Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

The Big Short Somehow Makes Subprime Mortgages Entertaining

This is a re-posted article.


Nothing about The Big Short should add up. It’s a movie about the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, by the guy who made Anchorman. Yet, it works—and even more weirdly, you walk out understanding the fineries of the situation that kicked off the great recession.

That’s because director Adam McKay, who adapted his movie from Michael Lewis’s book of same name, realized that the economic meltdown happened because people thought they couldn’t understand something they easily could have grokked. “Economics is actually fascinating, it’s the language of power—but somehow we’ve been conditioned to treat it like it’s boring,” McKay says. “I figure if I’m getting into it, and I’m the guy who did Step Brothers, what’s going on here?”

Of course, to understand how a bunch of Wall Street whizzes—Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carell), Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling), and their cohorts—found a way to bet against the American economy, you still have to understand how that economy functions (or doesn’t). To do that, McKay broke a lot of rules, like letting actors address the camera directly—and trusting people to understand things that are explained to them, the way adults are supposed to be able to. “He treats his audience as intelligent,” says Lewis. “Nobody ever goes out and treats their audience as idiots, but when they do it they do it implicitly by refusing to grapple with complicated truths.”

McKay also wrapped those truths in easy-to-swallow packages through interludes presented by folks like Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain. The point is to take the things that were distracting us while the financial world was collapsing and use them to tell us what was actually going on. “The premise was that we were going to take this 24-hour pop-culture machine that tells us what Kim Kardashian is up to, and then say, ‘What if that machine told us real information?’” McKay says.

With the movie hitting theaters this Friday, here’s a peek into The Big Short’s best educational moments.