, Research Paper
Film is a medium on which society thrives. Ever since its invention, film has managed to captivate society but offering “…sensational junk food for the mind’ that does not deal seriously with our social and political problems but instead diverts and entertains us” (Berger, MAT 164). Marxist thought is one of the most powerful and suggestive ways available to the media analyst for analyzing society and its institutions. America, although a capitalist society, constantly perpetuates the teachings of Karl Marx. They see the ill effects of his Manifesto of the Communist party in society today as well as in the society of 1968. Fundamental principles of Marxist analysis include alienation, materialism, false consciousness, class conflict.
“Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — bourgeoisie and proletariat” (Marx http://www.anu. edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html#Bourgoise). That was the initial statement of Karl Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist party: the distinction of the main two classes, the upper or ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and the lower or working class, the proletariat. These two terms are used to classify a broad base of classes; however, for the movie, “The Thomas Crown Affair” these terms are not hard to infer. The main character, Thomas Crown is one of the most stereotypical characterized members of the bourgeoisie any movie. This multimillionaire is seen flaunting every aspect of the upperclass that the directors could pack into the two hours of the movie. Crown takes the time to learn every technicality of each situation into which he gets. “If we are to survive, [we must] keep on top of things and never be caught napping” (Berger, MAT 164). In the 1999 film, during his meal with Katherine Banning, he states from memory anything and everything from her past just like he was reading it from a file. He does his research. Crown calculates every move, and maintains constant control over those around him. He is the ultimate representation of the ruling class. This fortunately allows the objective audience to be very broad. The members of the bourgeoisie watch in laughter and awe of a character acting out many actions they think of acting out only do not have the ambition nor ability to try. The members of the proletariat watch in envy as they see a character living out their dreams.
The Manifesto reads, “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers” (Marx http://www.anu. edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html#Bourgoise). Thomas Crown is shown having “stripped the halo” by using the proletariat as pawns in his respective heists. In the 1968 version he uses five middle class men who are all in some sort of financial trouble to pull off a bank robbery for the mere chance of getting $50,000 each, while Crown would keep $1,750,000 for himself. That is, as Marx would put it, “exploiting the proletariat.” At the end of the movie, just as a jest for the police, Crown hires five more men to do the same thing. He is shown constantly using people to do the dangerous part of the work that he does. This is taken even further in the 1999 version of the film. The 1999 Thomas Crown hires Iranians to attempt to rob the art gallery. Only, the Iranians are never meant to succeed. As Crown aids in their capture, he steals the painting himself. The fact that he does it himself is very important in showing that America’s view of the bourgeoisie has improved. As the Capitalism that America perpetuates changes, so does societies responses to the particular parts and classes. “Capitalism is not only an economic system, but also something that affects attitudes, values, personality types, and culture in general” (Berger, MAT 40). The ruling class is now displayed with such a power, that the proletariat is supposed to idealize them. Whereas in the 1960s, the bourgeoisie was displayed as an unattainable position. It is a position that was out of reach during that time due to the fact that the period from the depression through the Vietnam war killed the American Dream. Back then it was not a matter of idealizing them but fearing them and staying out of their path. The new Thomas Crown is used to show a member of the bourgeoisie so successful he could do anything and everything himself, and the fact that the Iranians hired by Crown were sent to prison or possible deported, goes slightly touched on and then simply forgotten. In the 1999 film, Thomas Crown “has converted the physician, the lawyer…into [his] paid wage laborers.” He is seen getting over his problems by a psychiatrist, who is certainly getting a good hourly wage to make Crown feel better about himself. When confronted by the police, who represent the authority of the film, Crown simply calls upon his lawyer who is making breakfast in the kitchen. Most certainly a high paid attorney whose only job is to keep Crown out of trouble any, legal’ way necessary. All of his toys’ (his car, plane, helicopter, glider, etc.) were no doubt built especially for him by high paid engineers, mechanics, etc. When the 1999 Thomas Crown plays the joke on the Katherine Banning of letting her find the missing painting, even though it is a forgery, he has paid a forger to do it for him. “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society” (Marx http://www.anu. edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html#Bourgoise). Thomas Crown as he exists in the movie would be nothing if not for the constant exploitation of the instruments of production. And the audience reveres him for it. He is the heart-throb to the females, and the envy of the males. Regardless of class, his cunning, cockiness, quick wit, demeanor, and charm make him almost irresistible to the audience.
