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The Man in The White Suit (1951)

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Man in The Suit
Whether it is wise or not, British cinema incites the question, is Capitalism in humanity’s best interest?

What I Expected

I stumbled across this film while preparing an independent body of work for a paper on planned obsolescence. The documentary I had been watching regarded this as a masterpiece for it's time in terms of political, and economic satire — they were not wrong. Considering the time period was mostly dominated by the competition between capitalism and communism, I assumed justly that the film, originating from the UK to be a staunch supporter of capitalism. Me being born within the border of the United States clearly comes with a pride for the economic system, as what I expected turned to be far from what was received. With that being said, I expected the following to be the major themes within the movie:

  • 1. Freedom

  • 2. Innovation

  • 3. Wealth

Know when you're dealing with genius, not lunacy.

What I Got

The film’s introduction begins inside the operations of a textile mill. The audience follows Mr. Birnley, a highly respected tycoon in the industry. What starts off as nothing more than a tour of a potential acquisition for Mr. Birnley turns sour. An odd assortment of laboratory equipment is being used to conduct chemistry unbeknownst to the mill’s management. This chemistry is the work of our main character, Sidney Stratton.

What Stratton is working on is what the young scientist believes to be the true essence of progress. An invention that will put a cloth on every man, woman, and child across the globe. The story is compelling in a myriad of ways, none of which are its humor. The satire of the film is exceptional; however, it often feels as though the wit of such perspectives are diluted due to the slapstick humor of the cinema’s time period. A poor choice of humor for a film clearly made for an adult audience is the only major criticism I have; with that being said, the film makes up for its lack of awareness in few but effective ways. If the film were to be suggested, I would try to only mention this oldy to someone interested in the field of finance, economics, or journalism. It is an introduction into what not to invest, cover, or ponder for the sake of job security.

Those triumphant few whose will has dominion over their greed often become a threat to the many who haven't.

Departing Thoughts

The Man in The White Suit challenges us, its audience, to identify whether this is a critique on capitalism. After all, the suppression of Stratton’s early work began with the men of enterprise; logically speaking, you would correlate these figures as the true villains to paradise, no? I believe that is exactly what director, Alexander McKendrick, was hoping to accomplish. It isn’t until the film’s requiem that we are exposed to the true gatekeeper of world progress…greed. Human greed is fundamentally Stratton’s greatest obstacle between this present world of financial/material obsession and enlightenment. Upon ending the film, I tried paralleling Stratton’s journey with that of Buddha’s. Buddha walked a path withdrawn from greed. His solution involved a relinquishing of all earthly possessions. Stratton’s was to give the people such a perfect product that there would be no need to reinvent it. In the eyes of Stratton, reaching nirvana was only possible given that he made a hammer-like tool. A tool of such utility that competition with it would be prove profitless. Just like the marvel of the hammer, Stratton does indeed build this product. Without spoiling the climax, it should be known that vested interest is a wall which will stretch further then the world itself if need be.

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