Its possible to start re-programming your brain and turning yourself into a financial ninja…all whilst watching a film at home in pyjamas with a nice cup of tea. 😉
Some Hollywood films contain hidden but valuable lessons for potential escape artists. All the films below illustrate life-enhancing values and inspirational examples. Keep an open mind and let the underlying messages soak into your subconscious.
The Escape Artist has always wanted to write quasi-intellectual film reviews stuffed with pyscho-babble and this provides another perfect opportunity.
Credit and thank you to Helene, my friend and fellow blogger over at Free to Pursue for providing inspiration for some of these. So, without further ado, here are another Top 10 Escape Artist Training Films:
Kevin Spacey stars as Lester Burnam, an advertising executive whose patience with his office job snaps one day.
At this point Lester does not yet have 25x his annual spending…but rather than wait another 5 – 10 years to get to full financial independence, he makes the numbers work with a side hustle…getting a part time job flipping burgers. It takes £1.5m in the bank at a 1% interest rate to earn £15,000 a year…so you can see how getting a part time job can really help.
Everyone should do a minimum wage job at some point in life. And have a “plan F” job in the back of their mind that they could do as a fall back. When I was in sixth form, I worked on the Fruit & Veg section at Tesco, helping the good people of East Anglia eat healthily…when I wasn’t too busy trying to chat up the girls from college working there (usually without success).
Lester is pleasantly surprised to discover that the things he had previously feared (e.g. a low status job, non-conformity) actually turn out to be better than the middle-class consumer treadmill he’s left behind.
A wonderful Hollywood version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a TV executive who has got lost in the pursuit of money and status.
Frank is an inconsiderate and arrogant executive at IBC television network headquarters. He is overseeing a live production of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, forcing the network’s staff and his assistant to work on the holiday. He fires the meek Eliot Loudermilk for disagreeing with him and denies his employees their Christmas bonus.
Over time, Frank has neglected his relationships with family and friends. Its weird that we rush around the whole year like headless chickens and only stop to think at a few times of the year…like Christmas or maybe on our summer holiday. But, better late than never, Frank learns to re-evaluate what is truly important in life: his relationships, his health and his creative work.
Up in the Air
George Clooney plays a restructuring consultant hired by large companies to fire employees.
Clooney spends his life either in airline lounges or up in the air..or firing people. He is never home…never fully present, never grounded.
Clooney travels light, without much baggage. Wisely, he prefers to store physical possessions in The Cloud. But he is disconnected from place, from other people and from himself.
I laughed at the scenes where Clooney shows off his AirMiles and hotel club “privileges”. During my time in The Prison Camp, when other inmates started boasting about their British Airways diamond card or their Holiday Inn platinum club blah blah blah, I had to resist the temptation to shout: NO ONE CARES!
The film provides an uncomfortably funny portrayal of the soulless life of a corporate road warrier. Clooney eventually tires of a life without meaning and starts to make some changes.
The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexander Dumas classic novel has been made into a film many times: I recommend the 2002 version.
The hero, Edmund Dantes, starts off as a likeable but naive young man taken advantage of by an unscrupulous employer and associates.
Edmond is unfairly accused of treason, arrested, and imprisoned without trial in the Château d’If, a grim island prison. After six years of imprisonment and isolation, Dantès is on the verge of suicide when he befriends an old and wise priest, a fellow prisoner who has dug an escape tunnel. Over the next few years, The Priest acts as mentor to Dantès as they work on the tunnel together.
Under The Priest’s coaching, Edmund reads life changing books…classics that teach him about how the world really is. Dantes develops the discipline and the patience to to plan for long term victory. The Priest shows Dante The Path to escape and leaves him a map guiding him to a fortune in treasure.
This film is a classic worth watching just for the intro / title sequence alone (see below).
The film can be interpreted in different ways. Perhaps its a searing indictment of consumer society and the alienation of modern youth from the values of laissez faire capitalism in the 1980s? Or perhaps heroin addiction is a metaphor for the welfare state and Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to make 1980s Britain go Cold Turkey from socialism and feudal-style dependency?
