‘99 Homes’ wrestles with issues of conscience

“99 Homes” (2015). Cast: Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon, Laura Dern, Noah Lomax, Tim Guinee, Robert Larriviere. Director: Ramin Bahrani. Screenplay: Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi. Story: Ramin Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi. Web site. Trailer.

The pride of home ownership has long been a cornerstone of the American Dream. But that foundation of this long-sought-after way of life came crashing down for many in 2008 with the financial crisis and the housing bubble that triggered it. Countless people lost their homes – and, in many cases, their will to carry on – in the midst of that calamity, while others profited handsomely from their misfortune. The anguish of that crisis and how one homeowner attempted to bounce back from it provides the focus of the tense, heartfelt drama, “99 Homes,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

When construction worker Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) loses the childhood home he shares with his son, Connor (Noah Lomax), and mother, Lynn (Laura Dern), he reluctantly hands over the foreclosed property to an oily real estate broker, Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), who has craftily figured out how to manipulate the housing crisis to his advantage. However, when Carver learns what Nash can do as a hired hand, he offers him a job to do renovation and construction work on the foreclosed properties he handles. Before long, Carver grooms Nash for other kinds of work, such as conducting evictions. Ironically, in almost no time, Nash is making good money – for doing the very kind of work he was personally subjected to not long ago.

While Nash’s cash flow blossoms, so, too, do questions about the ethics of his actions, not to mention those of his boss. How can he possibly proceed with what he does knowing what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such treatment? He thus learns what it means to wrestle with his conscience. Indeed, can he continue to look the other way from his feelings simply for the sake of his pocketbook? And what is he to do when asked to engage in activities that cross the line of morality and, eventually, legality?

When it comes to setting our sights on what we want to achieve in our lives, how far are we willing to go? Is it acceptable to do whatever it takes? If not, then is it preferable to do anything that’s required as long as it’s legal, regardless of the ethics? Or should we follow our conscience and move ahead only with those acts and deeds that we know are morally and ethically proper? Those are the questions raised in this film. They’re also key considerations in the practice of conscious creation, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, which is squarely put to the test in this story.

Specifically, these questions raise the issue of responsibility, a key consideration in the nature of what we create when employing this philosophy. To be sure, we can use it to manifest anything we want, given that the process makes all probabilities possible. But, just because we can create anything we want, does that mean we should do so? What about the fallout that comes from our creative efforts? Should we take that into account, or is the realization of what we seek all that matters?

These are dicey questions for anyone who practices conscious creation, because they all come into play with what we look to materialize. The beliefs we employ will be reflected faithfully in what’s produced, right down to the smallest nuances. Even infinitesimally minute differences in our intents will be mirrored in the array of resulting creations, no matter how seemingly trivial or insignificant they may appear. Knowing this, then, it would behoove us to choose our beliefs – and what they yield – prudently.

One of the most important considerations we must confront in this context centers on the question, “Is doing what’s allowed necessarily doing what’s right?” This is something we must each address for ourselves, based on the nature of our conscience, what we’re seeking to create and what life lessons we hope to learn as a result of such an effort. The answers we arrive at will obviously vary from individual to individual, but taking stock of where we stand on these issues before we proceed may prove quite useful in what we conceive and eventually materialize.

These concerns play out loud and clear in how Dennis and Rick conduct themselves. In Dennis’s case, he seeks to restore what he lost, and he’s so preoccupied with the idea that he’s virtually willing to sell his soul to achieve that goal. Similarly, Rick freely pursues his ambitions in large part as a result of his upbringing; as the son of a father who worked hard and played by the rules (but never got ahead), he has no hesitation to disregard the so-called sage wisdom of his forbears, aggressively chasing his dreams and pushing the limits of what’s legally allowed, with little to no regard for whatever ethical concerns might be involved.

However, as the story unfolds, Dennis begins to question his actions, especially when he realizes what they do to others, such as a homeowner on the brink of foreclosure (Tim Guinee). He begins to see that actions (and creations, as well as the beliefs that inspire them) carry consequences – and not just for those on the receiving end of such manifestations. He’s thus forced into facing whether he should continue doing what he’s doing, especially when he starts feeling the impact personally, such as in his relationship with his family.

By contrast, Rick takes an approach of consequences be damned. He’s so set on the fulfillment of his objectives that he can’t see past the desired outcomes, a practice known as un-conscious creation or creation by default. Such an approach may yield what’s hoped for, but it might also sweep up a host of unforeseen or unintended side effects in the process. In many ways, this is like playing metaphysical roulette; it may pay big dividends, but it might also lead to tremendous losses. Given that, is this really the course we should pursue?

To avoid this pitfall, we must choose our beliefs and intents wisely. But this may be trickier than one might expect, because multiple beliefs can be involved in the creation of a particular outcome. For example, Dennis seeks to get his home back, but there’s more to this than just reacquiring a piece of property; he wants the house because it’s where he grew up and where his mother operates her hairdressing business. This intent thus illustrates his emotional connection to the property, which tinges the character of the beliefs he’s employing to fulfill his goal.

Some may view this qualifying attribute of his beliefs as somewhat unimportant, but it’s not, because it seeks the realization of a specific outcome, one inherently different, for example, from a goal driven by beliefs aimed at reacquiring the property for purely economic reasons. This is important to keep in mind, because emotions, like anything else, are creations, and the beliefs we employ to manifest them are just as powerful as those used to materialize tangible items. In fact, when emotion-based beliefs become linked to those used in the creation of physical objects, the manifestation of those items can become less clear-cut, obscured by murky qualities that can complicate the realization of the sought-after tangible articles. Interestingly, Rick recognizes this, as becomes apparent when he advises Dennis on several occasions not to become emotionally attached when it comes to real estate.

In the end, though, no matter what we seek to create, we should be sure to take care in how we go about it, and this is where our conscience comes into play. If we’re indeed true with ourselves, we’ll know what to do, following our heart and intuition in manifesting what we’re supposed to materialize. The examples set in this film make that clear, and we’d be wise to follow the cautionary tale presented here.

“99 Homes” serves up a taut, engaging commentary about what ever happened to the American Dream, as well as a compelling morality play about what it means to have a conscience when those around us don’t. With gripping performances by Garfield, Dern and, especially, Shannon (who earned best supporting actor nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Awards competitions), this up-close-and-personal look at the debilitating effects of the 2008 housing meltdown bring the fallout of this calamity down to a human scale (think of it as “The Big Short” on the level of the Average Joe). It shows the full impact of what it’s like to have the rug pulled out from beneath oneself – and to have one’s heart ripped out – all in one fell swoop. The picture is easily one of 2015’s most overlooked releases – and one well worth a view.

Even if we don’t like owning up to our conscience, it never steers us wrong. It leads us to where we know we’re supposed to go, and we ignore it at our peril. Whether we’re talking the acquisition of real estate or the pursuit of our own peace of mind, the principle is the same in both cases. No matter what we’re seeking, we’d better pay attention – or be prepared to pay the consequences.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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