I've just returned from seeing Pain and Gain up the street with D at the Television Academy of Arts and Science. We had seen ads for the film, which looked comical in premise. I am the girl who has walked out on the much loved by many boys Fight Club, because for me it was too psychologically violent; walked out on a free screening of Me, Myself, and Irene because it just plain ol’ offended my sensibilities, and balled after watching Way of the Gun. It is a rare day I will sit through a film with violence in it, particularly the torture variety.
Pain and Gain is ostensibly a true story about a couple of guys who were body builders and felt they weren’t living the American dream as well as they deserved to be. Daniel Lugo, played by Mark Walberg, attends a crazy seminar about being a “Doer”, and walks away believing that all he needs to do is find a rich man, take all of his money, and make the world a better place. In comes Victor Kershaw played by Tony Shalhoub. Victor decides in the film to work out at Daniel’s gym. He brags to Daniel about all of his possessions and how he is a self-made wealthy man; almost completely unlikeable really, as he is spreading ill will by disclosing just how much he has to a physical trainer, who is not likely to have much. After attending the Johnny Wu “Doer” seminar, Daniel recruits some fellow numskulls in the film to help out with his plan to kidnap and extort all of Victors worldly possessions.
During many moments during the film I had to turn my head away. I cannot watch violence and torture. In the end, after being burned, beaten, hung by his feet and spun from equipment, the three losers try to crash a car with Victor inside it in order to kill him once and for all. That failing, they blow up the car with Victor in it, not succeeding here they finally run him over, twice.
Some how Victor survives. The three men run around, spend all the money they stole on coke, expensive hotels, women, booze, homes, and need another heist to keep up their current lifestyle. The redeeming feature for sticking around and watching the end of this film, although there was much head turning and burying away from the screen lest I see something I cannot unsee, was the satisfaction of watching these thugs finally get caught.
The major themes that come to mind are of course American greed. That even though Victor claims his family escaped the holocaust, wound up in Bogota, Columbia, and he made all of his money himself here in the U.S., the fact of the matter in the film was that he had a huge waterside home, expensive boats, owned a business in which he treats his employees like crap, expensive cars and servants he yells at and rudely insults and name calls, race animals worth a lot of money, plus accounts outside of the United States to save on having to pay taxes on them. He is not a likeable character, although you cringe to see anyone tortured under any circumstances, if you are me.
So what is the message? Why would an ordinary, non-intelligent Joe-Shmoe type kidnap and abuse another person for all of his worldly possessions? Why do a few people have so many possessions? Can you ever really earn that? Is a kingdom ever really earned? Even in Jane Goodall’s chimpanzee world in the Serengeti, the smartest, cleverest chimps would over power all of the other chimps in both possessions and females pollinated. Where does “earning” end? In Ayn Rand’s world it never does. When is the getting of things enough? When time to give back? And when does bragging about all you own ever pay off?
If even a fraction of what transpired on the screen is true, it is fairly disgusting on many levels of greed and callousness. Next time, maybe I’ll have read and looked into Toronto based Roots and Empathy training. It seems along with a less flashy, showing-off constantly outlook, our characters committing and getting tortured could all use, besides a brain or two, some empathy.