, the buyer is unconcerned about the loss, and life goes on. But in between, several things go wrong.
It's commonly believed that to "make it," and to become a member of the 1%, you have to resort to bribery, intimidation, and otherwise engage in shady deals to make money and get wealthy. All of that appears to be true of Miller. Publically he's an upstanding member of the community. His family adores him and his wife knows about but ignores his discrete dalliances while she lavishes money on fashionable charities. But their children are clueless. In fact, his son is too dumb to notice anything is wrong. His daughter, however, is very smart and eventually figures out that the books have been cooked.
Meanwhile, reckless behavior with his mistress ends with a car crash that kills her. Sustaining painful but not serious injuries he flees the scene and calls Jimmy, the son of loyal friend and employee who died several years earlier. Jimmy comes and drives him back to the city, where he then juggles the sale of his company with efforts to keep himself and Jimmy out of jail.
A tale of three self-absorbed women
The role of Miller was well written and, as usual, Richard Gere's performance was superb. His portrayal was subtle and nuanced. We see the admirable side of Miller as he fights to protect his family, friends and employees from the consequences of his mistakes and foibles, but we also see his hypocrisy and flaws.
What was particularly interesting however, were the roles of the three main female characters, his wife Ellen Miller, played by Susan Sarandon, his daughter Brooke Miller, played by Brit Marling, and his mistress Julie Cote, played by the ever-so-seductive Laetitia Casta.
Starting with his mistress, Cote was self-absorbed and selfish. Miller set her up with an upscale art gallery and gave her a life far beyond what she could have achieved on her own. Despite this, she was petulant and demanding. It was to mollify her that Miller offered to take her to a secluded house, and this ultimately led to her undoing and demise.
Following the death of his mistress, Miller's daughter, Brooke, figures out that he has cooked the books. What he did was illegal. Imagining myself in his position what would I do? The right thing, I hope. But are the right thing and the legal thing always the same? Nobody got hurt. He bent the rules but in the end everybody came out whole. Where was the harm?
Despite his efforts to protect her, Brooke is furious, self-righteous and self-absorbed. How could he do this to her? She could lose her broker's license and be publically humiliated. He explains that he is "the patriarch," and it's his job to take care of everything. But it's all about her, and she walks off in a huff.
Similarly, his wife, Ellen is outraged when she learns of the predicament her evil billionaire husband placed their poor wealthy daughter into. She was aware of his affair with Cote and figured out early on that he was involved in her accidental death. Detective Bryer, played by Tim Roth, had spoken with her briefly about it. Now, she tries to blackmail him, not realizing that the investigation was dropped after Miller figured out that Det. Bryer was using fictitious evidence presented before a Grand Jury to pressure Jimmy into a confession.
What Miller did was wrong. He was reckless, self-indulgent and broke several laws. But he also took care of his family, friends and employees. All three of the main female characters, however, were self-righteous, self-absorbed and, in the case of his wife, supremely hypocritical. They epitomized the worst of what we have come to expect from the stereotypical post-feminist western women. Fawning over the man as long as he caters to their hypocrisy and delusion, but turning on him when he fumbles.
For each of the women, it was "all about me." Me-me-me. A creation of feminism, members of the Me-Gender are primarily concerned with themselves. A fact that was much like the ambiguous nature of the main character portrayed with subtly and nuance. Was this a masculist movie commenting on the nature of modern western women? I think so.
NAWALT: Not All Women Are Like That
As there are many who are eager to misconstrue my every word, let me be very clear. I get it. Not all women are like that. Contrary to what feminists would have us believe, we are all human--yes, even men--we are all equally subject to the same vices and capable of the same virtues. But for decades feminists have encouraged women to believe, with religious conservatives, that women are morally superior to men. Beyond this, that they deserve the world served up on a silver platter. As if they believe the lyrics of the old John Denver song ought to be true: "leaves will bow down when you walk by, and morning bells will chime."
Most western women are not like that, of course, but far too many silently consent to treat western men like dirt. In family court, in every court, men are treated far more harshly than women. In business, women are treated like a minority when it comes to government contracts and programs.
Military service for women is a choice while men are required to register for the draft. Public education is terrible and serves few students well, but to the extent that it serves anybody, it caters to the learning styles of girls and gives drugs to boys (and then we wonder why some boys grow up to be mass murderers?). Colleges heavily recruit women despite that they now comprise the majority. And how is all of this working for them?
When women have babies, most of them scale back their job or career to give more time and effort to their children. In the past, men were there to pick up the slack. Where are the men, now? Thanks to the feminists--and the silent support of the women who say nothing to oppose them--with greater frequency men are nowhere to be found.
It would be beyond the scope of a movie review to delve deep into that, here. But it's worth noting because the movie, Arbitrage, points to the way in which the themes of real gender equality that dominate the message of the men's rights movement can be presented without setting off the shrill nagging of the feminists' hate male brigade.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.