You gotta fight for your money; thoughts on “The Laundromat” (USA, 2019, 95 min)

Most people associate glamour with celebrities like movie stars, models and pop singers. The second association is that all these people make a lot of money. These images are reinforced by the (tabloid) media that regularly shares information about how many millions these kinds of people made. We hear far less often about bankers, brokers and other professions related to handling money and wealth. However they make (often not “earn” IMHO) much more than celebrities. (Before someone points out that there are lots of not too rich bankers I need to point out that it is even more so for actors and singers.) 

This common association of glamour with money is why I think I think the opening of The Laundromat is genius: it shows two men in glamorous clothes as they movie from a setting of the desert and cavemen to a hip underground bar , explaining how modern money works. This way–with the show of luxury items and settings— the common people understand that they are really well off. The juxtaposition is a great tool to awaken our sense of envy and based on what they say our wrath.

The dry and romanticized version of the movie is that an average woman who was wronged–with anger, perseverance, outside help, a sense of right and luck–managed to take down not just the people who were ultimately caused her financial harm, but were involved in exposing the system that enabled them. This is a typical and often enjoyable, yet predictable plot line for Hollywood movies. What I appreciate about this movie is that while it went through the steps of portraying such a story at the same time it also maintained  a healthy and unusual cynicism

Yes, the Panama Papers exposed the existence and inner workings of a global, financial, legal, criminal system, but its effects were not deep enough. As the end of this movie explains the culprits behind the anonymous shell companies that managed to rob the poor protagonist widow from her rightful insurance money barely served time. Furthermore plenty of countries still offer such offshore banking with its secretive safeguards for exposure. One of them is the USA. 

The day I watched this movie was an important and surprising step in the direction of ending this in the USA. In December 2020 to quote The Washington Post article: “Congress bans anonymous shell companies after long campaign by anti-corruption groups; Bipartisan measure requires companies established in the U.S. to disclose their real owners”. Then Trump vetoed the bill that included this ban. Then on the first day of 2021 The US Senate voted 81 to 13 to override his veto. I am cautiously optimistic that maybe this toxic and dangerous tool will be removed from the options to protect wealth and the 1% at least in the US. However I have no doubt that there will be other, new ways for people with selfish intent to extract money from others.

If you have a decent sense of justice the movie is utterly blood boiling therefore recommended. If you are so inclined it is also inspirational to revolt against financial oppression. The very last image is a modern version of the Statue of Liberty, invoking the emotions of fighting for what’s right.  

IMDB:

“When her idyllic vacation takes an unthinkable turn, Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) begins investigating a fake insurance policy, only to find herself down a rabbit hole of questionable dealings that can be linked to a Panama City law firm and its vested interest in helping the world’s wealthiest citizens amass larger fortunes. Founding partners Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas) are experts in the seductive ways shell companies and offshore accounts help the rich and powerful prosper. They are about to show us that Ellen’s predicament only hints at the tax evasion, bribery and other illicit absurdities that the super wealthy indulge in to support the world’s corrupt financial system.”

Trailer

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