The separation of the classes does lead to a problem for Thomas Crown. He is lonely. There is an alienation that leaves Crown always desiring for challenge. “Bourgeois capitalist societies generate alienation and a host of afflictions that are connected to it a sense of powerlessness, insecurity, estrangement, rootlessness, and lack of identity” (Berger, MAT 164). “Powerlessness” and “lack of identity” seem like harsh words to associate with Thomas Crown due to his characterization up to this point. The fact of the matter is that in both movies Crown is rarely seen with friends. In the 1968 version, the golf bet is the only time he is seen “out having fun with the guys.” In the 1999 version, Crown’s golfing partners appear to be business associates. Although his sailing partners are probably friends, Crown is never really seen having true friends or even someone to challenge him. Crown most certainly has friends, but they do not play as important of a role in his life as they would for a member of the proletariat who defines an existence more so by the people around them than the things around them. That is what makes Vicky Anderson (1968) and Katherine Banning (1999) so exciting to Crown. She offers him something to relieve his alienation.
Ideology is another important feature as is shown in this film. To understand ideology it must be more clearly explained. Berger restricts ideology to, “any system of logically coherent and widely applicable socio-political beliefs” (Berger, “Film” 47). That not being a very narrow restriction, the theory of materialism must come into play. Materialism is very important from a Marxist point-of-view. The Marxist materialist’ stance is that social being determines consciousness (Berger, MAT 39). Implying that anyone involved in the world around them is conscious of the world and its views. Both of the TCA’s involve this overpowering ideology that it is okay for the incredibly wealthy to waste money. In the 1968 version, Crown is scene blowing $2000 on a simple golfing put. When this gross improvidence of money is questioned, Crown chuckles, “what else would you have us do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon?” A statement which instantly defines the character of Thomas Crown. He has no respect for money. The 1999 Crown is even more flamboyant. In the same scene in the second movie, he blows “$100,000 on a god-damn golf shot.” This shows how little money means to these men.
Thomas Crown’s lack of respect for money must be further interpreted before this goes on. The two Thomas Crown’s live the lives of rich men. They both have large houses with maids and butlers. The 1999 Thomas Crown even has a chaffier. They both have hobbies that no normal working man can have. They both are shown flying gliders, “a hobby which costs tens of thousands of dollars to get good at and takes years and years of practice” (http://www.pubnix.net/ rmacpher/sac.html). The Crown’s both also have beach houses. The Crown of 1999 has a Jet and a Helicopter as well, but that is just a sign of the status of the times. In 1968, it was less likely for a wealthy man to have such things in his personal ownership. The Crown of 1999 also has an extensive collection of priceless art, which is another of societies influences to make his character appear very upperclass and wealthy. Only a very rich man can have a hobby of collecting art. So, it becomes apparent that the Crown’s do have a use for there money, and they are constantly abusing all of its power. As for respect, however, it is not necessary for either character to respect there money. With it they can accomplish anything, so it losses value as an actual asset, because at no point in time in either movie, was money every a problem or inconvenience. To that class of people, money can be wasted on jokes or thrown away in bets. The 1999 Thomas Crown is said to “wreck a $100,000 sailboat, just because he liked the splash.”
