Images Of Poliomyelitis » prodplac » Solitary Man

Solitary Man
Review By Jim West
(Published in Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, 10/2010)

There is a way to enjoy any Hollywood film by studying its unspoken game, “Product Placement”. These films always sell something subliminally, usually a medical or social behavior product. It’s not just Corn Flakes on the kitchen table.  Product placement is an essential, subtle skill, routinely taught in film production schools. I look for those techniques, plotistic, poetic, photographic, and audio-musical.  Reviews and reviewers do not mention product placement unless it is grossly obvious. The gross placements maintain the subliminality of the more pervasive and subtle placements.

Solitary Man was released in 2010.  Writer-director, Brian Koppelman, admits what this film is about – himself, his charming, corrosive writing.

"It's a story about the power of charm... how a truly charming man can get away with so much... until it starts becoming really corrosive from the inside out."

This is a dark comedy, filmed in the vicinity of New York City.

It is a pharmaceutical product placement film, starring Michael Douglas as Ben, a good-man-gone-bad; Susan Sarandon as Nancy, "his sensible ex-wife", and Danny DeVito as "Jimmy, his long-time friend".

Ben, age 60, is the protagonist, a charismatic family man and famously honest car dealer with business and social influence.

The film is launched with a flashback, six years earlier, with Ben receiving a negative electrocardiogram (“EKG”) report.

He avoids the recommended visit to heart specialists, then begins an immediate downslide, cheating on his wife with very young girls, subverting his business reputation, and divorcing.

The film continues with Ben romping through ruin, escapism, yet he never shows remorse or fatigue. He has sex with his daughter's girlfriend, and sex with his girlfriend’s daughter. He hits on his friend's girlfriend. Up all night having sex, he misses his grandson's birthday, then arrives with cake and gifts to entertain the boy with video games until late, as a “hero”.

Throughout this cinematic character study, Ben’s task, every morning before getting out of bed, is to swallow prescription drugs.

At least four medical products are promptly sold (placed), and pounded in throughout the film.

Product 1: The EKG, with its long-ranging implications of doom and orthodox salvation, is supported by the fear-motivated drug ritual.

Product 2: Drug efficacy is verified as the magic that carries Ben through the numerous affairs and allows him to be the star of his grandson’s birthday.

Product 3: Drugs are sold as a treat. Ben’s irresponsibility promotes a social ploy, allowed for buying into the orthodox paradigm. Here’s the deal. If you receive a negative EKG, you too can go on a prescription drug binge. As a certified victim, you deserve it.

Product 4: Various orthodox paradigms are verified by Ben's status. He is a well-networked, financial genius with access to the best orthodox medical expertise, so his escapism implies realistic fears.

The Denton-Record Chronicle (6/6/2010) describes the surface plot, "SOLITARY MAN stars Michael Douglas as a man whose bad decisions have resulted in him losing almost everything..."

The more perceptive San Francisco Examiner (6/4/2010) almost stumbles into something meaningful, "The use of the EKG to explain Ben’s nosedive is unnecessary and plays like a sympathy device."

Yet, the EKG is essential. Who, otherwise, would bankroll the film and lobby its high ratings? The EKG establishes the underlying suspense, which requires watching the entire movie to discover whether Ben will continue irresponsibly, learn his moral lesson, or have another heart attack.

The plot details the last year of Ben's downslide with him eventually tossing burgers at Jimmy’s deli. A few more irresponsible snafus, and Ben is on parking lot asphalt with several ribs broken by a professional strong-arm who is shouting at Ben to stay away from the local college campus. The strong-arm punches Ben many times, deep into the upper solar-plexus, framed too obviously.

The finale: In the hospital, Ben awakes from a drug-induced sleep or coma with the nurse explaining, "They had to give you pain killers to prevent you from moving and damaging your organs." That line stood out oddly, because pain itself prevents us from moving and damaging organs. That line, however, rationalizes the concept of drug-induced coma. Let’s add a Product 5.

The Closing Scene Ben and his ex-wife Nancy are sitting on a park bench. She recounts his sins, his evasions of responsibilities, and focuses the final line upon Ben’s avoidance of heart specialists, with, "You can't cheat that!" She then stands up and walks stage right to her car, sitting, to await his decision. Unexpectedly a young girl walks across the screen, stage left. The film ends with Ben staring straight ahead into the camera, torn between young girls and his fate with heart specialists.

We have caught another one, Product 6:  Sarandon models the traditional role of motherly commonsense sheepherder for pharmaceutical paradigms. The photo of Nancy (wise) and Ben (beaten), sitting on a park bench, captures this well.

Ben has become estranged, immoral, and punished as a SOLITARY MAN, following his escapist response to the EKG. Nancy is waiting for him as backup. What's in those pills?

The film equates Ben’s moral faults with his avoidance of medical orthodoxy. I would prefer the film not end with Nancy's, "You can't cheat that!"

An Improved Ending

"Ben, you should have listened to your symptoms. The problem was our unventilated gas stove, which can cause various commonly misdiagnosed health problems. That’s fixed."  

And they lived happily ever after.


Images Of Poliomyelitis » prodplac » Solitary Man