I am not an expert on movies. I have missed a lot of "classics" and recently my friend Julie has taken up the challenge of getting me culturally up-to-date. There is one supposed "classic" however that I had been avoiding, on the premise that I considered it juvenile and superficial, but I recently came to terms with the fact that I could not avoid seeing Gremlins and still consider myself a member of my generation. I was actually pleasantly shocked to have my assumptions relieved!
The acting and music in this movie are typical for a movie of the time, and the special effects were amusing, although dated. The entire quality of the film had a corny feel, but it suited the cheesy material of the plotline.
On the surface, Gremlins is a story about mysterious beasts, presumably from the orient. Mr. Peltzer, an inventor by trade whose numerous inventions are frequently dysfunctioning and providing comical relief, goes to Chinatown in search of a gift for his son. He finally finds exactly what he would like: a mysterious creature called a Mogwai. The shopkeeper claims he cannot sell it because Mogwai are too great a responsibility. It is interesting to note here that Mogwai is actually a Chinese word describing demons/monsters. They are known to reproduce before rainy seasons, which becomes interesting to latter parts of the plot. The shopkeep's Americanized grandson sells Mr. Peltzer the creature in secret, as his family is desperate for money. The young boy tells Mr. Peltzer the three rules of caring for a Mogwai: never expose them to bright light, never get them wet, and never let them eat after midnight. The remainder of the story consists of the enterprising family taking these three rules with devastating results. They find out how the Mogwai repoduce, evolve into evil gremlins, and take over the city, and how to kill them using sunlight.
While watching Mr Peltzer's son, Billy, try to save the town from his horrible childish errors was amusing, I had the most fun deconstructing the plot for its hidden context. When it came to me, I was so shocked that a movie so dumb and corny could be about something so serious and complex, but with the right view of the film the conclusion is inevitable: Gremlins is about capitalism in the globalized economy.
That's right. I said it. It's a commentary on the economy! You may think I am crazy, but look at the evidence:
A salesperson of supposedly "superior" American products goes to a Chinese community looking for a novelty. He finds something extravagant and mysterious and the shopkeep is not prepared to make the irresponsible move of giving a Mogwai away. The young, Americanized Chinese child, however, has assumed American Values and as such knows everything has a price. Thus, the young Chinese boy makes an irresponsible decision. Partly because of his ignorance, partly because of his values, but principally because his family is starving and someone must do something so they have money to survive. Sounds pretty solid so far, right?
Later, the son of the main character has difficulty starting his car, and his neighbour reminisces about the good old days when products were American and had superior quality. He claims that "foreign" products are inferior because they have gremlins. When Billy finally gets to work, we find out he works for the bank and his boss is a crazy suit-wearing soulless... ,ou know the stereotype. Also, she is a crazy rich cat lady who names her cats after different kinds of currency. The Neighbour in this story is not dissimilar to Mrs. Peltzer, the inventor's wife who maintains in bad faith (and much to the detriment of her household) that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her husband dysfunctional inventions that cause mayhem. Apparently no-one in this town is willing to accept that good ol' American ingenuity isn't what it used to be. However, the neighbour is correct about Gremlins because once they come on to the scene it becomes clear that the gremlins have a knack for causing trouble, especially mechanical problems.
Most of the problems that arise are the result of ignorance or carelessness, and sometimes Billy is unable to get help because people are unwilling to accept what is happening. The feelings and needs of the Mogwai are typically overlooked until it is too late, especially in the case of a science teacher who examines a Mogwai for scientific purposes. This is very similar to environmental crises that arise as a result of poor corporate policies -- they arise out of ignorance, are typically ignored and denied, and are reduced to objects of fascination to be observed from a scientific perspective.
Despite all these similarities, It wasn't until the very end when the gremlin invasion is solved and the shopkeep comes to the house to return the poor Mogwai to his proper place that it became positively undeniable that this was a story about capitalism. The shopkeep actually says to Mr. Peltzer that he "does not know how to use the gifts of nature responsibly" but that perhaps one day Billy might be ready. It was good to see that the movie ended on the encouraging note that in the future we might be prepared to be corporately responsible, but so long as we do not value responsibility, and so long as there is ignorance about the effects of our actions on the world, it is very difficult to know if we are even capable of doing the right thing.
So, As much as I enjoyed Gremlins for its own sake, the best part for me was realising that this incredibly corny movie actually had some very well thought out dialogue, characters and plot, that made important insights to the nature of globalized capitalism. Sadly, this piece never got the recognition it deserved, as it will always be remembered as a cheesy laughable movie, merely enjoyable entertainment and nothing more.