Character Analysis in the Film Margin Call
The film, ‘Margin Call’ begins during the last phase of good times on one of the firms in Wall Street. As the film begins, the company is laying off employees but the management fails to realize that the company is in fact facing a greater financial problem that earlier perceived. The company is facing financial distress following two years of disastrous speculation of the company’s venture into mortgage markets. One of the victims during the layoff is a competent head of risk management in the company. As he leaves the company, Erick gives a model to Peter who is a senior risk analyst (Wagner 49). His decision reveals the true financial state of the company prompting a series of events leading to the dissolution of the company. The film comprehensively captures the events of an economic recession highlighting major decisions that companies have to make. Events from the film are inspired by real life events that led to the 2008/2009 economic downturn. The actions of the characters and particularly their worldviews are major highlights in the film. An analysis of the characterization of the film provides insights on the handling of an economic crisis from a company’s perspective.
Sam, the investment floor head expresses indifference when addressing the members of staff about the laying off of 80% of the firm’s members of staff. Being a salesman, he draws his motivation from the ability to sell a product as opposed to the issues affecting his company. Sam worries about his dying dog and considers the laying off of several hardworking employees; an opportunity for others to thrive. Despite his disinterest on humanity, his focus is on the business and seems worried about what the next steps taken by the company will mean to his career (Werner 646). To Sam, objectivity overrules emotions. While he acknowledges that the people laid off by the firm were good at their jobs, he also believes that they must be forgotten so that those that are left can focus on the progress of the firm. Sam actions are based on constructivism and is willing to lose if it means that he will have the opportunity to bounce back and recover from the loss.
Will is the head of trading at the company. Unlike Sam, he cares about his job and seems moved by the laying off of 80% of the firm’s workforce. His relation with the other members of staff is quite healthy. This is portrayed through his knowledge of the whereabouts of Dale when no one else has a clue on where to find him. When he learns about the glaring demise of the company he works for, he makes a series of decisions that involve informing the management and also attempts to find Erick. Will is pursuant of Erick and makes several attempts to get him to help the company through its recovery. His efforts eventually yield results and Erick agrees to help the company.
John, Tuld, the Chief Executive Officer to the firm does not care about much that happens in the company other than ensuring that it stays afloat. For instance, he is not concerned about understanding the figures and believes that his work is about placing a bet on the future of the company. Tuld prefers that the details of the analysis are broken down into the simplest forms. His approach to life is quite simplistic and he tends to downplay his attainment as CEO. In the film, Tuld is unwilling to compromise on his ability to make money regardless of the future repercussions that his actions will have on the future of his career as well as the impact on the consumers of his product (Werner 650). As the CEO, he has the option to take a safer approach that is not as profitable but one that will allow him to return to the market after the recession. Tuld tends to apply postpositivsm in making his decisions which are critical to the future of the company.
Peter Sulvan is the senior risk analyst who was working under Erick Dale before he was laid off. Although peter id dedicated to his job and is really great at it, he draws his motivation from the ability to make an income. Even so, he thrives at understanding complex concepts and is keen on ensuring that his boss gets an accurate view of the situation. Peter also believes in doing the right thing and following the correct channels to generate an income. In the film, Peter has the choice of leaving with his colleagues as they head out to celebrate their success. The decision to stay behind while the rest of colleagues leave allows him to crack the puzzle using the model left to him by Erick his superior. To a great extent, Peter’s actions steer a number of actions leading from his discovery. Peter is quite persistent and ensures that his message is put across in plain and concise language. He defies the expectations of his superiors by laying out the facts as they are without hesitation. Peter demonstrates great will to help contain the damage resulting from the company’s past investment decisions.
Seth is a junior risk analyst at the firm. He is young and has a carefree attitude towards life. According to him, making nearly a quarter a million by just punching numbers on a computer is quite a fortune. Seth draws his motivation from monetary reward and does not really care about how his actions affect others. He is comfortable with there being winners and losers in the world of business (Wagner 47). When they fail to find Erick, Seth suggests that they have some drinks which insinuates that the wellbeing of the company is not as much a concern. Seth’s action make light of a difficult situation hence helping reduce the distress that his colleagues are experiencing. However, his carefree attitude makes him an unfavorable employee to retain in the event that the company collapses.
Erick Dale is the former head of risk management at the firm. At the time of his termination, Dale is working on a model that reveals the troubled financial position of the firm. He is looking into the issue without the knowledge of any other member of the workforce. Despite what seems like an unworthy send off, Dale leaves his assistant with his progress on the model which illustrates his concern for the firm. Dale feels responsible and seems reluctant to leave the job incomplete. Rather than seek the glory for himself he hopes that peter will finish what he started (Werner 653). Dale motivation comes from the ability to deliver results and genuinely cares for the firm’s wellbeing. Dale’s act of passing on his project to Peter played an important role in determining the company’s actions in the attempt to contain the damage. Ideally, Dale had the choice to withhold the information and allow the company to go down without the knowledge of the management. However, having worked in the company for 19 years, he feels the responsibility of ensuring the sustainability of the company.
The film introduces various characters who feature varying worldviews. These worldviews are critical in determining how the characters make decisions and react to certain circumstances. In the film, the views of various characters vary widely in the sense that while some of the characters value profitability over the wellbeing of others, there are those that are really concerned about their colleagues. Tuld and Will occupy opposite sides of the spectrum where Will is interested in finding out how Erick is doing and even encourages him to make a choice that will secure his exit package. Will, perter and Sam are objective and to some extent tend to do the right thing. However, Tuld is focused on making money and nothing can stop him. He is willing to crucify non-suspecting buyers despite the knowledge that his products do not retain much value. On the other hand, Seth is quite carefree and uninterested in the welfare of the company until he realizes that he is going to be fired as well. His reaction is quite ironic since at the beginning he shows little concern about whether or not the company survives.
Wagner, Keith B. “Giving Form to Finance Culture: Neoliberal Denizens in Wall Street (1987), Boiler Room (2000), and Margin Call (2011).” Journal of Film and Video 68.2 (2016): 46-60.
Werner, Andrea. “‘Margin Call’: using film to explore behavioural aspects of the financial crisis.” Journal of Business Ethics 122.4 (2014): 643-654.