Consumerism is often seen as the driving force in the United States, a country known as capitalism’s most ardent fan. Nonetheless, several movies have been quick to point out the repercussions of having a zealous support for consumerism.
One of the many consequences of excessive consumerism is the blurring of personal identity. This loss of self is seen in the thriller “American Psycho,” where the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, resorts to mindless killing almost as a way to differentiate himself from his co-workers. He is often mistaken for others, illustrating how a society focused on goods results in a uniformity and lack of uniqueness.
Ultimately, Bateman is able to hide behind his expenses and use his lack of individualism as an alibi, leaving him immune to the consequences of the real world. In “Fight Club,” consumerism is portrayed almost as a religion, with propaganda serving as a guide for identity and masculinity. The narrator’s identity is mostly defined by his possessions and obsession for material goods, while his alter ego, Tyler Durden, is his complete opposite, pushing back against consumerism with violence and chaos. With consumerism, the only result is a boring sameness that does not allow for any sort of individuality without ensuing disorder.
Another lesson anti-consumerist movies teach us is that money does not equal happiness.
A prime example is Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby,” in which Gatsby spends his fortune throwing lavish parties in hopes of attracting his old flame, Daisy. In the end, this ostentatious display of wealth is useless, as it does not give Gatsby the status and class he needs to keep Daisy.
This moral that money is not always synonymous with happiness is also seen in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Martin Scorsese’s hit movie shows the quick downfall of those who rely on material goods for their sole source of joy. Character Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, says in the film: “… my first time in prison, I was terrified. For a moment, I had forgotten I lived in a world where everything was for sale.” Used to living in a society that revolves around capitalism, Belfort feels alienated in prison, not only because of his different environment, but also due to the shift in priorities and values. When he is no longer able to rely on wealth as his source of happiness, Belfort is left empty and alone. Similar to Gatsby, Belford realizes that while money makes things easier, it does not guarantee everything will go the way he expects.
Movies that criticize society’s emphasis on material goods often show that consumerism inevitably leads to moral decay. In Gatsby’s case, it is heavily implied that the money he has accumulated to impress Daisy is the result of his involvement in illegal businesses. In “American Psycho,” as Bateman is visibly stuffing a dead body into his trunk, he is stopped by a man, only to ask him where he got his overnight bag from. Consumerism blurs the line between right and wrong, often leaving people blind to anything but their ultimate goal of gathering more possessions.
Rather than prioritizing the well-being of others, people end up putting material goods first. They no longer care for others, but rather only focus on what they may gain for themselves. In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” everyone gives up their close friends to the police as long as they’re protected from the law. On the other hand, when someone tries to be moral and protect their friends, they are eventually backstabbed and harmed in the long run. In the classic film “Soylent Green,” overpopulation has resulted in scarcity. Instead of looking for alternatives, those who produce the miracle food are so driven by their greed that they resort to using people as food. By placing their rapacity over their regard for human lives, the audience is left wondering if humanity has a place in a world driven by consumerism.
In a society where there is so much importance on the material, we risk losing sight of what is truly important. Evidently, these movies serve as a warning that, while society may sometimes encourage us to base our identity and happiness on material items, the best things in life are not for sale.