“Uncut Gems”

February 1, 2020
Posted by Jay Livingston

I saw “Uncut Gems” last week. It does not pass the Bechdel test. It does not have
  • two women who . . .
  • have a conversation . . .
  • about something other than a man.
The film doesn’t even have a conversation between two men who are not Adam Sandler (Howard Ratner). He is there in nearly every scene. Nor does it have a conversation about something other than money.
Even “conversation” is misleading. Usually, the men shout. The camera is in tight on most shots, so you feel as though the film is grabbing you by the lapels, pushing its face into yours, and shouting about money. Also, th men say fuck, fucked, and fucking a lot, never in the literal sense.

“Uncut Gems” is basically an action movie, a film where the protagonist struggles against threatening forces in his quest for some tangible goal. It’s all problem-solving. Thoughtful introspection is out of the picture. Ratner thinks only about money. He needs money to pay his gambling debts (he’s a sports bettor), and he needs money to gamble still more. That’s what the film is about.

As a motivation, this obsession with money can lead to complicated actions, but as psychology, it couldn’t be simpler. Ratner and the movie itself see all problems as external. Or really, there’s only one problem — how to get money. All relationships with other people, including family, are purely instrumental — how to use them to get money or avoid them if they are trying to get their money back. The film even has the cliche scene where the parent goes to see his kid in the school play but has to leave in the middle. In this case, Ratner has to duck out to deal with his own money-based problems.

People interested in non-money relationships might as well be speaking a foreign language which Ratner does not understand and does not see the point in learning. As adept as he is at knowing what will motivate Kevin Garnet to have a great game, he is utterly unaware of what his own wife is thinking or how she sees him. They are getting a divorce, but Ratner still thinks it’s possible that she might scrap that idea. With a twinkle in his eye, he suggests that they might stay together. Her response: “I think you are the most annoying person I have ever met. I hate being with you. I hate looking at you. And if I had my way, I would never see you again.”

It’s not too much of a spoiler to note that in the end, she gets her way.

(A follow-up to this post is here.)

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