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American Dream in “The Pursuit of Happiness” Film Essay (Movie Review)


Introduction

This paper is based on the concept “The American Dream”. It is based on a biographic story of an American who rose from a difficult past to a position of affluence within the American society. This is based on a film titled The Pursuit of Happiness. The Pursuit of Happiness this movie is a biographic film which is based on the life of a person named Chris Gardner.

This film presents Gardner as a person who struggles relentlessly with the struggles of living up to a point where it seems as if it is all going to collapse on him. Essentially, these films give a reflection of a man who is can be considered to be an on and off homeless salesperson who decides to become a stockbroker. This decision comes against a series of challenges besetting him, though he manages to stick to the plan until the end. Even though Chris does not have what it takes academically to make it as a stockbroker, he marvels the society by his aggressive character that eventually makes him successful in life.

The reason as to why this film became the preferred film for this paper is based on the fact that it depicts the lives and challenges that most American citizens go through. Furthermore, it illustrates the role that behavior plays towards transforming organizations and businesses. This implies that regardless of the circumstance, a person’s resolve and the determination to achieve goes a long way towards bringing success. Focus and determination are key components for realizing the American Dream. It is worth noting that the chosen story illustrates the role of individual and employee behavior towards the success of any organization. In this case, Chris and his wife depict different attitudes towards their employers which affect the employee output and eventually the organizational progress.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze how American films have represented race, class, gender, and sexuality since the early 20th century (Harry, Benshoff & Sean 2011). It is a basic principle of this work that by studying American film history, we can gain keen insights into the ways that different groups of American people have been treated (and continue to be treated). Images of people on film actively contribute to how people are understood and experience in the “real world.”

Furthermore, there are multiple and varied connections between film and “real life,” and we need to have agreed-upon ways of discussing those connections and their ramifications (Dudley 1976). Therefore, before examining in detail how specific groups of people have been represented within American cinema, we need to understand some preliminary concepts” how film works to represent people and things, how and why social grouping are and have been formed, and how individuals interact with the larger socio-cultural structures of the United States of America. This section introduces some basic ideas about film form, American history, and cultural studies.

Film form

Film form refers to the constituent elements that make film uniquely a “film” and not a painting or a short story (Leo & Marshall 2004). All works of art might be said to have both form and content. Content is what work is about, while the form is how that content is expressed. Form and content are inextricably combined, and it is an adage of art theory that “form follows content,” which means that the content of a work of art should dictate the form in which it should be expressed. For example, many different poems might have the same content – say, for example, a rose – but the content of a rose can be expressed in various forms in an infinite number of ways: in a sonnet, a ballad, an epic, a haiku, a limerick, and so forth.

Each of these formal structures will create a different “take” on the content. For example, a limerick tends to be humorous or flippant, while a sonnet tends to be more serious and romantic. Likewise, different films with similar content can be serious, frivolous, artistic, intellectual, comedies, or frightening (Narloch 2008; Nichols 1976). Therefore, understanding how cinema communicates or creates meaning requires more than paying attention to what is specifically going on in the story (the film’s content); it also requires paying attention to how various artistic choices (the film’s form) affect the way the story is understood by the viewer.

American ideologies: discrimination and resistance

The constitution of the united states of America famously begins with these three words: “We the People.” Their importance highlights one of the founding principles of the nation: that the power of government is embodied not in the will of a dictator, nor in that of a religious leader or a monarch, but the collective will of individualized citizens (Finifter 2000). In conceptualizing “the power of the people,” the newly formed united states of America based its national identity on the principle of equality or as Thomas Jefferson’s very words underlie the fact that women were excluded from this equality – women were not allowed to vote or hold office, and they were severely hampered in opportunities to pursue careers outside the home.

People of African descent were also regularly denied the vote, and the writers of the Constitution itself acknowledged (and thus implicitly endorsed) an institution system of slavery against blacks and others. The Constitution did at least acknowledge the presence of African Americans in the country (although they were valued by the government as only three-fifths of a person) (Finifter 2000). Native Americans were denied even this dubious honor and were considered aliens. Even being a male European descent did not necessarily guarantee inclusion in the great experiment of American democracy, for many statesmen at the time argued that only landowners (that is, those of a certain economic standing) should have the right to vote or hold office.

