The Artist is superficially a silent film about a love affair between two movie stars in the 1920s. On a deeper level it’s an exposition of neo-liberal, or even Randian, industrial policy.
Essentially the movie charts the entrant of a new company into an established industrial sector. The new company offers a new production mode, and rapidly steals market share from the old company. This company rapidly loses sales, and soon is reduced to selling off its assets in order to maintain even a minor presence in the market (in an ironic filmic twist, even though these assets are sold on the open market in a clearing house, they end up in the new company’s asset portfolio). The CEO for the new entrant, being a bit sentimental – and perhap having some New Deal-style political ideals – offers to use some of its considerable assets and popularity to help the old company adapt to the new market conditions. However, the old company have imbibed the Randian ideology of their times, and refuse to accept any form of charity or support – the CEO prepares to liquidate his remaining staff, but at the last minute the CEO of the new company realizes a way they can combine the classical skills of the staff with the technology of the new company, and the old company is revitalized – able to develop into a niche market combining the new technology with the old artisanal skills.
I guess this could be a metaphor for many of the great market battles of the last 30 years, especially in the technology sector – Apple vs. Windows, fixed line phones vs. mobiles, China vs. Japan, Japan vs. the UK, etc. The main weakness in the metaphor, in my opinion, is brief moment of weakness when the CEO of the new company offers charity to the old company – it breaks the otherwise forcefully presented focus on competitiveness and survival of the fittest. In comparison to the seamless perfection of the analysis of homosexual sexual politics in 300, The Artist is a weaker political metaphor, but I think it makes its point well. Particularly, it’s clear by the end that everyone – producers and consumers alike – is enriched by the competitive atmosphere, and that any attempt to protect the old company would have been bad both for its own staff, its rival and society as a whole. As the CEO of the new company says, “people are tired of seeing actors mugging at the camera to get their point across.”
The movie’s medium is, in my opinion, its greatest flaw, although I understand the purpose of presenting the movie in the outdated medium and having the crucial benefits of the new technology break through at crucial moments. The mechanism by which the new and innovative ideas of neo-liberal industrial policy are presented is itself out-dated and old, and makes the characters and ideas hard to engage with. Perhaps the story would have been better presented as a computer game? Also, it’s hard to have sympathy with a lead character who would rather shoot himself than take a job offer from a woman. But otherwise, it’s an okay love story (with very attractive stars) and nice presentation. See it if you like teary love stories and/or Randroid politics.
fn1: could this part of the film be an attempt to posit a voluntarist anti-trust atmosphere in Randian market places?