The Culture Corner
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The Culture Corner

‘Uncut Gems’ and Materialism

Our relationship with objects of “value” | spoilers for ‘Uncut Gems’

Uncut Gems (A24)

Uncut Gems’ is the story of Howard, a gambling addict and jewelry store owner who’s stuck in a vicious cycle of pawn, sell, gamble, pawn, sell; in an attempt to repay his debts. The film focuses on just a few days of his life but broadcasts a deeper message about materialism and its impacts on our lives.

Uncut Direction

The Safdie Brothers throw the audience into their high-octane world from the opening shot and never let up. The camerawork is claustrophobic and personal; abrasively intruding personal space. The dialogue is loud and chaotic; a constant battle between characters to get the last word in.

Uncut Gems (A24)

At times overwhelming and anxiety-inducing, the film's cinematography and sound mix echo that of 2017’s ‘Mother!’; effectively pulling you into the constant state of panic and paranoia in Howard’s world.

It should also be noted that Adam Sandler is absolutely maddening (in the best way possible) as Howard Ratner. While simultaneously exuding a sleazy hustler attitude and a heartfelt, child-like glee; Sandler delivers a chameleon performance that won’t soon be forgotten. In presumably his first acting role, Kevin Garnett also shines as a fictional version of himself, obsessed over buying the uncut gem that will, in turn, bring Howard peace, love, prosperity, and wealth; allegedly.

“This is me! This is how I win.”

Do you have a “lucky” pair of socks? Or a particular pen that you use for special documents? What about a special coin you keep in your pocket?

All of these items have one commonality:

We as people create value and importance around inanimate objects when we receive a consistently positive stimuli.

Think of an athlete who hasn’t washed their jersey for fear of the winning odor being washed away, or a writer using only one pen to create their work with; denouncing all other inferior pens.

In ‘Uncut Gems’, Kevin Garnett has an almost psychedelic reaction to viewing the gem for the first time. His eyes become a void and the story of the gem’s significance and value takes him on a past to present vision quest. When he convinces jewelry store owner Howard to let him hold the gem overnight, the basketball star gives a top-tier performance on the court. In doing so, an attachment is developed to the stone; its extraordinary powers have been awakened and it will grant the holder unimaginable success; right?

Uncut Gems (A24)

What this film says through its fast-paced, nightmarish insight into debt, gambling, and jewelry is very relevant; we love things.

The world in which Howard exists in is filled with people flaunting their things, selling their things, or purchasing new things.

Kevin's obsession with the stone is exactly the same as Howards; they see it as a tool. The ‘opal’ as they deem it will improve their lives on the court and in the jewelry shop.

Breaking Form

The Safdie brothers quickly show that ‘Uncut Gems’ is not a carbon copy from the Hollywood machine. Howard is the embodiment of consumerism and materialism and has a depth of humanity and desperation that separates him from the herd.

The over-valuing of items with little value is illustrated in a conversation with Kevin and Howard towards the end of the film.

Kevin asks how much Howard paid for the uncut gem after he sold it to Kevin for over 175K. At this point, Howard states that he paid 100K for it; essentially doubling his money. However, when he first met Kevin; Howard boasted a value of over $1,000,000 for the precious rock; boxing Kevin in.

Howard's obsession with gambling and desperation to pay his debts allows him to tap into the psyche of Kevin with a material object (the uncut gem) and much like any slimy salesman; he sells ice to an Eskimo.

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Tristan Ferrell

Tristan Ferrell

Only writing about what I struggle with.