Over the years, Americans have come to understand that the Constitution is a living document, one that can be and has been changed to encompass a wider meaning of equality (Heineman 1995; Frank, Richard & Michael 1999). In America today, there is a general belief that every individual is unique, and should have equal access to the American dream of life “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Not everyone will necessarily reach the same levels of happiness and success, but most Americans believe that the results of the quest should be based on individual effort and merit rather than preferential treatment (or, conversely, exclusionary tactics) (Frank, Richard & Michael 1999). The United States of America professes that these opportunities are “inalienable tactics.” However, just as in the late 1700s, barriers, conflicts, biases, and misunderstandings continue to hamper these ideals. While most American citizens philosophically understand and endorse these principles of equality, many of those same people also recognize that equality has not been achieved in the everyday life of the nation (Harry, Benshoff & Sean 2011).

The realization of the American dream

One might argue that Gabriele Muccino’s Pursuit of Happiness was just another Hollywood tear-jerker about the relegation and rise of a sympathetic and likable protagonist with the purpose to tug at the audience’s heartstrings (Narloch 2008). This could be true, but since the movie is based on the life of Chris Gardner, a real existing person, it is not all something like this. The book nearly tells the same story as the movie, by some means or the other.

This makes the story, not another Hollywood fiction but an example for the typical “from – rags – to – riches – story” (Robert & Michael 1989). Typical, because there is a protagonist who is broken, who has no money, no home, and no university degree, whose marriage broken and who is accompanied by responsibilities such as his son and his job as an intern for Dean Witter. It gives the impression that there was nothing he could do to overcome this situation, but actually, he makes it and in the end becomes a millionaire.

He achieves his goals through hard work and pursuing happiness and therefore makes the movie being directly connected to the idea of the American Dream. To intensify this image of the American Dream, the movie also includes symbols such as the American flag as being the symbol of hope and opportunity as well as the Declarations of Independence, the precursor for the American Dream. Metaphors such as the lyrics of “Lord, don’t move that mountain” where it is asked for strength, not for rescue, is related to the puritan ideal of happiness through hard work.

Questions about the Declaration of Independence underlie this idea and emphasize that happiness can only be achieved by pursuing it, that it was something that did not come easy or without achievement. Throughout the whole movie, the doctrines of “if you want it you can make it” and “you have to work hard to achieve your goals” are being lived out by Chris Gardner. Taking his opportunities and not giving up, he is being described as the ultimate personification of the American Dream.

Nevertheless, the movie still changes some important facts or leaves them out. To mystify the idea of the American Dream, all those symbols such as the American Flag and the notion of the Declaration of Independence are tools to support the idea of the American way of life and to suggest that everyone could make it. Left out are certain facts about Chris Gardner, such as having been a small-time criminal in his youth, but that he nevertheless always has been eager and studios. He was supported by his mother who said that “one day he could make a million dollars”, by his aunt who supported his interest in books, by his family members who put him up instead of sending him to a children’s home and all the opportunities that were offered to him.

He went to the Navy and got the chance to work in a responsible position, always being the first African – American no matter where he worked. He had to fight a lot during his life, but there have also been many changes, some that he took and some that he let pass away. The movie only tells one part of the story and constantly tries to support the idea of the American dream regardless of its connection to reality. Thus, it makes the movie an American Dream story which leaves the impression that everyone could make it, giving the audience only one example but concealing that there are who make did not make it. In the end, it raises hope and motivates them to pursue happiness to make it from rags to riches.

Gabriel Muccine’s The Pursuit of Happiness (2006) – the American Dream

Gabriel Muccino’s The Pursuit of Happiness is set in San Francisco in 1981 and it is about the life of Chris Gardner from whose point of view the story is told. Chris is a salesman who sells portable bone-density scanners. He lives in a small apartment together with his wife and his son Christopher. They do not have much money since the scanners are said to be “unnecessary and expensive” and Chris hardly ever sells one. Linda works for a large scale laundry where she had to do double shifts to earn enough money to make a living.

