This past week I saw two very different films:
Pain and Gain, by Michael Bay:
And The Great Gatsby by Baz Luhrman
I'm pretty sure- and stay with me on this- that I've just seen the same story in two different movies, set 70 years apart.
But Catherine, you say, what the hell are you talking about? One's based off a true story from a magazine article (obviously embellished for hollywood) and the other is based of a classic work of American Literature that is both timeless and studied in high schools around the world.
What ties these stories together so very much is the theme of Success. More specifically 'The American Dream'.
First, what is The American Dream'? As a Canadian I wiki'd it and it explains it's the idea where one can achieve social and financial success through hard work. This would work in a perfect world, but let's face it, real life is different, and wisdom, preparedness, and a little luck is best taken into account with this philosophy.
Gatsby and Pain and Gain, both, are set in times of great profit and decadence. In Gatsby, it's the economic boom of the 1920s in New York when alcohol was officially forbidden and no one followed it, and in Pain and Gain, set in Miami in the 1990s when Clinton was in office, the internet was just picking up, and neon colours were in vogue.
In Pain and Gain, Daniel Lugo feels cheated out of his due. He works hard at his job and seems to get nowhere for money; he dedicates his life to fitness and is a strong believer in the philosophy that hard work will pay off (somehow). Through the guidance of a self-help guru, he learns potentially more motivation (almost verging on brainwashing). He can achieve his goals if he only need reach out and take them- in this case, taking on the entire life and possessions of a jerk entrepreneur he met at the gym Lugo works at.
Gatsby? Jay Gatsby comes from this side of nothing and always believed he could be something; he could gain his fortune, that things would turn out in his favor. While young, he happens to fortuitously save the life of a drunk millionaire of old money, and transplants himself into the same lifestyle. He loses a potential inheritance and becomes enveloped in stock fraud with a very high ranking gangster, thus becoming exceedingly rich (however fragile this money may be). He also chooses to 'be somebody' through the motivation of falling in love with Daisy, a woman of Old Money who turns Gatsby down because of his station in life.
Both achieve their goals of being wealthy and popular. However, through their own human fault and what could be said is the outside actions from those close to these heroes, the moments of victory for these men is short lived, and the key points that mark falls from grace are accidental deaths. For Lugo, a gangster is killed after a 50lb weight plate crushes his head during a kidnapping attempt by Lugo and his friends. For Gatsby, a woman is struck and killed by a car while Gatsby and his would-be beau are driving home after an emotionally charged argument with the husband of said beau.
So with that being said I still wonder about these films. Ultimately they show that those who strive to achieve their goals through dishonorable means will lose their prizes in the end. While we should leave these films saying 'We must follow a righteous path in order to hold our winnings forever', I can't help but wonder if another interpretation of this film is the message that 'The higher they win, the harder they fall', or even more: 'The nail that sticks up is hammered down'.