Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Crowd

Director: King Vidor
Length: 104 min.
Country: USA
Format: VHS
Date Viewed: 25 February

"If you take a boring job to give your family a high standard of living, as so many people do, you risk infecting your kids with the idea that work is boring. Maybe it would be better for kids in this one case if parents were not so unselfish. A parent who set an example of loving their work might help their kids more than an expensive house."
-Paul Graham,

The above quote is a perfect match for King Vidor's The Crowd, a silent masterpiece which features some truly amazing cinematography. The protagonist, John Sims (James Murray), spends all day at his mindless job in a nightmare insurance office (the expressionistic production design is fantastic) dreaming of something better and knowing that one day he will fulfill his father's vague proclamation that John will be a big, important person. Most everyone around him thinks it mostly or only has to do with obtaining a high-level position or high salary regardless of personal satisfaction or happiness (which is sadly true in real life as well).

John begins the film generally accepting this view, and thus in an early scene he belittles "the crowd," the teeming masses of everymen who do not meet this definition. Eventually, he brings his hatred from his soulless job home and takes it out on his wife (see also: real life), an inexcusable behavior from which he develops a new understanding: a successful career is one that will allow great happiness through the use of his endless creativity, individuality and love of entertaining, all of which are cruelly denied him by the insurance company. He sets out to try and conform to this definition, which first (and realistically) leads to financial hardships and a serious rift in the marriage.

He is later able to prove the truth in the "happiness definition" of success, but becomes another face in the crowd as a result. We are now able to see the crowd under a new lens, though, which reveals John and his family - and indeed many others in the crowd - as important, successful people because they have to means to survive while also being happy. This is cleverly represented in a powerful final shot.

Many people saw this film as a downer and the ending a sad one. This, however, depends on what lens you look through. If you, like most Americans, see success as being wealthy regardless of the personal or familial cost, then of course this film will be a downer and most likely strike you as naive. But for those of us who find this definition to be revolting, the film serves as an inspiration. This film is highly recommended if you fit into the latter camp.


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