Generation Wealth feels like it’s the culmination of filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s career over the past two and a half decades.
For the film, which premiered this past January at Sundance, the filmmaker revisited so many of her previous photograph and interview subjects. The film also ties into the 2017 book of the same name as well as a similar photo exhibition depicted late in the film.
High school probably wasn’t the best time to talk to many of these interview subjects. You take a city like Los Angeles and focus in on affluent neighborhoods and it’s very easy to see why. You look at who their friends were 25 years ago and who their parents were. Some of these people grew up around money to the point their lifestyle really had an impact on their worldview.
You really can’t have the film without the first half. What Greenfield does as a filmmaker is frame it in a way that depicts not so much how the American Dream has changed but how these subjects have grown as well. The American Dream has evolved to where it stands for “fame and fortune.” If you’re not famous or rich, are you living the American Dream by those standards? Are these subjects still obsessed with wealth as they were when she first met them? Greenfield tells us these stories in a way that they flow together with certain themes.
The second half of the film, more or less, shows what the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. How much did their wealth mean to them? Is it worth going to jail such as was the case of former hedge fund manager Florian Homm? Then you have people like Suzanne who are so career-driven. She doesn’t have the time for a family while spending a countless number of dollars on body maintenance. This also says something about the insane beauty standards that women are held to. If we don’t look beautiful by Hollywood standards, we start to wonder if we’re attractive. Once she realizes that she does want children, she puts the work into starting a family even if it means not spending as much money on looking young.
Then there’s the Siegel family from The Queen of Versailles. What happened to their mansion when the recession hit? Was it worth it to build such a large house in the long-term?
It’s should not come as a surprise that Greenfield uses the film as being part-memoir. The filmmaker looks back on being a child of divorce when she was growing up. How much of her parents’ work ethic was passed down to her? Whether they like it nor not, her own children, Noah and Gabriel, are also included in the film.
There’s a lot to be said about greed and how it drives the American Dream. Or so it seemed to be the case during the Reagan administration, which makes Gordon Gekko’s “Greed–for the lack of a better word–is good” quote in Wall Street all the more poignant. Perhaps it’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges who says it the best: “Societies accrue their greatest wealth at the moment they face death.”
Generation Wealth may have taken the better part of a decade to complete but photographer/filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s hard work is worth it in the end.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Lauren Greenfield