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Big on Information, Short on Understanding

The main problem with The Big Short is whether director Adam McKay succeeds in making you understand just what it is that Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling are doing to the bond market that ends up with the market crash of 2008. That he never succeeded with me proves nothing, because I can almost never understand anything involving either numbers or money. And the half-dozen or so people I consulted over this problem all said I didn't need to feel ashamed of myself because they had some trouble with the problem themselves. The man in the lobby even suggested that the complicated details might have been included just to make a fairly simple swindle look comically complicated.

But writer/director McKay goes way out beyond normal movie-making to help us understand it all, with speeches addressed directly to the movie audience, printed footnotes, dialogue edited to form straight out explanations such as documentaries use, even Margot Robbie explaining things in a bubble bath; The Big Short is, among other things, an interesting example of experimental film trying to make cinematic film out of material not obviously suited to the entertainment/narrative form. And the one person I talked to who knew the bond business said the whole explanation is there in simple language, you just have to listen carefully with a mind open to new factual material.

I have no way of knowing how many in the fair-sized audience I saw The Big Short with understood it, except that there was appreciative laughter during the first hour and, the man in the audience agreed, almost total silence after that.

At this point, in tribute to director Adam McKay's eccentric technique, I add a footnote:

* Since beginning this review, I have talked to one man who saw the movie and another man who knew the original story, and they both testified that my original interpretation of the movie pretty well fit the facts after all. Maybe The Big Short is not as difficult a movie as I thought.