For this week’s long review, Ben Sachs wrote about the new Michael Bay film, Pain & Gain, noting the way it “argues that the American dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been perverted to justify literally anything that will help you accrue privilege and material wealth and lord them over everyone else.” I’ve yet to see the film myself, but Bay’s cynical view of the American dream strikes me as curious. After all, Bay is a director whose films are direct products of the “free market” that drives the so-called American dream—talk about biting the hand that feeds.
Anyway, Sachs’s review got me thinking about cinema’s exploration of the American dream. It’s a truly amorphous term, though I’m sure most people would categorize it as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Even still, one’s definition of such terms as life, liberty, and happiness almost certainly differs from person to person. So I’ve collected the five films I think are most representative of the American dream, in all its grandeur, allusiveness, and impenetrability. Check them out after the jump.