The attitude of money having no real value is appropriate to the characterization of Thomas Crown in the 1968 version because the Crown family was old money, the 1968 Crown did not make his millions from scratch, he has the family business to do it with. This implies more of an Ideology which would lead to Crowns abuse of money. However, in the 1999 version, Thomas Crown is new money. He only made it to Oxford because he had a boxing scholarship. The idea of Crown working from the ground up would imply a respect, and maybe even a reverence for money. The stereotypical ideology for new money would not be the sophisticated air that the 1999 Thomas Crown represents. The question then must be raised, how has societies views of this Ideology of money not being of any consequence for the wealthy changed, and how are these changes are depicted in these two movies.
Thomas Crown’s disregard for all authority, even to the point of mockery and deceit, leads the audience to believe that those with status need no respect for government enforced rules and regulations. The idea that the upper-class does not have to “play by the rules” is a concept which has thrived in society ever since the division of classes. In mid-evil times, kings were not expected to abide by the same rules as commoners. A separation or alienation between the two groups is again present. “People who live in a state of alienation (or condition of alienation) suffer from “false consciousness” a consciousness that takes the form of the ideology that dominates their thinking” (Berger, MAT 47). A false consciousness rises from this which allows the proletariat portion of the audience to believe that the law is something designed to keep the lower-class down, and does not apply to the upper-class. Both versions of the Thomas Crown Affair perpetuate this theory.
Another aspect of these movies which displays an important aspect of American culture is the fact that throughout the entire movie the pursuers of Thomas Crown, with the exception of Vicky Anderson (1968) and Katherine Banning (1999), are blue collar police officers who are members of the proletariat. Society dictates that the proletariat cannot defeat the bourgeoisie. “Simply as a Marxist-Leninist morality play, one notices a conspicuous absence: the triumph of the revolution is not portrayed” (Berger, “Film” 81). The revolution in this case would be the hunting the culprit of the respective crimes by the police officers. The end of both movies involves Thomas Crown pulling of his crimes once again, and this time he has told the police he is going to do it. In the 1968 version, Crown hires five different men who rob the bank in the same way. Only this time when the driver goes to the cemetery to make the “drop-off,” the police are waiting. They allow the drop off, and the audience sees Crown’s Rolls Royce drive up to the “drop-off” point much like it did in the beginning. This time, the police officers box in the Rolls, and try to arrest the driver. The driver is not crown, it is just another underling, a member of the proletariat, and he has a message for Vicky. The presence of the message is a horrible mockery of the system, and of the bourgeoisie’s power over the proletariat. In the 1999 film, Crown stages the crime once again. This time he has hired members of the proletariat to disguise themselves in the same dress as him, which is actually a parity on the Rene Magritte painting “Portrait of a Businessman” (Just another aspect of the 1999 version which brings higher class humor into play). The costuming involves businessmen in trench-coats and bowler-hats carrying briefcases. The police lose Crown in the see of bowler-hats. Finally, Crown sets off the fire alarm which melts away a previously donated painting to reveal the painting Crown stole in the beginning. “The paintings been here the whole time…” remarked the investigating officer upon his realization of the big, sick joke played by Crown. The proletariat never even had the upper hand at anytime during the course of the film. The overarching principle of bourgeoisie’s dominance of society reigns true.
The two versions of “The Thomas Crown Affair” offer many insightful views of American society and the ever-present Marxist aspects of that society. The positions of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat have not changed significantly, during the change in time since the film was released in 1968 and then again in 1999, however, societies increased materialism has been, and can be noted through these films. If by nothing more than the acquisition of wealth that is far more established in the 1999 version. The audience sees the new concept of materialism. Thomas Crown, 1999, does not need to steal money, he needs to go as far to steal something money could never buy. That is a definition of status that did not exist in the 1960s. The appearance of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat has also changed in a noticeable way, allowing the proletariat to finally see the bourgeoisie as a position not just as heartless inhuman beings, but as successful entrepreneurs ever manipulating the system the put them where they are. Societal changes such as these will always manifest themselves into media such as film because movies tend to change with society and show all the facets of that change.