Because of working very hard, there is not much time for the son who spends most of his days at a daycare center. Chris has to do his visits to the hospitals by bus because he got too many parking tickets which he is not able to pay for. The Internal Revenue Service also gets money from him and his wife but he repeatedly has to ask for an extension of time which causes angry discussion with Linda. To pay for rent, daycare, and groceries, Chris has to sell at least two scanners a month, but actually, he sold none over the last period f time. Christopher already knows that his parents are rather poor and therefore his wishes for his birthday are decent.

One day, Chris is on his way to sell another scanner, when a Ferrari drives by and the driver pulls in right beside him. Chris is thrilled and asks the driver “what do you do? And how do you do it?” and the owner of the Ferrari answers that he was a stockbroker. Chris becomes curios and since he does not have a university degree, he wants to know if this was a requirement. The stockbroker tells him that for doing this job, you “have to be good with numbers and good with people” and thus put the idea of becoming a stockbroker in Chris’s head. He makes an appointment at Dean Witter, a Resource Department, and tells Linda the next morning, but she is not very happy with it. Instead, she teases him and asks him why he did not want to become an astronaut instead. Again, their conversation ends in a discussion about money and the rent with which they are “already two months behind.”

Nevertheless, Chris keeps the appointment at Dean Witter because right at that time, the firm is offering internships at a Broker Trainee Program, whereas “the program took just 20 people every six months. One got the job.” Because Chris has to sell another scanner after the interview and does not want to take the machine with him, he asks a “hippie girl” who is singing in front of the building to keep an eye on it. When he comes into the office of Tim Brophy, he gets an application form but Tim does not raise Chris’s hopes since many people have already applied for the position. While he is talking, Chris suddenly runs out of the bureau because through the window he sees the hippie girl leaving her place with his scanner in her hands.

He runs after her but she disappears in the subway. After having taken Christopher to the daycare center the next morning, he goes back to Dean Witter to hand in his application form, giving it to Jay Twistle, the Head of Resources, whom he wants to explain that although his educational background is rather short, he was the right person for the job. Twistle tells him that he would give him a call if necessary and is gone the next moment. On this way to visit another hospital to sell something, he sees the hippie girl with his scanner and again runs after her. He had once “spent his entire life savings on these things”, one (Narloch 2008). As we shall see, this movie reflects the behavior of people in organizational settings. In essence, Chris and his wife provide a classic example of their commitment to their organizations as employees.

People in organizations: Psychological contracts

Whenever we buy a car or sell a house both the buyer and seller sign a contract that specifies terms of the agreement – who pays what to whom, when it is paid, and so forth. A psychological contract resembles a standard legal contract in some ways but is less formal and less well denied. Specifically, a psychological contract is a person’s overall set of expectations regarding what he or she will contribute to the organization and what the organization will provide in return. Thus, unlike any other kind of business contract, a psychological contract is not written on paper, nor are all of its terms explicitly negotiated.

The individual makes a variety of contributions to the organization – such things as effort, skills, ability, time, time and loyalty (Ricky & Gregory 2011). One specific aspect of managing psychological contracts is the management of the person-job ob fit. A good person-job ob fit is one in which employee’s contributions match the inducements the organization offers, in theory, each employee has a specific set of needs to be fulfilled and a set of job-related behaviors and abilities to contribute. If the organization can take perfect advantage of hose behaviors and abilities and exactly fulfill the employee’s needs, it will have achieved a perfect person-job ob fit.

Of course, such a precise person-job fit is seldom achieved. For one thing, hiring procedures are imperfect. Managers can estimate employee skill levels when making hiring decisions and can improve them through training, but even simple performance dimensions are hard to measure them through training, but even simple performance dimensions are hard to measure objectively and validly. For another thing, both people and organizations change. An employee who finds a new job stimulating and exciting to begin with may find the same job boring and monotonous a few years later. An organization that adopts new technology needs new skills from its employees. Finally, each person is unique. Measuring skills and performance is difficult enough. Assessing attitudes and personality is far more complex. Each of these individuals’ differences makes matching individuals with jobs a difficult and complex process.

