“Margin Call” (2011). Cast: Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Mary McDonnell, Simon Baker, Penn Badgley, Aasif Mandvi. Director: J.C. Chandor. Screenplay: J.C. Chandor. http://margincallmovie.com/The economy has been on everyone’s mind for several years now, and many have justifiably pondered how we got ourselves into this mess. But, as is becoming increasingly clear, the causes go beyond economics, having as much to do with human nature and what we create as it does with money. These questions are examined in meticulous detail in the Wall Street drama, “Margin Call,” now available on DVD.
In 2008, with the economy on the brink of a largely unforeseen meltdown, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), a junior financial risk analyst for a major investment bank, unwittingly makes an ominous discovery that has staggering implications for his company. Having been assigned the risk analysis work of his recently laid-off senior colleague, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), Peter concludes that the firm is overextended and on the verge of collapse. Upon making this discovery, Peter calls in the firm’s higher-ups (Paul Bettany, Kevin Spacey, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons), who concur with his findings and begin assessing what to do (and who to blame). Management is ultimately faced with making some difficult choices, namely, (1) taking drastic measures to save the company, even if that potentially means shafting investors and staff in the process, or (2) failure. Over the course of the next day, the powers-that-be debate the options of how to proceed – and how to live with their decisions. This becomes especially difficult, too, when the one person they need most to help sort out matters – Eric Dale – is nowhere to be found.
The economic crisis of the past several years (and its prelude, as presented in this film) is a prime example of what conscious creation practitioners call a “mass event,” one in which each of us contributes to its manifestation. And, in scenarios like this, as Shakespeare observed, we each play our respective parts on the global stage, fleshing out the probabilities we have each chosen to examine as part of our exploration into physical existence. We each choose to delve into different aspects of that grand drama; some of us look at “success” and others probe “failure,” some of us examine the ethics of our actions and others disregard them completely, some of us consider the well-being of everyone while others only look out for themselves, and we all do this within the context of a bigger picture that deals with a common theme.
To that end, “Margin Call” does an excellent job of depicting the foregoing as it applies to the world of finance (and its impact on all other areas of life). The audience is presented with all points of view, treating them more or less equally, without judgment, showing that each has its own degree of legitimacy, whether or not one would personally agree (or disagree) with any particular outlook. While it’s clear that director J.C. Chandor has a viewpoint of his own in telling this story, he’s also very careful to present everyone’s outlook fairly, showing the inherent validity of each of those views, regardless of whether he (or others) are likely to dispute them, for understanding the thinking behind those differences in outlooks is crucial if we ever hope to reconcile them.
These viewpoints are reflected in the personas of the key players, providing the audience with symbolic representations of the various lines of probability each chooses to explore. For example, for Peter’s boss, Sam Rogers (Spacey), the ethical implications of how the company plans to resolve its problems are almost more than he can handle. At the same time, for Sam’s boss, John Tuld (Irons), doing whatever is “necessary” is seen merely as part of what it takes to survive in the market – and what anyone (or any entity) concerned with its continued viability would do if its existence were threatened. As for Peter, who stumbles upon the issue triggering the crisis, it’s one thing to be shocked at the ramifications of what’s about to unfold, but that doesn’t mean one’s outrage can’t be set aside when personal survival is on the line, an attitude that he quietly maintains but isn’t afraid to tap when the need arises.
