While thir hearts were jocund and sublime,
Drunk with Idolatry, drunk with Wine,
And fat regorg’d of Bulls and Goats,
Chaunting thir Idol…
Among them he a spirit of phrenzy sent,
Who hurt thir minds,
And urg’d them on with mad desire
To call in hast for thir destroyer;
This sunny, profane satire centers on the 60th birthday party of a ruthless yet sporadically charming fashion industry billionaire, Sir Richard “Greedy” MacCreadie (Steve Coogan). David Mitchell plays Nick Morris, a shy, self-effacing but ultimately contemptible writer hired to act as Greedy’s hagiographer. The build-up is promising, layering flashbacks to Greedy’s rise into the oligarchy with Morris’s information gathering and the preparations for the party, an elaborate affair set against Greece’s pristine shores.
Greedy’s staff struggles to pull it off, particularly with regard to the decidedly unscenic presence of Syrian refugees camped out nearby. The fact that all of Greece’s beaches are public makes it ultimately impossible to legally eject them. This is but one obstacle among others, including a nauseated lion, EU labor regulations, and the reluctance of certain coveted celebrities to attend the celebration.
Without giving too much away, at the story’s climax writer/director Michael Winterbottom satisfies one of the audience’s vengeful desires only to pull his punches, denying us the knockout blow. This lackluster denouement has as much to do with the limits of realism in representing the enormity of global capitalism as it does with the film’s liberal politics, which are capable of condemning injustice while ultimately doing nothing about it. In this sense Nick Morris is Winterbottom, clearly aware of the savagery of the people and economic forces he describes yet lacking the wherewithal to intervene decisively against them.
A story of underclass vengeance against the system that fattens the .001% at the expense of the health and dignity of workers would necessitate a leap into the surreal, some means of representation that could give commensurable form to the incommensurable totality of the Free Market. Even so, Greed is funny and dark, and definitely worth watching.
Far from a question of liberal politics, today’s cultural liberalism is identified far more by a moral framework of consumer choices, consumption habits, personal behaviors, and an obsession with displays of multicultural tolerance and surface-level diversity than any of its overtly political positions, which in reality are a largely settled matter. In fact, pretending those liberal political positions haven’t been settled and are instead under some sort of constant threat tends to be another primary feature of today’s hegemonic cultural liberalism.