“And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.” (Gen. 4:8 NRSV)
It is worth remembering that humankind’s first murder was a family affair. Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci is the newest way of telling the story of a family that destroys itself because of the greed, ambition, and hubris of its members. Certainly, that concept has fueled storytelling for eons. We think of the TV shows like Dallas and Dynasty, and currently HBO’s Succession. But House of Gucci is “inspired by the true events”. This is a real life version of that age old story.
The film’s center is Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a young working-class woman. Her father owns a small trucking company. At a party one night, she meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the introverted scion of the fashion dynasty. When she hears his last name, her eyes light up, and we can tell she wants in. She works her way into Maurizio’s life and heart. His father Rudolfo (Jeremy Irons) thinks she’s nothing but a gold digger. He’s not far off, but there is more to it than that. When Rudolfo cuts off Maurizio’s money, Maurizio goes to work for Patrizia’s father until they marry, living a simple working-class life.
But Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) connects to them, and the lira-sign lights in Patrizia’s eyes go off again. Aldo is the business brains of Gucci. He wants to expand. Rudolfo lives in the past and doesn’t want to change anything. Aldo’s son Paulo (Jered Leto, who steals every scene he’s in) wants to be a designer but is talentless. Aldo calls him an idiot, “but he’s my idiot”. He sees Maurizio as the future of the family business. Between Aldo and Patrizia, plans are made to bring Maurizio into the business. Now the conniving and manipulations can begin. Patrizia seems to always be at the center of it all. It is her ambition that drives the story—and in the process destroys the family.
The story covers the period of the late 70s to the 90s. Along the way we watch as fashion changes. This is a world of extravagance, and Patrizia especially shows it to the world. In time Maurizio will also be drawn into this world of ostentation, just as he’s drawn into Patrizia’s ambition and cunning.
There is an interesting use of music in the film. Some of the time, the music is the popular music of the day. That feeds our nostalgia. But often we hear operatic music driving the scenes. The music reminds us that this is that thrives in the world of tabloids and people’s fascination with the rich and famous, but it is also a story of epic proportions that tells of the elemental mythos of the destructive power of ambition and hubris. That mythos that goes back to the story of Cain and Abel.
Watching a movie is always something of a voyeuristic experience. That is especially the case here as we watch the rise and downfall of Patrizia and others. But we should also note that many of the desires that drive and ultimately destroy these characters often live within each of us. As it says in the story of Cain and Abel, “. . . Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” House of Gucci shows us the dangers in nor mastering our desires.
House of Gucci is in wide theatrical release.
Photos courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.