The Pursuit Of Happiness Summary
Movie is a form of art just like literature, music and paintings but movie is much beyond that. Movie is a pictorial representation of a story one reads in a book. Movie is an expression of life in motion as one sees in paintings. Movie is a medley of colors and sound which provide a gateway to its audience from all the worries of life for a short while. Movie is a means of escape from the reality of life to find solace in something more cheerful. During Great Depression when people were bogged down with the distressing economic condition of the country, many Americans find something to laugh about by watching 'It Happened One Night' which starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert was a classic 'screwball comedy' (Goodykoontz and Jacobs, 2011). Movie being a reflection of our lives, it is important to evaluate the essence of a movie to appreciate how what seems to be a simple entertainment on the surface has a lot of hard work and effort gone into it. Evaluation of a movie is not a simple process. It involves studying a film from different aspects including storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing, impact of society on the film and vice versa, genre, an in-depth analysis and interpretation of the movie through a critical approach. This essay will present a critique of a 2006 Hollywood blockbuster ‘Pursuit of Happyness’ viewed in all the crucial aspects involved in studying a film.
'The Pursuit of Happyness' is based on the real life story of Chris Gardner whose struggle to keep his family afloat during the struggling time of 1980s when the US was going through a severe recession formed the core of the movie. The opening scene gives a glimpse of the phrase ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ as mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that the Americans are entitled to the right of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" (Hamilton, 2008). Chris Gardner reflects upon the meaning of pursuit of happiness as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal by God and among certain rights blessed upon them by their Creator are the right to 'Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' He realizes that happiness is elusive and despite pursuing it with unyielding zeal, happiness might skip his grip.
The storytelling was unconventional as Chris Gardner, the first person narrator, while describing his life divided his story into 5 chapters - riding the bus, being stupid, running, internship and happiness. Set in chronological motion, the first four chapters of his life depict the pursuit part when Chris is going through relentless struggle to obtain a modicum of happiness. The struggles presented in the movie are the series of problems that engulfed him at that juncture of his life. His life was laden with many problems such as his difficulty in selling scanners, his wife abandoning him in sheer despair, receiving parking tickets, losing his scanner, being unable to pay taxes or pay taxi fare, going bankrupt and becoming homeless and joining an unpaid training program with uncertain future while he was penniless and jobless (Yulianto, 2013). The last chapter of his life presents the happiness part when he finally got a job offer as a stock broker at Dean Witter and went on to build his own firm earning millions of dollars.
Talking about acting in 'The Pursuit of Happyness' the only name that comes to mind immediately is that of Will Smith who bagged the Academy Award for the best male actor in 2006 for his outstanding performance. His acting talents in the movie far outreach the action films and romantic comedies Will Smith is known for. He essayed the role of Chris Gardner, a trouble ridden man facing the most toughest time of his life, with such élan that for a moment while watching the movie, the fine line between an actor and the character diminishes in oblivion and the character becomes so real that it begins to identify the actor. In real life Will Smith is one of the wealthiest and famous movie stars in the nation but it is phenomenal performance that adds flesh and blood to the character of Gardner who is so financially strapped that he waits in queue with his son in front of a shelter to manage a resting place for the night. Besides Smith, another character that stuns the audience is Smith's own son Jaden Smith who played the role of Gardner's son Christopher. The director Gabriele Muccino made a stupendous decision by choosing Will Smith's own son Jaden to play the role of the lead character's son because the father-son duo beautifully replicates the relationship between Gardner and his son. Christopher was the source of strength for Gardner to live through all the hardships of life he encountered and both Jaden and Will Smith very realistically brought that out on screen.
The cinematography in 'the Pursuit of Happyness' is brilliant. Phedon Papamichael very beautifully used light, color and shots to actualize the director's visualization. Throughout the film, various close-up shots have been used to capture the expressions on the face of the characters. For instance, in the scene in which both Gardner and his son would spend the night locked inside a public restroom, the child would sleep peacefully with his head laid on his father's lap and someone would bang on the door. The close angle shot would not capture any movement, just the turn of the head of Will Smith to capture his reaction to the banging (Bishop, 2007). The sound used in the scene is of a loud banging and rattling sound with a depressing music playing in the background. The lighting is soft and mellow to contrast with the setting melancholy as the father is crying. Save for the bag of Christopher and his lunchbox, all neutral and natural colors have been used in the scene.
