The wise of heart will heed commandments,
but a babbling fool will come to ruin.
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever follows perverse ways will be
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
Later this year a sequel to Wall Street will be released, but we do not have to wait until then to see Michael Douglas do what he does so well, play a selfish creep on his way to self-destruction. The direc tor/writer team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien give us a junior-sized Gordon Gekko in Ben Kalmen. In the film’s prologue his doctor tells Ben that there is an irregularity in his EKG and that he must change his lifestyle. Ben is out of there and never going back. Jump to six and a half years later, and we learn that Ben is still around, but not his once lucrative auto dealerships. Faced with his own mortality years earlier, Ben apparently decided to grab as much out of life as he can, regardless of means. Once known as “The Honest Dealer” he has lost that title and his chain of BMW dealerships when caught at cheating his customers. He has also lost his marriage to Nancy (Susan Sarandon) because he cannot resist chasing and bedding down almost any attractive woman that he meets. They had been sweethearts since their days in college.
Ben has survived but not thrived, arriving at the age of 60 when some men realize that they are the targets of those Viagra ads and that possibly they should slow down a bit and reflect on their mortality. Nancy still regards him affectionately, but his relationship with their daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer) is shaky because he so often forgets to show up for her son’s school and sporting events, even his birthday party.
Broke, Ben is so behind on his rent that he is about to be put out of his apartment. He even asks Susan for rent money, and he is trying to wheedle a loan out of his old banker friend Steve Heller (Richard Schiff) so he can get back into the business of selling BMWs. However, the latter, all too aware of Ben’s past failure due to malfeasance is obviously going along to placate an old friend. Ben is the kind of guy who is always on stage in the belief that he can sell himself and his schemes to anyone—and with women, at least, he is right. Getting back his old high roller life style might be another thing.
Ben’s current lover is Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) who cajoles him into accompanying her daughter Allyson (Imogen Poot) to a prospective college. Ben is an alumnus there and knows the dean. Indeed, in his earlier days of wealth he had donated money for a building that still bears his name. Upon their arrival he hangs out with Daniel Cheston, (Jesse Eisenberg) the student assigned as their guide while Allyson attends the interview with the dean. Daniel is a naïve sophomore, and shy with girls, so Ben dons his auto salesman persona to give the boy some pointers on picking up girls. Later, when he is giving Allyson sexual pointers, he gives in to his lust, and— No one can play a heel bringing on his own ruin as well as Michael Douglas, and in this endeavor he is surrounded by an incredibly talented cast, including Danny DiVito as Jimmy, once a best friend during their college days. Jimmy, now happily married to the same woman for over 30 years and running his own diner, serves as a contrast to the hedonistic life style of Ben. Ben’s fortunes sink so low that Jimmy agrees to employ him at the diner. The filmmakers do not overtly condemn Ben, instead showing us the results of his lifestyle—though their use of Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song “Solitary Man” certainly adds a note of irony to the proceedings. Ben as a born salesman loves the sound of his voice and to be in the midst of a crowd, and yet his self-centered ( “foolish” the writers of Psalms and Proverbs would say) lifestyle will assure that he ends up alone. Ben is given the opportunity of reconciliation, but will he take advantage of it, or will he continue in his old lustful ways? The filmmaker leaves us with that question very much up in the air—or does he?
For reflection/Discussion Spoilers below.
1. Compare Ben and Gordon Gekko. Which is major and which is minor league heel? How is Ben similar to Jacob in Genesis? (Remember what Jacob means in Hebrew—” grasper” )
2. Compare Ben with Jimmy. Who is really the winner in life? But could Ben ever understand this? How does he almost arrive at self-understanding during his conversation with Jimmy about friendship? Do you think it is possible to balance Jimmy’s acceptance and satisfaction with small successes with Ben’s restless ambitions? (A good novel and film that deals with this theme is The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.)
3. How does Ben hurt each of the characters in the film? How have they grown beyond their hurt, especially his ex-wife Nancy? Does Ben show any evidence of growing up—or is he more of a sex-addicted Peter Pan? How does our culture foster this image of the male? What are some TV ads obviously aimed at such males?
4. On which character does Ben have a good effect? How does he and his new girl friend see through Ben and move beyond his ways?
5. What do you think of the use of Neil Diamond’s song “Solitary Man” ? Who is the unfaithful one in the song? How is this ironical when paired with Ben? To see the lyrics, go to www.neildiamondhomepage.com/lyricpag.htm and scroll down to title.
6. What do you think of the way the film ends? What do you think Ben will do? Can Ben change on his own? Do you see any sign of a religious faith or concern in him, any search for transcendence? Recall Nancy’s warning, “But you can’t cheat God, Benny. Nobody can do that.” What was his reply?”