Some movies fuck you up more than others. And some movies do it in a subversive way. It’s hard to look in a mirror and see not only yourself but our society as well for what it really is. The Pursuit of Happyness is a compelling drama about a single father and his son trying to survive late-stage capitalism. It’s based on the true story of Chris Gardner, a traveling salesman who went through a lot in the early eighties. The spelling error you see in the title refers to a graffiti Gardner kept seeing outside a daycare center.
The Pursuit of Happyness is not a feel-good movie but a haunting and very accurate portrayal of life on the edge. We see a good man who should be doing good but is not. This inherent dissonance between the proclaimed values and the brutally tribal and animalistic system we have here is the thing that stayed with me long after the movie was over. Moreover, some people actually consider this to be a feel-good movie. I can understand why but at the same time you can be delusional about just about anything.
While the emotional struggles Chris and his son are going through are compelling, I simply could not disregard the reasons why are those struggles happening in the first place. The tribal system of values, and its formal extension, capitalism, perpetuate suffering on a grand scale. They push this notion that if you work hard, you will make it when that’s clearly not the case. And has not been the case for many years. It’s difficult to transition to the next level but it is possible. We should not look for answers in capitalism, socialism, communism, and other -isms but within ourselves. And I better stop now before this whole text turns into a rant.
I’m also not touching the apparent racial tensions and injustices because that would really get me going. Three words: Old White Men. Moving on, Will Smith gave a phenomenal performance, showing that he’s capable of much more than an action star. His son is played by his actual son, Jaden Smith, who was also excellent. Full of both heartbreaking and inspirational moments, The Pursuit of Happyness is a highly emotional movie. I say inspirational because even in the face of such stacked odds, our homeboy kept pushing.
Even a cynic such as myself couldn’t resist shedding a tear or two during those moments. That last scene, though, fucking broke me. And remember, for every Chris Gardner, there are millions and millions of others who are not him. Their stories will not be told as they are too depressing and sobering. And they might actually push people to try and enact some kind of a change. And we know that the stock market doesn’t like that. The stock market is king and you’re a peasant and don’t you forget that. So, when you enter this game of chance and not a system of values, just be aware of that.
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Writer: Steve Conrad
Cast: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Brian Howe, James Karen, Dan Castellaneta, Kevin West
Fun Stuff: The director of the movie is Gabriele Muccino, an Italian who spoke very bad English so communication was a bit of a problem on the set.