Erin Brockovich 2000 And Flash Of Genius 2008 Movie Analysis Essay

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Movie Analysis: Erin Brockovich (2000) And Flash of Genius (2008)

Erin Brockovich (2000) and Flash of Genius (2008): Movie Analysis

Business law is the branch of law that deals with how persons and businesses interact in merchandising, trade, and commerce. The movies 'Flash of Genius' and 'Erin Brockovich' are perfect demonstrations of how business law is used to resolve day-to-day conflicts in the interaction between persons and corporations. This text reviews the two movies with the aim of drawing crucial insight on what lawyers can expect in the field of business law, and how they ought to deal with the same.

Movie Analysis: Erin Brockovich (2000) and Flash of Genius (2008)

Business or commercial law is a branch of law dealing with the relations, rights and conduct of businesses and persons engaged in sales, trade, commerce and merchandising (Emerson, 2009). The business arena is marred with numerous happenings ranging from ethical to unethical. Business law serves to ensure that all these happenings or developments are within the confines of the law. The movies 'Flash of Genius' and 'Erin Brockovich' provide perfect illustrations of the typical developments that characterize the business world, and how the same are addressed through commercial law. This text reviews the two movies, analyzing their differences and similarities, as well as the insights that they provide about commercial law. Before embarking on the main discussion, however, it would be prudent to give a sneak preview of what the two movies are about.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

The story revolves around a single mother (Roberts) who, acting as a legal assistant, brings suit against a large utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, for their illegal dumping policy. The movie opens with a car accident involving Erin Brockovich's car (then an unemployed single mother) and another speeding car at an intersection. Roberts hires a lawyer and brings suit against the owner of the speeding car. However, her profanity during court proceedings causes her to lose to the defendant. Roberts then decides to pursue other means to make an income and support her children -- she approaches the lawyer that defended her in the accident case and pleads with him to grant her a job in his law firm. With no kind of legal training, Roberts is given a job as a file clerk; it is in the course of this job that she makes a discovery about PG&E's illegal dumping processes. Robert observes that PGE's branch in Hinckley, CA was indiscriminately releasing the toxic and carcinogenic substance, chromium, into the community's main water supply. As a result, members of the community were experiencing serious health complications including gastrointestinal cancer, miscarriages and headaches. Bringing suit against a million dollar corporation was no easy task; however, Robert's lawyer succeeded and PG&E was forced to pay $333 million to the Hinckley community for damages.

Flash of Genius (2008)

The film is based on engineer Bob Kearns' real-life story -- in 1967, he and his business partner, Dermot Mulroney, invented the intermittent windshield wiper and received patent rights for the same. The device increased vehicles' ability to maneuver in drizzly and misty conditions. Kearns shopped the device to Ford Inc., which showed a lot of enthusiasm over the invention at first, only to back out later for unspecified reasons. Two years after Ford's refusal to purchase the device, Kearns discovered that the company was offering variable-speed, intermittent wipers on its cars. He brought suit against Ford for what he believed was a violation of intellectual property rights, and the use of his invention without giving due credit to him. After years of battle, however, the court granted Kearns reprieve, finding Ford guilty of patent infringement and ordering it to pay $10.1 million to Kearns for using his invention.

Differences and Similarities between the Two Movies

In this paper, we will focus less on the structure and composition of the movie, and pay greater attention to the legal issues involved in both cases. The greatest difference between the two movies, I believe, is the body of law from which each one flows. Whereas Erin Brockovich is based on environmental law, Flash of Genius subscribes more to intellectual property law. Environmental law is a branch of law that addresses the effects of business activity on the natural environment. In order for environmental law to apply,
...Intellectual property law, on the other hand, deals with issues of property ownership and the enforcements of legal rights to artistic works, designs and inventions. Intellectual property law is geared at protecting inventors by granting them patent, copyright and trademark rights over their invention, and requiring any parties wishing to use the same invention for their own research to seek permission from the property owner. Kearns' reason for bringing suit against Ford Inc. was because he believed that the company had intentionally used his patented invention to develop their own intermittent wipers, without giving credit to him as the original inventor. He thus wanted Ford to pay for using his invention and to consequently give credit for the same to him.

Aside from this major difference, the two movies share a significant number of similarities. To begin with, both represent a David vs. Goliath situation in the legal world. In other words, both movies are based on providing answers to the question of whether a 'David' can emerge victorious in a legal battle against a 'Goliath'. A 'Goliath' in this case is taken literally to represent an established, million-dollar corporation with sufficient capacity to bribe and buy witnesses just so things would go their way. Both Kearns and Roberts are high-standing, moral individuals fighting for what is right in a world known to favor those with money to burn. Nonetheless, in both cases, the 'David' is able to prove himself and win the favor of the legal system at the expense of the antagonist. In Erin Brockovich, for instance, we see PG&E (the Goliath in this case) attempt to use its financial status to bribe witnesses in the Hinkley community to testify that their health complications were not in any way related to the company's activities; at one point, an official is sent by the company to pay $250,000 in bribes to a family whose member had suffered cancer as a result of the company's operations as a way of getting the members to drop any charges against PG&E. Yet despite all this, the case still went in favor of the 'David', who did not even have enough resources to support the case alone. These are perfect indications of changing dynamics in the legal arena -- people are becoming more aware of their rights and status is becoming a less prominent determinant of victory in legal battles.

A second similarity between the two movies is that both apply the law from a utilitarian perspective, that is, on the basis of the greater good (Mill, 2012). Kearns, for instance, had the option of accepting Ford's offer for an out-of-court settlement and putting the matter to rest without having to spend huge chunk of resources; however, he rejected the same because he felt that it would jeopardize the inventions of other inventors across the world. Roberts faced a similar situation in Erin -- she lacked means and resources, and the safety of her children was threatened; yet she still fought for the greater good of the people of Hinkley, who were the majority. Both strived to use the law to achieve the greater good -- this is a perfect indication that the law should always be used to protect the well-being of the majority.

In other words, the law ought to be the unifying measure for the weak and the strong in society; its application should be based on fairness and not on status, and it should always strive to maximize the well-being of the majority (Carper & McKinsey, 2011).

Crucial Insights about Business Law from Both Movies

A number of crucial insights can be drawn from the two movies to guide lawyers in the practice of business law. First, ethical dilemmas will always be present in commercial law, especially when a case involves large, established corporations seeking to protect their reputations at any cost. There will often be deception, bribery, threats and a host of other sources of dilemma (Emerson, 2009). In Erin, for instance, PG&E, upon realizing that Roberts had incriminating evidence against it, calls to threaten the safety of her family. The case was no different in Flash of Genius, where Ford attempts to use its resources to get Kearns to forget about the case. These are indications that such dilemmas will always be an element in the practice of commercial law; however, just as Roberts and Kearns did when faced with the same, lawyers ought to always go by the utilitarian principle. We see Roberts…

Sources Used in Documents:


Carper, D. & McKinsey, J. (2011). Understanding the Law (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Emerson, R. W. (2009). Business Law (5th ed.). Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series Inc.

Mill, J. S. (2012). Utilitarianism. New York, NY: Dover Publications.

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