Does the pursuit and care of wealth satisfy the soul?

        Do endless financial machinations provide meaning and purpose in life?

        What if such a life is so empty that at midlife, the individual slides into a depressed despair?

        In one of the more intricate films which makes a “Mission Impossible” episode look like child’s play, “The Game” looks at the life of a wealthy 48 year old man in a state of dangerous depression.

        Building upon the fact that his father had committed suicide at age 48, Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a  successful recluse whose wealth is a prison.

        Having grown up in his father’s mansion where he spent a pampered yet tragic childhood, Van Orton’s identity is closely linked to his father’s.

        Withdrawing behind the locked gates of affluence, Van Orton not only eats alone on his birthday night, but rejects the loving call of his ex-wife.

        What can put a person in such a lonely place?  What can help him?

        If it is possible to buy one’s way out of depression and into a meaningful life, then the wealthy have the best chance at fulfillment.  The problem, of course, is that purpose in life can not be bought and wealth is as much a curse as a blessing.

        Van Orton’s little brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), has just the solution:  A secretive, high-tech organization called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS).

        The promise of CRS is to provide a “game” which will change your life.

        The premise is fascinating.  Is it possible to provide a realistic experience in a safe way to bring about a change so penetrating that a life is changed?

        The answer this film suggests is “yes.”  But to do so, the individual has to change his or her attitude toward the “game” and begin to think it is all for real.

        But then, maybe it is.  Maybe that’s the point the film is making.  Maybe everything really is a “game” and soon the curtains are going to fall and we’re going to meet the “wizard” behind it all.

        Maybe the film is saying that the difference between what we call “games” and what we call “real life” is only illusory.

        If this is the premise, then it causes an even stronger reaction from us.  Life is not a “game” and the events we experience are not the result of a grand “wizard” manipulating it all from behind a curtain.

        This fact is what makes “The Game” a difficult film to watch.  No one is who they say they are.  Every person is playing a part.  Even when it is over, the masks are hard to take off and the lies are hard to stop.

        This is seen most obviously in the attempt by Van Orton to connect with Christine (Deborah Unger).  Played with a casual authenticity that captures his heart, Christine herself is a deception.  She is paid to be in his life.

        But when the “game” is over and Van Orton wishes to connect with her in reality, Christine honestly states, “But you don’t even know me.” 

        When Van Orton agrees and asks her to tell about herself and where she is from, she automatically lies.  She says, “Oklahoma,” and then “Colorado.”  Finally she laughingly says, “I’ve been doing this too long.”

        We agree.  Lying to people in order to “open their eyes”  is not the way to new life or freedom from depressing and meaningless lives.

        If “The Game” was real, Van Orton would not be a changed man, but a traumatized man whose very identity and family connections have been damaged.  He would be more likely to be in a mental hospital than in a place of joyful fulfillment.

        We agree with the premise of the film that many of the wealthy are missing out on the deeper joys of life.  Dependent upon their wealth and often imprisoned by it as well, many people find it difficult to enter through the gates into a fulfilling relationship.

        The answer to such imprisonment is not an expensive “game” but rather a real life with loving and caring relationships in which the wealth is used to express love not only to those to whom love is easy to give, but also to those for whom love is difficult.

Posted on June 1, 2011 and filed under 2 STARS, SHALLOW INTRIGUE.