Updated: Feb 5, 2021
I just finished Uncut Gems. Its one of those movies that was so hyped up, I couldn’t believe it could achieve the hype. I’ve been guilty of overhyping things, but it's one of those things that ruins our experience of something. Its always better to have low expectations and then have something exceed your expectations. Rarely in life can you walk into something with high expectations, and it lives up to, and exceeds your expectations, Uncut Gems was one of those moments.
The A24 movie follows Howard Ratner, a Gary Vee type Jewish jewelry store owner played by Adam Sandler, who's obsessed with flipping money, for more money. The movie takes place in the real world, the characters feel real, the movie blends the lines between reality and fiction with its gritty realistic cinematography and appearances of various popular culture figures like The Weeknd and Kevin Garnett, as themselves. The movie truly depicts modern times, more than any other movie in the last decade. The movie takes place in our world of imposed value.
Our money is no longer backed by gold or anything, our money works on an agreed upon understanding of its value. That’s how our world is operating now. All these corporations operate in the stock market and their price fluctuates based on the morale of investors behind the corporation. So millions of people lose money if some people stop believing in a company, I’m oversimplifying it, but money is only backed by the value we assign it, that's why a trillion dollar Zimbabwe note is worthless, because there's no trust behind it. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are hitting new records every day as more people invest and legitimize them with Bitcoin being the 6th largest world currency with a market cap of over $200 Billion. Cryptocurrencies operate with a proof of stake: Proof of stake is a type of consensus mechanism by which a cryptocurrency blockchain network achieves distributed consensus. In PoS-based cryptocurrencies the creator of the next block is chosen via various combinations of random selection and wealth or age.
Apps like StockX, DePop and Grailed all sell clothing and products with an imposed value, the price is only justified because someone paid that much to purchase it. Our whole system operates under faith, collectibles, rarity, and jewelry is the perfect example of this. Diamonds aren’t even rare. Diamonds are the hardest material found on Earth. They resist scratching better than anything else. Other than that, they hold no unique distinctions. Diamonds actually number among the most common gems. Certain corporations hold monopolies over the industry and hoard the supply, so now diamonds are highly valuable, the higher the price, the more faith we have in its value, the more willing we are to purchase it. Its scarcity marketing and its the name of the whole game.
In Uncut Gems Howard paid a couple of Ethiopian miners $100,000 for a jewel he planned on selling for a million dollars. Howard struggles to pay off gambling debts, including $100,000 he owes to Arno, his loan shark brother-in-law, all he had was his word, but as we see throughout the movie, his word doesn’t mean much. If there was a social credit, Howard would be in debt, he tells people he would be somewhere at a certain time and he’s late, he tells people that he’ll pay them back on Friday and he’s nowhere to be seen till Monday. Through not paying back his debts, and lying often, Howard loses his social credit among everyone in his life, including the mother of his children, who laughed at his face when he tried to have a moment of sincerity, because she had completely lost trust in his word, and thus his credit with her has no value.
His lying went down to the smallest details like how long it will take him to be somewhere, or where he is in the moment, continually lowering his social credit. Howard continues to flip money, even though he was involved in various violent moments and near death experiences with the loan sharks, he was always able to talk himself into various other loans, he was always capable of convincing someone that his word and gem are valuable. All he needed to do was tap into their desires and make them believe the dream he is selling them.
Kevin Garnett saw the gem and felt value in it, borrowed it, played a game with it and won Howard money on a gamble due to how well he played. The day Garnett returned the jewel to Howard, he played worse. The only reason Kevin Garnett believed in the jewel is because of the Ethiopian rarity backstory Howard told him. But his belief was real, it was palpable, and it had an affect on his performance, it was a placebo that worked, like our currency. Howard had the same belief in the jewel, even after it was only appraised for $100,00, the actual price he bought it for, he preyed on Kevin's belief in the jewel to raise the price to $170,000. He believed in the jewels ability to make Kevin Garnett a better player, he bet on him with the money he was supposed to give the loan sharks. Howard gave Kevin a pep talk, and Kevin Garnett won the game, winning Howard a million dollars, only for him to get shot in the face because the unpaid debts caught up to him.
The movie deals with how all of the value we have now is self imposed, all the value is about something's backstory, the person who is selling it, the person who had it before, a manufactured scarcity done by a company that could easily just produce more, and a belief system surrounding the value. Howard flips Kevin Garnett's championship ring at a pawn shop, and even though the price for the diamonds on it was low, it was more valuable because it was a memorabilia piece. The movie was the perfect depiction of our resale, scarcity marketing culture. We live in a world where $200 Yeezys sell for thousands and $0.50 cent Basketball cards can sell for millions of dollars, exclusively because of its rarity and agreed upon belief in its value.
