Foxcatcher; Goodfellas and Fargo are all true crime stories that deal in ‘Ambition, power, control. But how do power struggles come through in cinema dialogue? Let’s explore how power relations are illustrated in film.
How do people grasp and maintain control? In Foxcatcher, people use their masculinity which is established through their achievements. In particular the control lies with the men with the most sporting accolades and physical attributes.
John du Pont was a fraud, he pretended to be skilled and knowledgeable in the art of amateur wrestling but his achievements were fake. He used real athletes to claim their glory in order to receive that admiration and control.
In Goodfellas, people often use face threatening acts to assert themselves in conversations. They use abrasive language and mockery. If they do not agree with someone they make a joke at their expense and try to get the whole room to laugh.
In Fargo- the characters use manipulation and psychological mind games. Lorne Malvo, the villain if you can call him that, is particularly good at this. He burrows into Lester’s mind, implanting his philosophy of being the predator and not the prey.
As a result, Lester is driven to murder. Later in the season, he has effectively became Malvo, using similar Machiavellian schemes.
How do characters manifest their ambitions? The answer to this is the same for each movie. In all three movies, people use others as a means to an end. Manipulation is a strong theme in stories of this kind.
In the first season of Fargo, Malvo uses Lester and others to further his goals. Malvo uses chaos to get what he wants, he pulls strings in people’s lives causing chaos. There does not seem to be a motive behind his machinations, he creates suffering and chaos for the sake of it. Perhaps he wants to be a God.
People are used as a tool in Goodfellas too. There is a hierarchy in the mob, they serve an internship as someone’s minion. The people below you in rank can be used to do your dirty work.
John du Pont uses the Schultz brothers to attain more glory. If his athletes win at the world championships and the Olympics, he sees it as his victory.
He is obsessed with being a figure of power and admiration but he does not have the attributes to be an accomplished athlete himself. His obsession with greatness is illustrated by the scene where Mark arrives at the estate. He is immediately given a documentary about the family which talks about ‘du Pont, a dynasty of wealth and power’.
Though the context and setting of these movies is very different, the tone and themes are very similar. Most of the scenes involve men in rooms talking. However, there is as much conflict going on as a superhero movie where people are punching each other through buildings. The battles are subtle and understated.