Individual differences

Every individual is unique. Individual differences are personal attributes that vary from one person to another. Individual differences may be physical, psychological, and emotional. The individual differences that characterize a specific person make that person unique. Basic categories of individual differences include personality, attitudes, perception, and creativity. Are the specific differences that characterize a given person good or bad? Do they contribute to or detract from the performance?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on the circumstance. One person may be dissatisfied, withdrawn, and negative in one job setting but satisfied, outgoing, and positive in another. Working conditions, co-workers, and leadership are just a few of the factors which affect how a person performs and feels about a job. Thus, whenever a manager attempts to assess or account for individual differences among her employees, she must also be sure to consider the situation in which the behavior occurs (Schermerhorn 2011).

Since managers need to establish effective psychological contracts with their employees and achieve optimal fits between people and jobs, they face a major challenge in attempting to understand both individual differences and contributions about inducements and contexts. A good starting point in developing this understanding is to appreciate the role of personality in organizations. As illustrated in the movie by Chris as a salesperson and Chris as a stockbroker.

Perception and attribution

The attribution theory has extended our understanding of how perception affects behavior in organizations. Attribution theory suggests that we observe the behavior and then attributes causes to it. That is, we attempt to explain why people behave as they do. The process of attribution is based on perceptions of reality, and these perceptions may vary widely among individuals. To start with one observes the behavior of another. We then evaluate that behavior in terms of its degree of consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness.

The consensus is the extent to which another person in the same situation behaves in the same way in different situations. We form impressions or attributions as to the causes of behavior based on various combinations of consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness. We may believe the behavior is caused internally by forces within a person or externally, that is, by forces in the person’s environment.

Attitudes and performance

People’s attitudes affect behaviors in their entire lives. Attitudes are complexes of beliefs and feelings that people have about specific ideas, situations, or other people. Attitudes are important because they are mechanisms through which most people express their feelings.

How attitudes are formed

Attitudes are formed by a variety of forces, including our values, our experiences, and our personalities. For example, if we value honesty and integrity, we may form especially favorable attitudes towards people who we believe to be very honest and moral. Similarly, if we have had negative and unpleasant experiences with a particular co-worker, we may form an unfavorable attitude towards a co-worker.

Attitude structure: attitudes are usually viewed as attainable dispositions to behave toward objects in a certain way. For any number of reasons, a person might decide that he or she does not like a particular political figure or a certain restaurant (a disposition). We would expect that person to express consistently negative opinions of the candidate or restaurant and to maintain the consistent, predicable intention of not voting for the political figure or not eating at the restaurant.

In this view, attitudes contain here components: affect, cognition, and intention. A person’s effect is his or her feelings toward something. In many ways, affect is similar to emotion – it is something over which we have little or no conscious control, for example, most people react to words such as “love,” “hate,” “sex,” and “war” in a manner that reflects their feelings about what those words convey, similarly, you may like one of your classes, dislike another, and be indifferent toward a third.

Cognition is the knowledge a person presumes to have about something. You may believe you like something because it is in line with your favorite timing. Cognitions are based on perceptions of truth and reality, perceptions agree with reality to varying degrees.

Intention guides a person’s behavior. If you like a person, you may intend to take extra effort. Intentions are not always translated into actual behavior. Some attitudes, and their corresponding intentions, are much more central and significant to an individual than others. You may intend to do one thing but you later alter your intentions because of a more significant and central attitude.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when two sets of cognitions or perceptions are contradictory or incongruent a person experiences a level of conflict and anxiety called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance also occurs when people behave in a fashion that is inconsistent with their attitudes. For example, Chris realizes that he does not like the job of selling scanners because there were no substantial returns and yet he continues to do both.

Because the attitudes and behaviors are inconsistent with each other, the person probably will experience a certain amount of tension and discomfort and may try to reduce these feelings by changing the attitude, altering the behavior, or perceptual distorting the circumstance. For instance, because Chris cannot raise enough money he opts to remain in this job and at some point keeps on postponing moving to another job for a while.