A lot of us are invested in cryptocurrencies, as we watch it shoot up to new heights everyday, transforming digital dollars into physical dollars, cryptoart is taking over with brands like SuperRare trading digital paintings with worth millions of US dollars in Eth, all because everyone has a mutual agreement over the value. The era of physical things is coming to a close, almost everything is digital, everything is codes and streams that we trade. The cost of music used to be justified because of the price of the physical assets like the plastic for the record, or CD, shipping, things that were physically needed for the creation and distribution of the product, in order to justify its wage, but now, Art is digital, Music is digital, film is digital and currency is digital, most, if not all, products will eventually become digital and everyone is going to download product codes as seen with the recent developments in 3D printing technology.
As of now we’re all trading agreed upon value, that is imposed as opposed to intrinsic. The value of a stream is dependent completely on the streaming services, based on arbitrary criteria, that's the same with a lot of commerce now. A banana is more valuable than a dollar to a monkey, but we place value on that piece of paper, so it has more value than a banana. But the banana stuck to a wall with duct tape by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, was sold as an art piece to a French woman for $160,000 and then someone ate it. So now it can’t even be resold, and there was no product to own, the money exchanged hands, then what is value? Is it just a really expensive banana, whos price is justified by its absurdity as a piece of art? The movie depicted modern day entrepreneurship. You can be an entrepreneur without a set product line. You can flip anything, for any price, as long as someone is willing to pay that much. Everyday in the art market someone buys something that cost 9 cents to make, for millions of dollars.
I’m not smart enough to know the future ramifications of a society that operates exclusively over a mutual agreement of value, it might be utopia, but the movie tried depicting how it might look when someone breaks that mutually agreed upon value. Howard was not a man of his word, he didn’t pay anyone back on time, if ever. He paid people in fake Rolexes and tried flipping and lying his way to his one big score, and in pursuit of this dream, he fucked over men of their word. He never knew when to get out of the game, and he kept flipping, until he could achieve his million dollar dream.
The characters that got away are ones who kept their word, Kevin Garnett, DaManny and Howard’s girlfriend Julia. DaManny took his portion for introducing Howard to Kevin Garnett and selling the jewel, Garnett paid what he promised for the jewel, and it gave him his desired outcome by making him play better and win the championship, and Julia who could have just ran away with $165,000 actually believed in Howards idiotic "bet on the game" idea, carried the money to the casino, kept it safe, and then won a million dollars, that she planned to take back to Howard.
Howards brother in law Arno paid people to kidnap him at his daughters play, throw him in the trunk, and attack him at various points throughout the movie. Howard had faith in the value of his familial relationship with Arno to protect him from harm. Everyone else in Howards community knew him and gave him the benefit of doubt because they had a communal bond, an intrinsic value. The men Arno worked with had no loyalty to Howard, or Arno for that matter. They were paid goons, hyenas that needed to be fed, they killed both Arno and Howard, then stole the jewels out of the store, because they placed value in material instead of human life. Their loyalty to Arno was not a bond, it was a transaction point.
Howard constantly put his hustle above his family, and placed them in danger. His family constantly put him above their material value, his father in law was willing to loan $200,000 to save him. Howard consistently put his value into materials instead of humans. He let his most loyal employee quit, while he was too busy staring at his jewel, he constantly lied to everyone and cheated on his wife, with his equally shallow and materialistic girlfriend, who is surprisingly one of the only people Howard places value and trust in, and she reciprocates. He was honest with Julia, and he trusted her, unlike anyone else, Howard kept his promises to her. He let her hold his money, he tried fighting The Weeknd when he saw her with him, he even admitted to leaving his wife and children for her.
The movies premise was that all value is placed, and its circumstantial, things can lose value depending on whose hands they land in, and how our word is really the only thing with value, and even that value can lose its validity. Losing people's trust in your word is the equivalent of having the currency of a country that no longer exists. This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in awhile, everything about it was great, the cast, the acting, the performances. My anxiety was through the roof the entire time, it feels like 4th quarter game 7, the entire duration of the film. The directors Benny and Josh Safdie did an incredible job, Adam Sandler was amazing. You felt yourself rooting for this complete asshole, who really has no redeeming qualities, but you wanted him to win, and it hurt when he lost. That was due to the writing, but also due to Sandler's incredible performance. I need The Weeknd to be in more movies, Lakeith Stanfield was awesome as usual. I feel like I’m here talking about a Lakeith Stanfield performance once a week, but he’s great. The whole movie's fire, if you haven’t seen it, watch it. One takeaway life lesson from the movie is that you should be a man of your word, especially when playing with people's money, or else you’ll get shot in the face.
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