Through the humanization of the stockbroker, Chandor allows the audience to view them as human and someone that the audience can relate to.
The realism of Margin Call (2011) extends beyond the depictions of its characters and into its portrayal of the financial industry. J.S. (2011) writes, "Margin Call…depicts the many banalities that make for a financial meltdown, and the near-silent panic that sets in. Finance is depicted as slippery and amorphous, a creation of not just the banks, but of a whole society oriented toward easy consumption." In this respect, Margin Call (2011) strips away the mystical facade that often is attributed to Wall Street and allows the viewer to see how they influence the financial market as much as they are influenced by it. Furthermore, the dialogue and financial terminology used by Chandor in the film is accurate investment banking jargon, which Chandor was familiar with because his family is personally involved in the banking industry; Chandor's father worked for Merril Lynch, thus Chandor understands the inner workings of the banking industry and knows how to present this sector in such a way that others will not be confused by how and what he presents on screen (LaRoche, 2011).
Furthermore, the "epistemological distance between the players and the rest of the world is emphasized in the shooting style: flattened, digitally cool, and visually dry" (Clover, 2012, p. 8). Chandor does not rely on extraneous effects or locations and aims to depict the activities in the film as they would occur in real life. Chandor deliberately wrote the film to be shot in a single location, which was then shot at One Penn Plaza at a former hedge fund office (LaRoche, 2011). Opting to shoot at a location previously associated with the activities of a trading firm creates a realistic and believable environment, especially when shots focus on the world outside the office. Additionally, the office itself, where trading takes place and analysts perform their duties, is meticulously cluttered with workstations and file boxes. Chandor also opted to focus solely on the action on the screen as it would happen in real life. There is no non-diegetic sound utilized, which helps to emphasize the reality that Chandor attempts to create within this fictional realm.
Margin Call's (2011) realistic setting also enables Chandor to realistically depict the relationships between people in the financial industry. Rabiger and Hurbis-Cherrier (2013) note, "At a critical plot point, the firm's CEO appeals to Sam Rogers, the firm's best sales manager, to direct his team to dump the toxic assets -- a strategy which Sam is morally opposed. This pivotal scene could have been in the CEO's office but Chandor mad a brilliant choice and set it instead in the men's bathroom" (p. 108). Chandor's decision to have this interaction take place in an intimate setting personalizes the relationship between Rogers and Tuld, the CEO, because it allows them to interact with each other away from the confines of the conference room that is drenched with paranoia. Chandor uses the bathroom setting a second time when Seth Bregman approaches Jared Cohen knowing that at the end of the day he will be unemployed, which is devastating to him not because of the materialism and personal profit associated with the job, but because he truly loves what he does (Margin Call, 2011). This interaction is also intimate because it allows Bregman to be vulnerable to a senior employee in the firm without attempting to brown-nose or to attempt to save his job. Rabiger and Hurbis-Cherrier (2013) contend that Chandor's use of bathroom interactions "humanizes world-altering decisions taking place and reminds us that economic shifts are not forces of nature, but choices made by ordinary people" (p. 108). On a different level, using the bathroom as a secondary location where important decisions are made also allows the viewer to see how some of the most important decisions that are made by executives occur outside the boardroom and on the proverbial golf course.
It is through this narrative approach that Chandor is able to push aesthetic and, to a lesser extent, ethical boundaries. Chandor does not aim to glamorize the financial industry, but rather seeks to dissect it. While documentaries aim to depict the world as it is, and not as it should be, Chandor was not afforded this opportunity and had to recreate the world of finance as best he could; his recreation did not exaggerate nor overly simplify this world and demonstrated that a reality could be recreated realistically. However, Chandor's personal relationship and perspective of the financial industry, given the fact that his father worked for Merril Lynch, may cause some viewers to question Chandor's intent. Did he seek to humanize Wall Street because he felt sympathetic? Because of this, it can be argued that while Chandor attempted to remain unbiased in his portrayal of Wall Street, the viewer may attribute bias regardless due to his background and personal connection to the financial industry.
Moreover, because Chandor only portrayed the financial world as he wanted to be seen, it can be argued that ethical boundaries were pushed because he did not show the financial world as it truly is, but rather as he believes it to be. In this regard, Chandor also pushes aesthetic boundaries of cinema through his minimalist approach. The film is not concerned with the outside world, but rather on what goes on behind closed doors. Furthermore, the action in the film, and the script itself, could easily be translated into different mediums such as theatre. Through this aesthetic approach, Chandor establishes precedence and paves the way for the cinematic reinterpretation of other world events that he feels need to be dramatized in order to explain the impact of these events on society, and possibly, on the world.
Ultimately, Chandor is successful in conveying his message and allowing the audience to better understand the events and decisions that triggered the economic crisis of 2008. The film's narrative manages to successfully relay how the individuals behind these decisions reacted to the news of the impending market crash, and allowed viewers to better understand the mechanisms the influence the economy. Chandor successfully explains that Wall Street does not only influence the economy, but that society as consumers, also influence Wall Street, thus creating a symbiotic relationship. Additionally, through the film's aesthetic approach, Chandor is able to demonstrate that cinema does not only function to entertain and dramatize real-life, but that it can also serve as a vehicle to educate and comfort. Chandor also allowed viewers to see that people on Wall Street are not single-minded monsters consumed with the need for personal gain and driven by greed, but that were people too, and they were just as affected by the economic crash as much as other people.
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Kinkle, J. & Toscano, a. (2011). Filming the crisis: a survey; Jeff Kinkle and Alberto Toscano analyze films about financial meltdown. Film Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 39-51.
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LaRoche, J. (2011, Oct 24). The director of Margin Call reveals the even that inspired the film. Business Insider. Accessed 14 April 2013, from http://www.businessinsider.com/margin-calls-director-j-c-chandor-2011-10
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