Movie Notes: Arbitrage

The narrative that humanity needs to be redeemed seems circular: humanity needs to be redeemed because it’s dysfunctional, but it’s dysfunctional just because it needs redemption. We can accept that it needs to be redeemed but we also seem just to accept that it never will be—a conclusion we don’t, and probably can’t, accept.

arbitrageDictionary.com defines ‘arbitrage’ as “authoritative decision or exercise of judgment” and applied to finances as “the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same securities, commodities, or foreign exchange in different markets to profit from unequal prices.” Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki plays on both concepts in his intriguing film about deception, power, and money. Brilliantly acted by Richard Gere in perhaps his best film since Primal Fear, Robert Miller is, in a way, an archetype of the Western male ego. We build complex social, political, and economic structures and then, once fully enmeshed in them, use that fact to excuse going deeper into it. While most of us can’t relate to Miller’s situation directly, what struck me as I watched was how utterly relatable he is. He’s utterly dysfunctional yet human, all too human. That, itself, is striking. Why is he dysfunctional? What makes him so? If his story is so ‘human’ as Jarecki appears to want to make us believe, why is dysfunction the norm?

And what do we do about it? The narrative that humanity needs to be redeemed seems circular: humanity needs to be redeemed because it’s dysfunctional, but it’s dysfunctional just because it needs redemption. We can accept that it needs to be redeemed but we also seem just to accept that it never will be—a conclusion we don’t, and probably can’t, accept. That’s the rub. But there’s another interesting option: we need a new narrative for understanding what normative is so less of us are dysfunctional and then how we order a functional society around that narrative.

Thurber is surely right that "Human Dignity has gleamed only now and then and here and there, in lonely splendor, throughout the ages, a hope of the better men, never an achievement of the majority." Jarecki’s fine film illustrates just this. I acknowledge they’re right. The question that keeps coming to the fore is “Why?”

I’d give this film 8 of 10 stars for a great, thought-provoking screenplay, solid acting by the principals, and a wonderful soundtrack.

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