The uncommon spelling of 'happyness' is another example of brilliant cinematography. The misspelt word of happiness used in the title of the movie is borrowed from a graffiti drawn on the outside wall of the daycare facility attended by Gardner's son Christopher. The misspelling of the word happiness has hidden connotations. First, the 'y' in the word makes it conspicuous for us to notice and the underlying meaning is not to take happiness lightly. Gardner was irritated when he caught sight of the misspelt word on the outside wall of the daycare his son visited in Chinatown. He even pinpointed the misspelling to the caregiver of the daycare in order to ensure that his son received proper education. The misspelling showed his pursuit of perfecting his role of fatherhood so that no modicum of heedlessness remained in the upbringing of his son.
Francis Ford Coppola rightly said that the "essence of cinema is editing”(Goodykoontz and Jacobs, 2011). If the cinematographer actualizes the vision of the director, it is the editor who edits the shots of the cinematographer into a final plot. In 'the Pursuit of Happyness' Hughes Winborne brilliantly edited different shots and scenes together into a beautiful realization of cinematography. The editing style used in the movie follows a particular pattern to show the pace of the movie. When Gardner is under pressure or rushed, straight and quick cuts are used to speed up the scene but when happy or sad moments are shown then longer shots with close up camera angle are used. The cave scene in which Gardner and his son, unable to get a shelter for the night, enter the subway station and Chris takes his son into the subway bathroom to arrange for a makeshift resting place, Winborne beautifully uses straight cut transitions in and out of the shots and flows the scene in a way that is quick but not as rapid as that of an action movie (Bishop, 2007). Since the focus of the entire scene stays on the characters to bring out the chemistry between father and son, they always stay in the frame and the editor uses straight cut to get in and out of shots repeatedly. For instance, when the father enters the bathroom and locks the door, the next scene immediately captures the son's belongings and his sleeping on the lap of his father (Bishop, 2007). When tears begin to roll down the face of Gardner in sheer frustration and despair, the editor lingers the shot longer than the other shots to capture the emotions of Gardner from a close angle.
Sound is instrumental in emphasizing the theme of a movie. In ‘the Pursuit of Happyness’, there are many Stevie Wonder tracks used in the background mainly because of the reason that Stevie Wonder belongs to the time period the movie is based upon. Sad slow music is played in the scenes which are sad and depressing. In the cave scene when the father and son spend the night locked in a bathroom, the music playing in the background is slow and melancholy. Again, in the final scene when Gardner is given the job offer as stock broker at Dean Witter, the slow rhythmic music begins to play in the background as if Gardner is taking time for the good news to sink in and then the music takes on a note high and paces into a tempo bringing happiness and hope to the scene as Gardner, choking with happiness, mixes into the crowd.
Dialogues also play a key role in building the plot and bringing emotions out of the characters. Dialogues help not only build the plot right but also build the relationship between the central characters. For instance, there was a particular scene in which Christopher would relate the well-known joke about a drowning man refusing the help of rescuers in motorboats again and again saying that God would help him. After the man drowned and went to heaven, he confronted the God asking why God had not saved him to which God answered "I sent three boats for you. What were you waiting for?” (The Pursuit of Happyness Quotes). So poignantly a little child Christopher with his innocent story sent such a big message to his father who realized thereupon that despite things looking bleak, their rescue boat had arrived in the guise of internship.
Director Gabriele Muccino is basically an Italian film maker who made his debut in Hollywood movie through 'the Pursuit of Happyness'. He is very much inspired by the neorealist movies of Italy like Bicycle Thieves which, according to him, has certain amount of similarity with Gardner's story (Billington, 2008). That Gabriele Muccino is a great story teller shows the way he has presented the story of his movie 'the Pursuit of Happyness' in a very subtle way. He has beautifully narrated the story of Gardner by dividing it into five chapters putting stress on the struggle part of Garder's life through the initial four chapters and focusing on the happiness part in the final chapter. He has incorporated the first person narration technique in his movie with the protagonist telling the story of his life. He has even tried to bring out the theme of the movie using different symbols and images. For instance, he has used the Rubik's cube to project it as a symbol of the pursuit of happiness. Rubik's cube consists of multiple colored squares which need to be arranged in the same row to solve the puzzle, one color each side. Gardner's life is an unsolved Rubik's cube where the squares of his life are laid in haphazard order. He was trying to put the squares in perfect semblance against all odds. Just as the pursuit of happiness is a perpetual struggle the end result of which is elusive to many, same way solving the Rubik puzzle is a continuous effort the end result of which eludes many. Gabriele Muccino also set the time frame of the movie beautifully in the picture showing how due to high inflation rate and job cuts throughout the recession period in 1980s, people in the US were struggling for mere survival. Gardner was just a mere representation of thousands of such people struggling to overcome their hardships during that time.
