Now Playing: Hail, Caesar!

illustration by Brianna Ashby

A Brief Defense of Capitalist Fun

Hail, Caesar! is a movie about movies. But most movies are about something else—they’re about love or violence, music or action, money or people, or, you know, all of those things. So when I tell you that Hail, Caesar! is a movie about movies, well…

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Movies are expensive. Movies are so expensive. Arguably, movies are too expensive. There are honestly one hundred articles about movies being too expensive every single day. It’s outrageous. For the price of a film in Chicago—let’s say $12.50 at the theater closest to my apartment—I could eat two very cheap meals. Or I could pay my share of the electricity bill and have enough money to do laundry. Or I could put $12.50 into my savings account like an adult. And yet, I swipe a card through an automated machine and allow myself to disappear into the darkness of cinema for a few hours. I can’t help it. It’s an impulse.

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Hail, Caesar! is a drama about a career man searching for more. In 1951, the motion picture industry is booming, and at Capitol Pictures, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a Hollywood fixer: a hybrid of public relationships, human resources, and driving around in the middle of the night making sure movie stars are getting into less trouble than normal. The job is stressful. It’s a 24 hour affair. He’s trying to quit smoking but damn it, sometimes a man has to have three cigarettes in the middle of the day.

Eddie has a way out there. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Lockheed—a hybrid space/weapons/airplane corporation—has offered him a job with everything he seemingly wants: regular hours, better pay, and much, much less stress. What’s a man supposed to do when his dream job feels like anything but?

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If you walked twenty minutes down the main hill in the town I went to college in, you’d reach a movie theater called The Rave. With a student ID, any movie at any time of day was five dollars. That feels like an alternate reality now. It feels like when my grandfather would tell me about double features costing a dime. But it’s how it was, so we took advantage of it, me and my friends. We’d trudge down the hill—sun, rain, snow, wind—and see whatever was playing nearly every weekend for the first two years of college.

I paid money to see Leap Year and Iron Man 2. I paid to see Black Swan and True Grit. I paid to see The Social Network after walking twenty minutes in the pouring rain to get to the theater just a minute before the film started. My friends and I bought tickets to see Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One at midnight and dressed up in cloaks and fake dark marks. This was our get-out-of-campus free card (well, get-out-of-campus $5 card) and we used it to the best of our abilities. Movies were there, movies were cheap, and movies were a better use of our time than binge-drinking on a Saturday night.

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Hail, Caesar! is a comedy about identity crisis. Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich—very worthy of your attention) is Capitol Pictures’ go-to cowboy. He’s got it all: the lopsided smile, the lasso, the ten gallon hat. But Capitol Pictures doesn’t need a cowboy anymore; they need a romantic lead. And so: Hobie trades his blue jeans for a tuxedo and walks onto the set of a stuffy romantic drama.

If Hail, Caesar! has a hero—I mean, the classic traditional brave hero—it’s Hobie. He’s charming and kind. In a world of Hollywood fakes and cheats, he’s as pure and as good as they come. When set up by the studio on a date with another famous actress, Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio), it’s anything but the studio couple set-up you’d expect. The two are funny and charming and seem to genuinely like each other. When asked about their relationship by twin gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton—two of her!), Hobie tells them they’re “fixing to be friends.” Fixing to be friends! Has a more genuine sentence ever been said?

He’s desperately out of place, practically on a foreign planet in his new role as a romantic lead, trying to figure out exactly who he is to Capitol Pictures and who he is to himself. And yet, at the end of the day, Hobie still belongs to the studio. His worth, to them, is not his quality of character but his bankability. He’s a cog, the poor thing, but the best cog there is.

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I cannot overemphasize how little money I had when I was studying abroad in London. I was jobless, a student living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and relying on a very small source of savings. And yet, I saw movies once if not twice a week. One tube stop away was a giant multiplex with milkshakes. Imagine! A milkshake at a movie theater! At the time, movies cost about eight pounds and milkshakes cost three pounds, so let’s say each movie cost me $18.

In London, I saw Carnage and 50/50. I went to go see Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol a few hours apart. I took myself to go see Hugo in 3D by myself on a Saturday morning while my flatmates slept. Let’s not tell my mom this is where all my money went when I was abroad.

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Hail, Caesar! is a communist conspiracy movie, working to undo itself from the inside out. Capitol Pictures star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is kidnapped by a group of communist writers with hopes of using ransom money to support their cause. They feel like films are empty, capitalistic ventures used to keep the general populace from enlightenment. (I mean—for what it’s worth—it is called Capitol Pictures.) And Baird’s not the brightest bulb in the studio, so talking him into signing the communist manifesto isn’t exactly a feat.

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I paid $12.50 to see Magic Mike XXL three times in theaters. That’s $37.50.

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Hail, Caesar! is a movie where Channing Tatum sings and tap-dances for six minutes straight.

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When Baird finally returns to the studio, he has a sit down with Eddie to explain communism to him. Baird has finally seen that movies are a capitalist evil. They’re an expression of money and he’s become a symbol of money. Pictures are worthless, really, and only further increase the wealth gap between those involved and those not.

Eddie slaps him across the face. How many times? I might have forgotten. At least five.

“You have worth,” Eddie explains, “because the picture has worth.”

At my worst, in the wake of a traumatic breakup, I saw Obvious Child. I saw Sicario hungover at ten in the morning. I paid to see Wild with all of my closest female friends and cried throughout the entire film. I saw Mad Max: Fury Road at a press screening and gripped the armrests through the entire first hour. I sat, mouth gaping, at the wondrous black humor of Force Majeure at a movie theater in Belgium.

The truth of the matter is that no one ever needs to see a movie, but arguing that truth is like saying no one ever needs to eat chocolate or go for a bike ride on a nice day or spend time with someone who makes them laugh. Any movie can be about six to a thousand different things. I’ve very rarely walked out of a theater wishing I had any amount of money back in my hands.