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‘I Care A Lot’ and the sociopathy of corporate America

Netflix’s new film is a mad joy ride that races through the ruthlessness of late-stage capitalism

Why do we love to watch sociopaths? The ordinary couch potato would likely run for the hills if they were to knowingly pass by one on the street, and yet we can’t seem to look away from them on-screen. “I Care A Lot,” directed by J Blakeson, suspects our corporatized culture may have something to do with this obsession.

The cold-blooded sociopath in question is Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike), a glib scammer who runs a lucrative operation by convincing the court system to entrust unwitting seniors to her guardianship. Her ruse is revealed to viewers when she locks her wards away in care homes and auctions off their estates. The film, released to Netflix on Feb. 19, begins with Marla at the height of her game as she deftly deceives a court judge and hunts for new prospects. 

Fresh meat comes in the form of Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), an unassuming elderly lady who happens to be sitting on a sizable fortune. But when Marla learns Jennifer might not be the harmless senior as appearances would suggest, she quickly realizes she has bitten off more than she can chew.

Sociopaths and the like are no foreign subject in the American cinematic imagination. From Norman Bates of “Psycho” to Hannibal Lecter of “The Silence of the Lambs,” their startling lack of empathy and stone-cold calculative tendencies have terrified and titillated moviegoers for decades. This isn’t Pike’s first time playing a sociopath either. Her first debut sporting the chic bob was in 2014’s “Gone Girl,” in which she unnerved audience members as the media-savvy Amy Dunne who immaculately frames her husband for murder.

But the specific insanity in “I Care A Lot” stems from a lineage of filmic sociopaths that have become entangled with the horrors and trappings of modern capitalism. Patrick Bateman of “American Psycho” and Lou Bloom of “Nightcrawler” are willing to make unethical, downright homicidal choices in order to get ahead. They feel little to no emotions for other people and treat them as means to an end. These slick, business-suited killers are of the same cultural vein that encourages corporate executives to mercilessly dominate competition, overwork their employees and exploit the public. 

The cultural cliche is that while psychopaths are born, sociopaths are made. Accordingly, the central puzzle hiding within “I Care A Lot” is whether Marla Grayson is the former or the latter. Was Marla born a smooth operator, or did the pressures of our hyper-capitalistic society demand she become one?

We may never have an answer. After all it is difficult to diagnose living, breathing people, much less characters in a film. But the movie does leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs for the careful viewer that ends up cleverly lampooning the corporate cultural ecosystem we worship. 

Marla essentially offers the same high-octane, supremely-competent appeal as that of a Fortune 500 CEO. She struts around her beautifully windowed office in platform heels and “girl-boss” power suits. Her ruthless ambition is eclipsed only by her cunning wiles. She can dupe, manipulate and even shatter the rear glass of a submerged car in order to rise to the top. 

When Marla snatches old folks from their comfortable lives and leeches off their wealth, we are made to believe it’s simply how the world operates. As a society we are inundated with the morally dubious choices made by billionaire founders, and yet we continue to drool over their glossy covers on Forbes. 

Not to mention the fact that there is an entire assembly line that aids and abets Marla’s schemes. There is Dr. Karen Amos (Alicia Witt) who pawns her patients off to Marla by tweaking medical records. Care home manager Sam Rice (Damian Young) keeps rooms empty for Marla’s next victim, functioning like the warden of a prison. 

And of course, Marla’s right-hand woman and girlfriend Fran (Eiza González) is equally complicit in the entire con. The entire crew surely cannot all be diagnosable sociopaths, but given the right incentives and fattened-up profit margins, their sociopathic talents come naturally.

“I Care A Lot” would have us believe that Marla is simply the product of an economic reality that demands we pawn off our humanity and embrace our inner sociopath. Watch carefully, or you might just end up as the next victim.


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