Impact of Society on the Film
The movie is set in a time period of a severe recession in USA. Following the increase of business bankruptcies by 50% in 1981, the US and many developed countries around the world encountered one of the worst recessions in 1980s with unemployment rate going above 10% in the US. The condition of unemployment didn't improve in the United States until 1985. The economic policy of tax cuts employed by the then US President Reagan to improve the condition compounded the recession further (U.S. Department of State). The effects of the recession were felt all over the US. Many important industries including automobile, steel manufacturing and housing suffered a steep plummet in the business. The worst sufferers were the financial houses, mainly banks and savings and loan industry (U.S. Department of State). Due to high inflation rate and job cuts throughout the recession period, people in the US were struggling to make both ends meet. They pursued happiness by putting up a fight to get through the trying time as we see in the movie how Gardner was trying to survive his ordeal. The dashed dreams and lost hopes might have knocked many people into momentary depression and anxiety but since the effect of recession reached people of all climes, they were bound by a common purpose of overcoming their hardship.
Based on the true life story of Christ Gardner, the movie 'the Pursuit of Happyness' is a biographical drama which presents the struggle of Gardner with homelessness and joblessness for one year during the harrowing time of recession in 1980s. A biographical drama or biopic is characterized by the biographical representation of the life of an actual person or people. In such films, the real name of character is used. Conforming to the genre of biographical drama, 'the Pursuit of Happyness' presented the story of Chris Gardner, a self-made multimillionaire and entrepreneur who spent a year struggling on the street with his two year old son. He like the film's character took shelter in church or the bathroom in subway station at night (Gallo, 2007). The only few deviations from the actual story is that in the movie, Christopher is a five years old boy but in real Christopher was 2 years old at that time. Furthermore, in real life Chris Gardner didn't sell bone density scanner. He used to sell medical supplies.
Formalist Approach in Interpreting the Movie
Analyzing the movie from a formalist approach, it is clear that the plot of the movie is divided into five chapters of which first four chapters bring out the struggle part of the lead character while the final one focuses on the part of happiness. The most explicit content used in the movie is the theme of pursuit of happiness. The deliberate misspelling of the word in the title of the movie and the movie opening with the phrase ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ as mentioned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence all reinforce the central theme of pursuit of happiness only. The movie follows a particular pattern of editing style in which straight cuts and long shots or medium long shots are used to add speed to the life of Gardner whenever he is under pressure or rushed, but close up shots or extreme close up shots are used during any happy or depressing scene and the scene is made to linger longer than usual. The sound of the movie is usually slow and depressing but the pitch of the music leaps a note higher in some scenes giving a hint of the forthcoming joy and happiness.
Evaluation of a movie is not a simple process as it involves analyzing a film from different aspects including storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing, impact of society on the film and vice versa, genre, an in-depth analysis and interpretation of the movie through a critical approach. Based on the real life story of Chris Gardner, 'the Pursuit of Happyness' is a 2006 blockbuster movie which follows an unconventional story telling technique with the life of the protagonist divided into 5 chapters. Will Smith bagged the Academy Award for the best male actor in 2006 for his outstanding performance in the role of Gardner . His son Jaden Smith showed equal acting excellence by portraying the character of Christopher, Gardner's son, realistically in the movie. The cinematographer Phedon Papamichael beautifully used close-up wide shots to capture the expressions on the face of the characters. The uncommon spelling of 'happyness' is another example of Phedon's brilliant cinematography. The editing style of Hughes Winborne follows a particular pattern to show the pace of the movie. The sound and music used in the movie is usually slow and rhythmic. Dialogues also play a key role in the movie in bringing the equations of the characters right. Gabriele Muccino's directing style is unusual and subtle. The movie set in a time period of 1981 showcases Gardner as an epitome of thousands of Americans who were trying to survive their ordeal during the recessionary period. 'The Pursuit of Happyness' is a biographical drama that motivates people with the inspiring story of Gardner how on a man can brave challenging situations with grit and iron determination. The movie is a truly an epic which remains deeply embedded in the minds of its audience.
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