Cognitive dissonance affects people in a variety of ways. We frequently encounter situations in which our attitudes conflict with each other or with our behaviors. Dissonance reduction is the way we deal with these feelings of discomfort and tension. From Chris’ example, we find that in organizational settings, people contemplating leaving the organization may wonder why they continue to stay and work hard. As a result of this dissonance, they may conclude that the company is not so bad after all, that they have no immediate options elsewhere, or that they will leave soon.

Attitude change; attitudes are not as stable as personality attributes. For example, new information may change attitudes. A manager may have a negative attitude about a new colleague because of his lack of job-related experience. After working with the new person for a while, however, the manager may come to realize that he is actually very talented and subsequently develop a more positive attitude, likewise, if the object of an attitude changes, a person’s attitude towards that object may also change. As the case was Chris in the new stock brokering firm. Attitudes can also change when the object of the attitude becomes less important or less relevant to the person. For example on realizing that the salesmanship was not productive Chris opts to get into another line of business. Individualism – collectivism

Lastly, through this movie, there is the subject of individualism and collectivism in the American culture. Individualism and collectivism are two of the fundamental values that must be thoroughly understood to be effective in today’s world (Don & John 2007). Essentially, Christopher struggles individually to make it, and he eventually makes. However, what we are not told in the movie is the kind of upbringing he had. Individualism is the tendency o people to look after themselves and their immediate families, as is the case with Chris who struggles tooth and nail to provide for his family.

The culture as depicted in this movie is individualistic. The culture emphasizes individual initiative, decision making, and achievement, the individual, in this case, Chris, is emotionally detached from the society and to an extent the organization in which he works as a salesman. This kind of approach assumes that everybody has the right to privacy and personal freedom of expression. Countries characterized by an emphasis on individualism include the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

In contrast, collectivism is the tendency of people to emphasize their belonging to groups and to look after each other in exchange for loyalty. The social framework tends to be tight, and in-groups, that is, relatives, communities, and organizations focus on their common welfare and distinguish themselves from out-groups. Collectivism usually involves the emotional dependence of the individual on groups, organizations, and institutions.

The sense of belonging and “we” versus “I” in relationships is fundamental. Individuals’ private lives are open to the groups and organizations to which they belong. Group goals are generally thought to be more important than the individual’s personal goals when conflict arises between individual goals and in-group goals, the general expectation is that in-group goals and decision making should prevail. Collectivism seems not to apply in this case. However, it can be credited to Chris’ upbringing and the values which he has picked from the environment.

Conclusion

It is worth noting that this movie brings to the fore an interplay of many factors that have been put on the table which are affecting the life of the common person. This is brought to the fore when the director brings in the issue of race and freedom. The subject of the environment in light of the prevailing attitude towards work is also analyzed. This movie allows the audience to dream again. That is, despite the challenges that a person is facing there is a glimmer of hope that one can make it in life and live the American Dream what is important is the focus, that is, what a person chooses to focus upon. Eventually, Christopher makes it be a millionaire. This is an illustration that there are cases where one will become successful only if they are willing to risk and try to map uncharted lands. It is through this that one will be able to master the area that one is truly good in and eventually emerge victorious in the race of life.

Reference List

Don, H & John, WS 2007, Organizational behaviour, 11th edn, Cengage Learning, California.

Dudley, A 1976 , The major film theories: an introduction, illustrated edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Finifter, AW 2000, Political Science, FK Publications, London.

Frank, B, Richard, AC & Michael, S 1999, Elements in political science, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

Harry, M, Benshoff & Sean, G 2011, America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Heineman, RA 1995, Political Science, McGraw-Hill Professional, London.

Leo, B & Marshall, C 2004, Film theory and criticism:introductory readings, 6th edn, Oxford University Press , Oxford.

Narloch, J 2008, Facets of the American Dream and American Nightmare in Film, GRIN Verlag, Norderstedt.

Nichols, B 1976, Movies and methods: an anthology, Volume 1, illustrated edn, University of California Press, California.

Ricky, WG & Gregory, M 2011, Organizational Behavior:Managing People and Organizations, 10th edn, Cengage Learning, California.

Robert, L & Michael, W 1989, Film theory: an introduction, reprint edn, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Schermerhorn, JR 2011, Organizational Behaviour, 12th edn, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

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