I Care A Lot, a new film released on Netflix and Amazon Prime, portrays an anti-hero who is an adamant believer in the new American dream: anyone can get filthy rich, if they are willing to exploit the vulnerable among us! In this film, Rosamund Pike, star of David Fincher’s 2014 Gone Girl, once again portrays a smooth, almost irresistible, villain. The aim of Pike’s Marla Grayson is clear from the start: to be on top of the predatory food chain of the free market economy. Her tactic is to become the legal guardian of elderly citizens who, ideally, have some valuable assets and cash in the bank. She isolates her victims from their relatives by putting them in a high-security nursing home, then enriches herself by selling the elderly person’s assets and clearing out their bank accounts.
The movie, though no cinematic masterpiece, is highly entertaining. The writing is good enough, not great, the plot: perhaps a bit thin — we never get any backstory on how Marla became who she is. Though, perhaps that’s the point. We don’t need a backstory on cold-hearted greed when it’s a central tenant of our cultural ethos. Turning humans into commodities is nothing new, Marla just takes a less traditional approach. This movie is best when viewed as a critique of the United States health-care system and a condemnation of the ethics of late-stage capitalism we have come to accept.
Yet, the movie avoids becoming preachy and moralizing by refusing to give us a victim. The would-be star victim turns out to be a not entirely sympathetic character. In fact, though she at first appears as a gentle elderly woman, it turns out that she, too, is intimately bound up in unethical wealth accumulation. The other would-be victim, a middle aged man whose mother has had the unfortunate luck of becoming one of Marla’s wards, is also deeply unlikable. He aggressively threatens Marla and shouts misogynistic expletives at her after losing to her in court. In the end, he takes justice into his own hands in a way that many may find disturbing.
Though nearly all the characters get hurt by the ruthless capitalist zeal that is ever-present in the film, those same people also eagerly partake in it. And without anyone to admire morally, one is only left with the option to admire success. Through a vulgar Nietzschean lens, the villain becomes the hero — Marla is cruel but competent. She is the embodiment of success in a culture that prioritizes wealth over health — both societal and bodily, in the case of the for-profit healthcare system.
I Care A Lot features a corrupt, money-hungry doctor and a paid-off nursing home director is willing to take orders against the best interests of his residents. In the film, the doctor is passing patients to Marla for a cut of her profits. In real life, doctors in the US have been prescribing drugs to their patients for a cut of Big Pharma’s profits. Along similar lines, a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that when private equity firms acquire nursing homes, the mortality rate of residents rises. This implies the management, like the nursing home director in the film, is being motivated by capital far more than resident’s health. These comparison, between the themes of the film and real-life American healthcare issues, need not be made in order for the problems to be highlighted. The actual plot of the film — legal guardians enriching themselves at the expense of their wards — is a real phenomenon in the United States, and something writer and director J Blakeson read about before writing the script for the movie.
The story is also an indictment of another sinister arm of a society run by capital: corporate feminism. In the film, a woman is running the show, there is, what some have unfortunately named, a “She-E-O” at the center of the story. In each supposedly empowering cliche that slips from Marla’s mouth — “I’m a f°°king lioness” for example— I Care A Lot refutes the delusional and contradictory essence of corporate feminism. How can one become liberated through morally heinous behavior? How are the most vulnerable women in society supposed to benefit from having a female, as opposed to male, oppressor? The movie shows the failings of Sheryl Sandberg=style “lean in” feminism in bright light without ever having to raise such questions directly.
Just because a woman is doing the exploitation — and getting rich from it — doesn’t mean the unjust structures feminists have long targeted have been harmed. Rather, as I Care A Lot exemplifies, it feeds into those structures, shows their resilience, their ability to adjust and mutate just enough to avoid destruction. By allowing a select few women to amass power and capital to a degree that historically only men could, the ruling class is strengthened, not undermined. These are points that feminist have long tried to elucidate, both in their scholarly work and as activists. I care a lot widens the audience of people who may come into contact with these ideas. The viewer is treated to a critique of some of the United States’ most appalling class legacies, but the choice is left to us: either we go the quasi-Nietzschian route: shun our morality and root for ruthless success of a villainous CEO; or we see, with fresh eyes, how corporations and the wealthy people who run them, only ‘care a lot’ about one thing: getting rich.