Films that shake their fists at capitalism abound. In most of them, the economy is portrayed as Goliath and the protagonist is usually described as David. In many films, the main character begins the story burdened with financial struggles and lacking the mentality to succeed in a dog-eat-dog world, and ends up crushing under its weight. A virtuous protagonist might become swayed by the evils of capitalism, with the desire for success and material excess overpowering their righteous traits.
roach, an approach pushed by a thought that is perhaps difficult for some people to stomach. It appears that John Patton Ford, a first-time director, and writer, believes that some people are bad by nature. They don’t suffer from corruption but from something ingrained in their bones. Emily the Criminal criticizes capitalism for forcing rotten people to realize their true nature if they weren’t driven by money.
While Emily the Criminal unfolds as a psychological thriller, its core is anti-capitalist. Emily is an art-school dropout struggling to pay student loan debt and rent, and struggling to find work. You would expect Greta Gerwig to play the protagonist of this struggles-of-capitalism story. The casting of Aubrey Plaza ends up being a brilliant move by Ford. No other actress in Hollywood walks the line between stoic and demonic quite like her.
Due to Emily’s constant character changes, the tension is kept taut by the audience’s uncertainty. Her self-realization arc is inverted. In the beginning, Emily appears to be a good person. Every hint of her inner vileness is dismissed. She derails a job interview perfectly in the opening scene. An interviewer plays a perverted cat and mouse game knowing about a felony conviction he found during a background check.
It’s a crime from her past, something she’s grown from and considered more worthy since then. The audience feels sympathy for Emily since the crime happens before the movie starts, believing that society won’t let bygones be bygones. The audience can continue to refer to her nobility when she appears to tremble while covering the shift of one of her coworkers for baseball practice. Emily’s desperate need for money leads her to an opportunity to make $200 fast, but the constant answer “just go and see” implies that it is shady.
As she tries to escape before being shackled, the audience puts themselves in her shoes. Youcef stops her as she’s leaving and asks why she’s leaving, and she replies that she doesn’t know if the scam is going to work, and as she’s roped back into the theft, she appears unwilling. Her excuses for questionable actions are not only easily justified, but the audience hardly thinks that she might be anything other than an unfortunate woman trapped in unforgiving circumstances.
Emily, never oblivious to the damage that her criminal activities cause, explodes at the woman who offers her a chance at a decent life, unveiling the delinquency that lay beneath her stone-cold expression. Also, Emily eventually discloses the details of the felony charge repeatedly referenced throughout the movie: a battery of a college boyfriend. Instead of apologizing, she regrets not hurting him enough to scare him into pressing charges.
Although it’s a pitch-black sentiment, the audience knows Emily has repeatedly demonstrated a violent disposition due to her malicious character. It’s not Emily’s story that the audience is meant to understand, unlike many films that critique capitalism. It’s not the type of character that allows the audience to put themselves in her shoes. She’s foreign to most who stare at the screen, an acid that dissolves the notion that everyone is good. Despite the optimists’ utopia, there are people out there who do not fit in.
The greed and malice of some are overwhelming. In the entire film, Ford’s camera follows Emily intimately, examining minimal movements as she walks upstairs and down the streets. As opposed to dissecting society as a whole, it examines Plaza’s disconnected character in detail. This is more a character study than a fable, less about Emily’s culture than what’s in her genes. Fear arises from our inability to deploy the same societal structures to guide people whose frameworks are so different from ours. Rather than seduce some people into wrongdoing, capitalism awakens harmful impulses otherwise dormant.
Dakota Cameron is a seasoned web content writer and covers the Hollywood movies for the MovieThop Website
Ms. Cameron began his professional life as a freelance blogger. Later, he worked for Witbe as a content writer for two years. His interests include blogging, reading, movies and travel.
Ms. Cameron graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from University State of Georgia University. He is fluent in French, Spanish, and other languages.