Death of a Salesman

As much as our differences make us unique, isn’t sometimes awkward to be so different, especially if you’re alone? For instance, I found out two things while watching the movie among friends: the movie was absorbing and I was the only one who thought so. How, I wondered, can one thing attract me and repel everybody else? In a way, my uneasy position parallels that of the of the film’s main character. He’s Sam Bicke (Sean Penn), a 1970s furniture salesman who’s obsessed about the ugly “reality” of the American Dream, but nobody seems to care. He is first seen at the end of his wits, recording messages to Maestro Leonard Bernstein about something big he’s going to do: Operation Pandora’s Box. The movie flashbacks to crucial parts of his life; it invites us to understand the set of triggers that would set off this nice guy into madness. For starters, he is pretty lonely; he’s been avoiding his brother while his former wife (Naomi Watts) is avoiding him. At work, his boss is always grilling him. This is because Sam isn’t sold on his job as a salesman; he absolutely hates lying. His only friend, the only one with the patience to deal with him, is a black mechanic (Don Cheadle), who has a sensibility that Sam lacks.

The centerpiece of the movie is the maestro of acting himself: Sean Penn. The guy defines acting, and I don’t mean the abridged version. He pulls out a whole range of emotions and details into this performance. He made me care about his character, even if Sam’s perception of reality is absurd. Sam has personified all the evils in the world, in the form of Richard Nixon – “the greatest salesman of them all.” And Sam is determined to bring him down, as the title suggests.

I know there are people who’d refuse or are unable to relate to the character, but I believe there’s a little “Sam Bicke” in all of us, who fights for something pure and honest, even if the idea of it is unrealistic. I watched this movie the week of Hurricane Katrina. And my “Sam Bicke” woke up to the alarm of the government’s slow and pathetic response to the disaster. It made me wonder if the government is in the business of ripping us off. And I think I speak for the Sam Bickes in all of us, when I say, there’s nothing more cheap than the audacity to sell a nation defective American Dreams. Buyer, beware of a tricky-dicky salesman.

Grade: A-