Or perhaps its just a string of schoolboy gags featuring Scottish people getting wasted, swearing and swimming in Glastonbury-style pub toilets?
The Devil Wears Prada
Many years ago, I had a boss who was incredibly smart and driven. And not entirely sane. Although no doubt a lovely person deep down, they were a complete nightmare to work for. They were ultra competitive, insecure and pushed themselves ridiculously hard. They expected the same (or even more) from their underlings.
In The Devil Wears Prada Merryl Streep plays role of nightmare boss beautifully. Streep shows the reality of what you have to do to fight your way to the top of competitive professions. And then stay there.
The film shows how the pressures to succeed and conform to a hard driving corporate culture can lead us astray. When I watched the film I saw how the character played by Anne Hathaway starts to disconnect with her grounded sense of self. It was eerie how much it reminded me of my own experience.
Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
I’ll let you into a secret. Even when you have enough, quitting a job feels a bit like jumping off a cliff into water.
Here, Paul Newman and Robert Redford provide a masterclass in how to make the leap.
As I wrote here, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid find themselves in a spot where their freedom is at stake. The situation is scary…but, if they can overcome their fear, there is a way out.
Butch and Sundance rule out living the rest of your life in prison as an unacceptable option for free men. The guys live by their belief that its better to die on your feet then live on your knees.
By comparison, note how easy we have it. In getting to financial independence, there is plenty of time, no real cliffs to be jumped off and no risk of being crushed on the rocks.
As previously explained over on Free to Pursue, Mark Watney is an astronaut who’s been left for dead, to fend for himself on a desolate red planet. He’s isolated – all alone with no way to communicate with earth.
He also has to contend with the fact that he’ll probably run out of food before a rescue mission can reach him – if Mars’s inhospitable environment doesn’t claim him first.
In order to escape, Mark is going to need to focus on what he can control. He’ll need hard work, patience and some ingenuity.
Fortunately, Mark has a number of things going for him:
- He has prepared for tough times (emergencies).
- He’s a generalist (able to turn his hand to different things).
- He focuses on what matters most at any given time.
- He doesn’t lose sight of his purpose (survival).
- He’s resourceful (he wastes nothing).
- He has grit.
- He is self sufficient
I’d add one more thing. For me, the film is one long illustration of what a growth mindset looks like.
James Bond demonstrates the correct way to think about material possessions. I often refer to these as “your shit” to emphasise their lack of importance.
To put it another way…what matters is who you are and what you do….not what brand of tie you wear or car you drive. We are not what we own.
Bond is aware of the practical utility of gadgets and gizmos. He is also aware of how other people are impressed with shiny baubles. And he himself has a keen eye for the quality of objects and appreciates elegant yet functional design.
But he never falls in love with “stuff”. Bond treats his possessions with a certain insouciance. Bond doesn’t worry about rolling his Aston Martin…it’s just stuff. Although he has gadgets, they’re no substitute for being fit, fast and flexible himself.
When Harry met Sally
The restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally is a wonderful introduction to The Principles of Lifehacking. As a quick reminder, these are:
- Optimise speed of response
- Think 80 : 20
- Don’t worry about failure
- Be resourceful
- Keep it simple
- Use crowd sourcing…and copy what works
- Look for alignment of interests
Note how the older lady is prepared to try new things (“I’ll have what she’s having”) especially when there are high rewards for success (orgasm) and low costs of “failure” (the cost of a slice of cheesecake). That’s Principle #1. Experiment.
The older lady acts quickly and does not procrastinate (#2. Optimise Speed of Response). She doesn’t try to replicate every aspect of Meg Ryan’s life…just her food choice (#3. Think 80:20).
She doesn’t worry about failure or what other people in the restaurant might think (#4. Don’t worry about failure). She uses the resources available to her in the restaurant (#5. Be resourceful). She knows that complexity is the enemy of execution and avoids over-elaboration (#6. Keep it simple).
The older lady observes and then copies what what works (or at least what appears to work) in real life (#7. Use crowd sourcing). Finally, she knows that Meg Ryan isn’t making any money off her, so there’s no conflict of interest…(#8. Look for alignment of interests).
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