The conclusion of J Blakeson’s acerbic satire is a prime example of “depiction is not endorsement.”
Spoilers ahead for I Care a Lot.
Most Hollywood movies train us that the protagonist of a story is also its hero—that the values of the lead character are values we should seek to emulate. However, when an anti-hero story comes along, we should take note of what is being said through the protagonist’s actions. One such story is the recent Netflix hit I Care a Lot. The film follows con artist Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a woman who makes her living using the legal system to essentially kidnap the elderly, stick them in a nursing home, and then sell off all their assets for her own profit. The mistake she makes isn’t in betraying this lifestyle, but by kidnapping the wrong old woman, which is what happens when she runs her scam on Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), the mother of Russian mob boss Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage). Marla and Roman try to defeat each other until the film’s conclusion when they realize they don’t need to hurt each other; they can profit from each other instead.
What gives I Care a Lot its bleak edge isn’t that it’s saying that Marla and Roman are worth cheering for or that they deserve to be victorious. Rather, the film shows that in an amoral capitalist system like our own, people like Marla and Roman are destined to thrive, rather than in spite of, their sociopathic tendencies. Their only focus is on making money, so it doesn’t matter if they despise each other or have tried to kill the other; there’s more money to be made by working together, and in the end that’s all that matters.
And how does that work out for Marla? Pretty well! We get a montage of her profits soaring and becoming a media darling divorced from the ruthlessness of her actions. It’s a portrait of American greed we see all too often as the successful CEO does the press rounds and no one questions the morality of a given business because in a capitalist system, all that matters is how much money it makes rather than the harm it causes. Far from being punished by the system, Marla—devoid of things like a conscience or a moral compass—excels at exploiting it further to her own ends.
When she ends up getting shot and killed, that’s not cosmic justice or the system working as it should. Far from it, the randomness of the moment highlights that the only thing Marla can’t buy her way out of is blowback, a lesson she failed to learn from what happened with Jennifer and Roman. Her experience has taught her that the true north of her existence is ruthlessness for profit, and for people who are on her level like Roman, that may work. But most people aren’t like Marla and Roman even though they’re still subject to the same capitalist whims that make or break an individual. Marla getting murdered isn’t “justice” because her world doesn’t prize justice. In the world she inhabits, she now becomes a martyr, a successful businesswoman gunned down in her prime by a maniac.
I Care a Lot doesn’t argue that these are “good” things, but rather that this is how the capitalist system operates. Marla’s death doesn’t negate the harm she caused or the profits she reaped. Nothing is undone by one person’s grief, and sadly there are plenty of Marla Graysons in this world.
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