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I Watched a Movie: The Pursuit of Happyness

I took in Will Smith's new movie, The Pursuit of Happyness this weekend. The previews captured my attention more than any other flick this time of year. Plus, I'm usually a sucker for these types of films – the inspirational, happy ending kind.

The guy whose life the film is based on is making the talk show circuit and his biography has sold quite a few copies. Indeed, the movie is uplifting and inspirational, but I don’t think I could sit through it again. Will Smith and his son do great jobs. It's definitely worth renting.

On a larger (and perhaps unintentional) scale, this movie is a study in American capitalism. The scenes contrast deeply from one to the next, from homeless shelters to corporate headquarters; from luxury automobiles to city buses; from designer clothes to missing shoes.

Set in San Francisco in the early 80's, the movie follows Chris Gardner as he tries to live out the rags-to-riches story that many dream about, but few achieve. For me, the movie highlights the following realities of our current economic system:

  1. Opportunities may exist for all, but not all opportunities are equal.
  2. People have a chance to lose it all and regain it all, even late in life.
  3. The extreme wealth of some comes at the expense of many.
  4. Our immense riches make it easy to ignore the needs of others.
  5. The amount of reward one gets is directly proportional to the amount of risk one takes.
  6. It is much more difficult to make ends meet when one is a single parent.
  7. There is an imperative placed on those who have to give freely to those who have not.
  8. Generosity is always a direct act. In other words, don't think you're helping immigrants just because you employ a refugee at $6 an hour to be your maid.
  9. Our system has created unparalleled amounts of wealth - and unparalleled amounts of poverty.
  10. It all starts with a dream.

Good or bad, these are the realities of our economic system. I don't see it changing anytime soon, so we must see how we can use the tools and benefits of capitalism to fix the inequalities it creates. The movie offers no recommendations, but I'm interested in this topic and will write more as I take my course on microlending next semester.

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