More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“Gosford Park”

It is not always immediately clear what is happening in Gosford Park, Robert Altman's latest film. Conversations among the many characters are mumbled, obscured by rain showers, clanking silverware, and layers of gossip and business dealings. But it doesn't seem to matter much. The film is richly detailed in character and design, the actors' performances are impeccable, and the plot twists are intriguing. From the perspective of the More Than Money reader, however, the negative depiction of the wealthy characters poses challenges worth exploring.

Described by many as a combination between Upstairs, Downstairs (the long-running BBC television series about a wealthy family and its servants) and an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the film takes place at a fabulous English country estate. A dozen wealthy friends and relations arrive with their servants for a weekend of pheasant hunting, lavish dining, and socializing. When someone is murdered, the characters' intertwined lives begin to unravel, revealing a dark side that is complex and, at times, compelling. Even though it may all be intended as a spoof, the images of the wealthy the movie portrays can still be a springboard for More Than Money readers to examine many pervasive stereotypes.

The Gosford Park wealthy are, to a person, vain, selfish snobs. They laugh only at others' misery and find joy only in raising their rank in the pecking order. No marriage has love in it. No sexual encounter has tenderness. The servants are proud, hard workers; the rich are bored. Aside from a few intimate moments between Maggie Smith's character and her maid, no one treats a servant with warmth, let alone respect. The parallel worlds of Upstairs, Downstairs primarily filled with love and noblesse oblige were phony; but the ease with which this film accepts the perpetuation of stereotypes about the wealthy as greedy, cruel, and manipulative is disturbing.

Perhaps all of us, no matter what our financial situation, yearn to be taken care of: never to wash a dish or a shirt, never to cook a meal, always to have servants help us dress up for parties. For those questioning the role of wealth in their lives, the natural desire to be taken care of may clash with values of fairness and justice. Can we accept the comfort and joy that money can bring? Can we justify it with the suffering we see in the world? The wealthy in the film see no suffering other than their own; are we afraid we are like them?

Although few modern wealthy would admit to having "servants," many of us employ people who clean our homes, mow our lawns, care for our children. What are the social and moral obligations of these relationships? Do we treat these people fairly? Honestly? Do we speak in front of them as if they aren't there? To what extent does Gosford Park exist for us? By seeing the film and using it as a springboard for conversation, perhaps the Mo re Than Money reader can dispel some of the myths about the wealthy and uncover the deeper truths.


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