Hail, Caesar is an interesting movie.
It has a lot of great actors and actresses performing at a very high level. It has some of the most hysterical scenes in recent memory and it looks amazing, however I found myself bored watching the film. At a certain point, the story started to drag. I stopped caring about the protagonist’s journey and started looking at my watch.
Hail, Caesar focuses primarily on Eddie Mannix, a “studio fixer” employed by Capitol Pictures. His goal is to keep the studio running smoothly. This entails dealing with movie stars such as Baird Whitlock, Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Burt Gurney. Each of these performers has their own interesting thread, but the central story involves Baird Whitlock who plays the lead role in Capitol Pictures’ prestige film, Hail, Caesar. Whitlock is kidnapped and it is up to Mannix to find Whitlock while Mannix balances his personal and professional affairs.
It turns out that the people who kidnap Whitlock belong to a Marxist study group. My favorite moments of Hail, Caesar are when Whitlock speaks with his captors who present a very compelling argument for why they deserve Capitol Pictures’ money. They argue that the studio owns the “means of production” and thereby exploits the common man. Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States, so this part of the movie seems prescient. The film does not portray those working in the studio system as morally righteous. Mannix’s main conflict is his choice between staying at the studio or accepting a better paying and less demanding job with a different corporation called Lockheed. The film portrays Hollywood as corrupt but valuable.
In the end, Mannix chooses to stay with Capitol Pictures. After retrieving Whitlock from the Marxists, Mannix hears Whitlock’s argument that the studio system is exploitative. Mannix responds by slapping Whitlock in the face twice and telling him to go finish his movie. Regardless of his success, Mannix refuses to see the sense in Whitlock’s argument. Mannix’s response seemed to me like an outright dismissal of Whitlock’s speech as crazy talk.
“Capitalism and logic are incompatable”
This seems to be the film’s thesis. Put another way, creating value is the ultimate pursuit in life and the best measure of value is cash. Mannix also places value in the feeling of belonging. This is the other part of his argument for continuing his job with the studio.
What really is belonging?
Belonging means being accepted as a member. Sure, there is a pleasure in being part of a group, but what does this cost? Mannix may be happy staying at the studio for this reason, but the film seems to think otherwise. The true victims of the film are Mannix’s wife and children. They are only present for one scene and it’s clear that Mannix does not value them as much as his career. Mannix’s wife expresses a sadness that her husband must constantly be at work. By forcing Mannix to work long hours, the studio system punishes Mannix’s wife and children. Not only does the studio system exploit its most valuable workers, it also hurts families.
Hail Caesar poses interesting questions about the ills of capitalism in an easy-to-digest package. Capitalism may be harmful, but at least it produces high-quality entertainment. One could look at the present economic state of the U.S. and point out even more problems caused by unhindered capitalism. While Hail Caesar is not the most entertaining Coen Brothers’ film, I appreciate its existence. The Coen Brothers’ may not be making the insanely entertaining films of their past, but they have focused on larger issues.