Tied up in this are several other significant conscious creation themes, such as the principle I refer to as “un-conscious creation” or “creation by default,” wherein the manifestation process is allowed to unfold without any sense of personal awareness and/or without any concern for the consequences. For instance, it’s apparent on a number of occasions that those at the highest ranks of management, such as Jared Cohen (Baker) and Tuld, have little understanding of what’s really going on. They often request that technical explanations of what’s transpiring be put into “plain English,” clearly revealing their incompetence about the areas over which they’re supposed to have oversight. That’s a scary prospect to consider, especially if the lack of economic expertise in the management of just this one fictional firm is any indication of what prevails in the real-world financial marketplace. Indeed, if this depiction is accurate, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise why the financial industry is in the mess it’s in. With economic creation by default allowed to run amok, chaos shouldn’t be seen as an unexpected result.So why did things go so terribly wrong? In large part, it seems that the firm placed too much reliance on exotic financial formulas, letting the numbers do the work, rather than requiring engaged human beings to be personally involved in the wealth creation process. However, when the numbers are left to their own devices and don’t perform as expected, trouble ensues. Dale apparently tried warning management of this problem before his dismissal and before the issue got out of hand, but, since they either didn’t understand the explanations (see above) or were too unconcerned to pay attention to them, the warnings went unheeded. This thus points to another intrinsic quality of creation by default, the abrogation of responsibility. And that’s significant, for without the tempering influence of responsibility, conscious creation can get out of hand. It’s like a garden hose turned on full blast with no one gripping the nozzle; the outflow sprays all over everything, making a mess of all it touches. Of course, when things go wrong like this, practitioners of un-conscious creation naturally look for scapegoats, and that’s certainly the case here. The top brass certainly has no intention of taking the fall, so they proceed to review the list of vulnerable candidates. Dale probably would have made the “ideal” choice, but since he’s already been let go, someone else needs to take the hit. Fellow analyst Sarah Robertson (Moore) seems like a possible candidate, given that she didn’t see the problem coming, as does Cohen, mainly because he’s caught in the middle, and that’s always a good place to cut when financial straits become dire. Or perhaps both of them should go; after all, they’re both pointing fingers at one another, which makes it plausible that they each may have had a role in the onset of this catastrophe. No matter how things shake out, though, this is more evidence of the abrogation of responsibility and creation by default allowed to run out of control.
The most damaging fallout from all this, though, is on those who didn’t see any of this coming, namely, the investors and the firm’s employees. Those who had the least involvement in the creation process bear the greatest brunt in terms of financial losses and pink slips. This illustrates the inherent connectedness involved in the conscious creation process, something we should all bear in mind as we go about manifesting the reality around us. Even if it seems like our participation in the process is limited, we’re nevertheless still part of it, just by virtue of our inherent connectedness to the overall whole. We might not be the ones holding the nozzle of the garden hose, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t get wet from it.
So must we settle for these circumstances? Or can we create something different? In one of his more impassioned observations, Tuld “explains things” to Sam: “It’s just money; it’s made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other just to get something to eat. It’s not wrong. And it’s certainly no different today than it’s ever been. … And you and I can’t control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever so slightly alter it. We just react. And we make a lot of money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the road if we get it wrong. … Yeah, there may be more of us today than there’s ever been. But the percentages – they stay exactly the same.”But this viewpoint speaks to a mindset that is increasingly losing support. With the rise of activist movements like Occupy Wall Street, things do seem different this time. It seems there’s a possibility for real change going forward, especially now that more people have become wise to what has been going on all along and are employing a heightened sense of awareness to the manifestation process. Even though Tuld and his real-world peers may have believed that the downturn that began in 2008 would be no different from those that periodically occurred as far back as 1637, they hadn’t counted on a change in the mass consciousness in proclaiming their assessments, and that component just might make the difference this time. After all, as Albert Einstein observed, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” but now that new thinking is entering the equation, those who have been stumping for the status quo just might find themselves surprised this time, and in large part thanks to conscious creation.
“Margin Call” didn’t draw much attention when it was first released last fall, but its profile has risen of late with several award nominations, including an Academy Award nod for best original screenplay and Independent Spirit Award nominations for best first feature and best first screenplay, as well as the ISA Robert Altman Award for best casting and performing ensemble. Filmmaker J.C. Chandor has done an excellent job writing and directing this debut release, getting great performances out of each of his cast members. The script has a slight tendency to get talky at times, but its detail, balance and authenticity save the day, taking a complicated and potentially dry subject and making it engaging.
Mark Twain noted that history seldom repeats itself, but it often rhymes, an observation especially applicable in the world of finances. This likely has more to do with what we create than with the forces of the market, something of which we’re beginning to become increasingly aware. Movies like “Margin Call” help to alert us to these conditions, and one can only hope that we heed its message to truly make a difference, not only in what we reap, but also in what we sow.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.