Recently, there have a been a string of movies coming out of Hollywood, projecting the darkness inherent to capitalism. At the fag end of 2013, Martin Scorsese’s, ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, did this tastefully and without passing any serious judgment. The film was based on the rise and fall of a penny stock trader in the United States, Jordan Belfort. Belfort manipulated the stock market to make his millions and later, when his excesses went out of hand, he was left without choice but to plead guilty for his crimes.

I recall when the film was released in Pakistan, conversation mostly centered on the movie’s sexually explicit content, whereas the reason behind all the debauchery and hedonism – unregulated, unhindered, money-making – didn’t make its way into vacant drawing rooms. And thus, a prevalent piece of advice was to watch the movie on DVD because watching it without the many deleted scenes would kill the message of the film.

Contrary to the R rated content the film was remembered for, I think Scorsese’s main objective in bringing Belfort’s manipulation of the stock market back to life was to gently remind us about the consequences of blind profit maximization, an end that brushes the issue of increasing inequalities under the carpet. Part of the reason why this message didn’t come out as it should have is perhaps because we don’t have a thriving stock exchange that engages the community at large, and because Pakistan was on the outside of the financial bubble that popped and robbed the world of its sleep in the previous decade.

In any case, Hollywood’s attack on ‘capitalism’, and the depravation that stems from it, did not end with the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Another notable release, albeit more recent and relevant to Pakistan, is the stirring thriller by Dan Gilroy, called ‘Nightcrawler’. The protagonist, Lou Bloom, has all the ingredients to find business success in Los Angeles, a city where anything can be bought and sold for a price, even companionship.

Lou, who is smart enough to get away with petty crime, is looking to rise up the ranks in L.A.’s hierarchy of petty criminals and because no one will hire a thief, he decides to venture into business. Lou invests a cheap scanning device to tap into the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) radio frequency, and purchases a camera to capture footage of crime scenes. His objective is to get to these scenes before his competition does and as he pursues this mission, nothing is more important than the growth of his business.

This movie is an important one for us to watch because it shows us how depravation can in fact heighten chances of business success and that we are, as a society, ill-equipped to reprimand morally corrupt behavior. Among the many objectionable things Lou does to find success, he underpays a newly hired assistant and expects him to risk his life for a nominal wage and the prospect of a raise; he blackmails the producer of a mediocre news channel – one that thrives on sensational reporting and depends on Lou for footage – to sleep with him or suffer the consequences of dwindling ratings; he meddles with evidence and victims to enhance the visual appeal of the footage he captures; he withholds information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about a murderer he has caught on tape because he wants to use that knowledge to intimately capture the action of another crime scene he triggers; and to justify all of the above and more, he uses terms, phrases and theories plucked out of an online business 101 class he took before starting his own venture.

In Pakistan, where all news channels are competing to catch the first glimpse of a crime scene and where an exclusive report on the latest tragedy means big money, we already have more bloodthirsty stringers than we can reform.

Lou Bloom may be a fictitious character in a Hollywood film, but his line of thinking and his actions form a reality we are very much a part of. It’s a reality we need to address. Having said that, raising placards against capitalism or demanding a new world order also borders on the edge of realism. Instead, we need to get behind responsible leaders; those who appreciate the balance between social responsibility and financial gain; those who can part with profit in the interests of mankind.