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Floored (2009) purports to be a documentary about the lives of futures traders in the testosterone-soaked world of the Chicago Trading Floor, and how their lives are being turned upside down by the rise of computerized trading. But instead of using these men’s stories as a microcosm of the general ethos that fueled the current financial crisis, it turns out to be more an extended character study than anything else. Even so—and even given its oddly truncated 77 minute running time—the themes the film touches upon are archetypal and almost Shakespearean in scope.
These men (there are a couple token women thrown in, but just for show) are entirely consumed with greed. Even if they start out naïve and cautious, they quickly evolve in the dog-eat-dog environment of the trading floor (referred to as “the Pit”) into ruthless, single-minded egomaniacs, totally consumed by their pursuit of the almighty dollar. All this sounds promisingly like a lost Orson Welles vehicle, at the beginning. However, in order to win big you have to risk big, and the line that divides the traders who make millions from those who gamble away their homes and livelihoods is vanishingly slim.
We meet a few of each; one retired trader goes on hunting safaris and lives in a cavernous house full of taxidermied wildlife, which he strolls around while chomping on an enormous cigar. Another man, after years on the floor, has lost everything. He now works “for $400 a week” as a clerk in the Pit, and lives alone with his dog. However, even after his shattering experience, he still brings his teenage son to the trading floor and introduces him to its intoxicating power. Clearly, even having his trading career turn out as badly as it could have wasn’t enough to expunge the thrill and power he associated with it.
The film changes tone towards the end, as it begins to focus on the rise of computerized trading. As machines have proved more accurate and efficient than live traders, the men profiled in the film and thousands like them have become superfluous and redundant. It seems that the film wants us to feel sorry for them: we meet a (female) psychologist who specializes in transitioning traders from the Pit to the office, where they are merely spectators to the automated trading process. We meet a trader who insists that the automated trading machines are inherently “evil” because they “have no soul.” It’s clear that these men don’t adjust well to change, especially change that threatens their own sense of omnipotence. Though the film intimates that automated trading may have been at least partially responsible for the financial crisis, why exactly we’re supposed to pity these now-obsolete traders is somewhat unclear.
Throughout Floored, the traders and ex-traders talk about their jobs in near-reverent tones, as though they’re discussing a divine vocation (recalling Lloyd Blankfein’s recent statement in front of Congress that he and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs do “God’s work.”) Only towards the end does one of them finally make the link: trading is essentially glorified gambling, and they’re all addicted.
Floored opened in New York on May 7th; you can also stream it online at http://www.babelgum.com.