The Pursuit of Happyness


Although I usually like to watch movies that are filmed in my city of San Francisco, I could never bring myself to go see The Pursuit of Happyness, despite the generally positive reviews. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of a film that, from all accounts, seemed in some way to be a glorification of the prevailing corporate mythology that says that every poor person can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they just try hard enough. The fact that the main character became a stock broker, a profession that epitomizes and idolizes our profit-driven, corporate dominated economic system, only seemed to add to my wariness. Perhaps it was unfair to prejudge a film without seeing it, and perhaps the film had its virtues, but it is also certainly legitimate for a consumer to take into account what one hears about a film before deciding whether to spend money to see it.

Well, now I have found some agreement with my concerns from someone who actually did see it. Episcopal bishop Marc Andrus of San Francisco has written this in his blog after having watched the movie:

But there are some overarching problems with this good film. The character is smart (he solves the Rubik's Cube rapidly, impressing an HR man with an investment firm), and diligent, even indefatigable. With no critique of our economic system and the increasing gap between rich and poor in this country, the film becomes an unquestioning update of the Horatio Alger stories.

For those of us within the Christian Church, a move like “The Pursuit of Happyness” can encourage “band aid” behavior at best, and at worst a blaming attitude towards all the poor who don’t have the moral gumption and smarts to rise.


Cynthia said...

The one redeeming quality of the movie is that it shows how easy it is for someone to become homeless and how scary and utterly exhausting it is.

I too did not like the fairy tale ending, even though it was based on a true story. Also, the pursuit of 'happyness' seems to be about financial security.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

While this critique is a valid one, I found it a worthwhile movie to watch. Yes, it could give the impression that with just a bit of hard work everyone can make it -- pulling up the bootstraps kind of thing. And yet we can go the other way and assume that the poor have no control over their lives.

And it does show how difficult life is on the street-- that by itself makes it worth watching, even if you find the ending unappealing.

And because it is based on a true story, which is why Will Smith chose it, it does have added value. See it first and then decide if it is as you think.