I have been anticipating this month’s themes of ‘envy’ for a while as there are so many examples of films and books that concern the theme of envy.
I think envy must be one of the most prevalent feelings in Western society, this could be seen with the escalation of consumerism and those that have means and those that do not.
Also the prevalence of Social Media whilst this has many positives, a negative of this has been that some people compare themselves to what they believe is the perfect couple, family, home life (an illusion) that is painted on-line and find themselves thinking that their life is not as glamorous or as perfect as this. This can lead to what has been called to feelings of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
In my previous position as Chair of a charity for people with a long term health condition, I know first-hand just how negative this aspect of social media can be. The question is how do we counteract this feeling? Well in my experience there are a few things that can help, cultivating real-life relationships offline can be helpful, try not to endlessly look at profile pics of something that makes you feel bad and also of course to learn from examples in culture such as in films and books.
All About Eve by Joseph Mankiewicz (1950)
All About Eve [DVD] is the first film that I thought to be most appropriate when examining the concept of envy. This is a film that seethes with envy from its every pore. Apparently made as a satire of the Hollywood movie industry, All About Eve is the story of theatre actress Eve Harrington’s rise to fame and fortune. The first scene of the film is Eve (Alison Baxter) accepting an award and then pans out to the tables clapping where we see theatre critic Addison DeWitt who begins narrating the tale of Eve. We learn that Eve at first is poor but has huge ambition and befriends then uses her connections with older actress Margo Channing (played by Bette Davis) to become famous whilst at the same time devaluing and denigrating Margo whilst pretending to be innocent. Eve is in fact a great actress, very good at playing pure and innocent victim when she is really cut throat ambitious and vindictive. Eve is envious of Margo’s fame and connections and then Margo becomes envious of Eve’s youth and purity, an apparent cachet in the theatre business compared to Margo’s demanding, older character. This is a really great film and has aged well, the acting by Anne Baxter and Bette Davis is superb, the directing is wonderful too and watch out for the very chilling ending… If there was ever a film that points out to the negativity of a live lived by envy that eats people up this is it!
American Beauty by Sam Mendes (1999)
The original American Dream movie, American Beauty [DVD]  does contain a lot of themes but I would like to use this example in the theme of envy. Again we can see envy perpetuating throughout this film in several layers, Lester Burnham has decided to breakaway from this emotion and we can see this in the change in his behaviour. His wife, Carolyn however is completely drawn in by this emotion, for her the material things in life have become pivotal, very important, something she values over her own relationships. This can best be seen in the famous scene where Lester nearly seduces her but she panics because she thinks his beer is going to spill all over the “£12,000 sofa upholstered in Italian Silk.” A very apt reply to his: “It’s just a sofa!” comment. For Carolyn these things have become her life literally and she is desperately unhappy because this is so. Carolyn has been drawn in to the consumerist desire and want cycle of envy and dissatisfaction. We can also see envy in the character of Frank who through a hilariously mistaken idea believes that his neighbour and son are involved in a homosexual relationship something that he has wanted for himself but denied all his life and hidden through constant homophobia.
A Streetcar Named Desire by Elia Kazan (1951)
A Streetcar Named Desire  [DVD] closely adapted from the Tennessee Williams play concerns the story of Blanche Du Bois a lonely delusional, Southern Belle who goes to stay with her younger sister (Stella) and her brother in law (Stanley) after their family estate ‘Belle Reve’ has been lost due to debts. Though there are many themes such as lust throughout this piece, it is also brims over with of feelings of envy. Stanley is envious of Blanche’s former fortunes, upbringing and to an extent her delusions that create an air of gentility, Though he pretends to despise Blanche, one cannot help but think that there is envy seething behind this. Blanche too is envious of her sister’s status as a wife and mother to be, though she calls Stanley “a brute” an air of repressed feeling between the two characters haunts the piece till it reaches a dramatic and violent conclusion. Blanche’s mental state seems to deteriorate when she learns of Stella’s pregnancy, as being an older woman herself without husband or child (in the more restrictive society of the time) she probably felt her status diminish. As her new fledgling relationship with Mitch declines (due to Stanley’s interference) this seems to tip her further into insanity as to her as she feels that this would give her a new hope out of society by marrying this man. It is a sad and dramatic film and is very powerful, Marlon Brando as Stanley and Vivian Leigh as Blanche are particularly excellent and it is a warning guide that envy is no way to live, it can lead to a denial and delusion of living another life and not get you to focus on your own circumstances in a positive way.
These are the films that I have chosen to illustrate envy but there are many others. If you have any you would like to suggest then leave a comment or contact us on FaceBook or Twitter.