L’argent – The Social Butterfly Effect

Quick Thoughts: L’argent (Money, 1983)

Counterfeit money exchanges hands with devastating knock-on effects.


Bresson’s L’argent is a powerful social commentary with an implied cataclysmic scope. The crux of this film lies in a simple idea of a social butterfly effect; one person’s actions to another leading onto actions of equal turn elsewhere, creating a chain of intensifying actions and events between a vast self-perpetuating network of people. There are many films that utilise this concept, films such as American Beauty, Magnolia, Nashville, Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros–to name a few. However, with L’Argent, Bresson builds a narrative that is more than an entanglement of plots populated by a large cast to convey this concept. Symbolism is his pivotal means of implying a complex connection throughout society; money, a tangible means of tracking cause and effect amongst people. Through this symbol the essence of many characters are revealed. From the shop owners to the thieves to Norbert to Yvon to his many victims, it is money that serves as the catalysing element of their personage being uncovered. With many characters (the shop owners and the thieves), money reveals an inconsiderate nature, one that would see others suffer in place of themselves. With Norbert, we see a character who understands the power money has under the guise of a social butterfly effect – which is why he tries to reverse his wrongs. With Yvon, we see a man who is blindly riding the current of a powerful chain of events, a ride that reveals him to be no better, arguably much worse, than those who inadvertently victimised him. All of these characters are the foundations of Bresson’s commentary on responsibility. Through them he shows the calamity that may snowball when people do not take responsibility for their actions. This all builds towards an incredibly frightening perspective of society, one that unveils its absurdity, arbitrary nature and chaos. In such, the film poignantly demonstrates how the seemingly banal, a father not giving his son a little bit more money, can lead to death and the utter destruction of many lives. But, this revelation of truth is not the singular purpose of this narrative. If Bresson were to leave the film on such a statement the narrative would be pointlessly nihilistic as it’d demonstrate the nature of the world, but not contextualise it, not reveal the complete truth. In not doing this, Bresson provides solace and truth through one of his final characters: the old woman. She elevates the film into a tragedy and condemnation on those who fail to take responsibility in life in spite of a social butterfly effect. This is because she is a woman who takes the weight of her small world on her shoulders. She extends this humanity to Yvon, hoping to be the wall that stops his terrible descent, that controls the social butterfly effect. She is thus the tragic hero of this narrative. Her death is Bresson’s pivotal commentary. Through her, he shows that acts of responsibility, clarity and humanism are the pillars of society, the means by which we may disengage from and deal with its natural chaos.

Through and through, L’argent is a question to the viewer, a question of your focus and where you see the crux of this film’s commentary. Is it the initial act of the father and/or son and the snowball effect they cause that you are effected by most? Is Yvon who you sympathise with most and wish better for? Or, is it primarily through the old woman which you see a melancholic beauty, one masked with tragedy, in this narrative? Whilst my answer should be evident, what is yours? What’s more, and what is probably most pivotal, what does that say about you, society and people in general?

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