If I were going to teach a course on the Enneagram, something I am not even remotely qualified to do, I might make the class watch “The Big Short.” I would, at the very least, make all the Fives in the room watch it. You might think this was a biting comedy about the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis, and you might be right. But it’s also a movie about us Fives, and what it means to be a healthy or unhealthy Five in this crazy broken world.
I’d guess that every main character in “The Big Short” is a Five. This is possible, because they are all based on real people. (I don’t assume every movie character has an Enneagram number; only the really well-written ones.) If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, one of a Five’s defining characteristics is the “need to see through.” According to the Enneagram Institute, Fives “want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending the self from threats from the environment.” In this particular case, what they’re trying to figure out is the American financial markt, and what they’re defending themselves from is its complete meltdown.
“The Big Short” is a little hard to follow because it follows so many people all at once. There’s Steve Carrell, who has no problem telling people they’re idiots. He has a crew around him, and they are all working with Ryan Gosling, who has considerably more polish than Carrell, but shares the same opinion of people. There are two garage band investors who work with Brad Pitt, who gave up trading stocks in order to collect seeds and get colonics. Then there’s Christian Bale, who invests a billion dollars of investors’ money while listening to heavy metal and wearing sweatpants. He’s a little odd, and a little brilliant. But who isn’t in this movie?
These three groups never cross paths in the movie, at least not significantly. They all figure out that mortgage backed securities aren’t as secure as they used to be, and that that’s going to cause a lot of problems for the financial mortgage when the default rate reaches a certain point. (The film doesn’t try to cram explanations of the financial ins and outs into the dialogue; it straight up pauses, breaks the fourth wall, and introduces entertaining non-characters – like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath – to explain them to us in dumbed down terms. It’s a risky strategy, but it works.) But instead of trying to alert — hell, I don’t know, somebody, anybody – that the whole thing is a jenga tower about to fall down, they find a way to make money off of it. A lot of money.
Here’s why I think “The Big Short” is such a fantastic movie for us Fives: we tend to believe, deep down, that the world is full of idiots, and we cackle with glee when something happens to confirm that belief. That’s the first half of “The Big Short,” and it describes an unhealthy Five: we use the knowledge we’ve gathered to protect ourselves while remaining detached from others. But the second half of “The Big Short” is about the long, hard road towards health and maturity: when the economy does crash, when the jenga tower finally falls, our characters get rich, but there’s no joy in it. They see all the people around them losing their jobs, their homes, their pensions and savings. The world is in shambles, and it’s really no solace that they saw it coming, or that they profited it from it. A healthy Five will use their ability to “see through” to advocate for others and bring about needed change. The characters in “The Big Short” never quite get there, but you get the feeling that, the next time they see disaster coming, they’ll be thinking more about how to prevent it and less about how to get rich off of it.
At least I hope so.