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Film: Thank You For Smoking Forum

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Welcome! The feature film debut of Jason Reitman made a huge splash at the Toronto Film Fest. Aaron Eckhart plays a sublimely sleazy Big Tobacco lobbyist who also tries to be a positive role model for his young son. This humorous satire is sure to arouse lively debate and discussion. Please join in!

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

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Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-05 15:38:33
Link to this Comment: 18845

Greetings one and all and welcome to the Bryn Mawr Film Institute's online discussion of Thank You For Smoking on Serendip. It is our hope that this forum will allow people to share their insights and questions about a film that has already generated a tremendous amount of interest.

Thank You For Smoking is currently playing at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. You can find out more about the film at the BMFI website.

See the film and then come back here to ask questions, provide answers, and join the conversation.

Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-06 18:02:52
Link to this Comment: 18881

I found myself, at the end of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, seeing a lot of merit in Nick Naylor's final "argument." What is wrong with giving people--even young ones--information and allowing them to make their own decisions once they're of a mature age? Are cigarettes any more responsible for smokers' deaths than fatty food are for sufferers of heart disease? Can't one go down this road with almost any object (cars, airplanes, diet soda, etc.)?

More to the point about the film: If we can agree that such arguments might be reasonable, isn't the film falling short in its intention to be satirical? Doesn't the film turn into more of a direct social commentary and abandon the style and technique of ridicule and satire for which it has been touted and with which it was so effective in earlier scenes?

Name: Ann
Date: 2006-04-07 10:54:48
Link to this Comment: 18892

For me, the film was a seduction wrapped in a satire. That you could see the "reasonableness" of his final argument was an indication that the seduction had worked and drawn you into the terms of an argument with a faulty premise. I was aware that this was happening to me over the course of the film, so I stayed slightly detached, but by the final Q and A (yes, he would buy his 18 year old son a pack of cigarettes), I was disgusted with myself for liking the character and being seduced by his arguments.

Not seduction, failure
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-07 11:22:03
Link to this Comment: 18893

In response to Ann's comment, I think she's giving the film (and its makers) too much credit. I don't think the film was intended to be a social issue film or political screed, but rather a satire that lost its way. I don't know that it got more seductive as it went on, but it certainly got less satirical. I haven't read the novel, and that may have been part of its intention, but that wouldn't seem to gel with the expected political leanings of the people involved in its making (though admittedly, I'm just guessing here).

not seduction or failure: freedom of thought
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2006-04-08 12:32:30
Link to this Comment: 18903

Always so interesting to hear, here, the varieties of views on a film.
One text, many decoders. So...
here's how it looks to me.

What is wrong with giving people--even young ones--information and allowing them to make their own decisions once they're of a mature age?

There is nothing wrong w/ this. In fact, I would say that--w/ the important addition of teaching children how to think critically, by gathering and evalauting evidence on their own--this is the one right thing parents should do. By my lights, Nick Naylor gave the wrong answer in his final Q&A: He shouldn't buy his 18-year-old son his first pack of cigarettes--but he should take to the Supreme Court the right of his son to buy his own pack when he turns 18.

The value here is not deciding for other people what is right for them; it's preserving their right to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives. Smoking's a great example of a space where the government has intervened--I think inappropriately--in a matter of private choice. I'm not a smoker myself, but I've been flabbergasted by the current craze for policing other people's health habits...

So: no faulty premise--and no faulty conclusion.

Where I actually think the film is most clever (and most complicated) is in the way it s-l-i-d-e-s from defending the right to "think for yourself" (my primary value) to celebrating the power of advertising and politicking to manipulate our thinking for us. Nick is a spinmeister; his advocacy for independent thinking and good argumentation is done in the service of making money--for himself and his clients. And that's where this all gets tricky.

As it happens, the night before I saw Thank you for Smoking, I had rented the 1996 Milos Forman film, The People vs. Larry Flynt, an idealized representation of the controversial pornography publisher's winning a free speech case before the Supreme Court (tagline: "You may not like what he does, but are you prepared to give up his right to do it?") The issues in that film were in some ways "cleaner" (though Larry Flynt's primary interest was also money-making). Where "Smoking" is more complicated--and so more interesting--is that it plays w/ that line where freedom of choice is altered by advertising and politicking.

A couple of years ago, I attended a really interesting discussion, Bucks, Values and Happiness, in which a Bryn Mawr College economist, David Ross fretted about the notion that advertising is not simply information: it has the capacity to change fundamental wants, and intervene in our thinking (so that we might come to imagine, for instance, that buying something we don't have will make us happier).

What I realized, in the course of that good session, was that it was a mistake to assume that any of us has "immutable," predetermined and fixed desires, which the market should not attempt to alter. We are all of us alterable. (This is a good thing.) We can't decide which product is better, without the information that advertising supplies. And--if we have learned to think for ourselves, and taught our children to do the same--we need not fear any system/structure creating a need we don't want to...

So there.
Thank you for not being so self-satisfied.

Not Smoking for real
Name: Lois
Date: 2006-04-09 20:46:35
Link to this Comment: 18925

Am I dreaming, or was there actually not a single cigarette smoked in the entire film? I suppose that was part of the satire?

No Smoking
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-14 15:42:55
Link to this Comment: 19034

Yes, Lois, you're right--there wasn't any actual smoking by the characters in the film. Robert Duvall's Captain holds a cigar and Nick Naylor takes out a pack of cigarettes, but we don't see either of them puff.

I think there are a couple of ways of looking at this. One is that it's reflective of the hypocrisy that many of these characters exhibit--the "lived contradiction", if you will, of shilling for smoking but not actually doing it.

Another is to see this as a take on Hollywood's willingness (or lack thereof) to have people smoke in films. If there aren't any "bad guys" in this film, then there's no one to show smoking, according to the current industry thought process. Or, there are no "hot actors w/ chemistry" as Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta Jones are described in this film, to make smoking look cool and sexy.

Or, it could just be reflexive nod to itself--the filmmaker's way of saying, "Yeah, I made a film about the right to smoke and the tobacco industry but no one in it smokes. Aren't I cool?"

Name: Shane
Date: 2006-04-14 17:11:51
Link to this Comment: 19035

I think the film works because it never takes its plot too seriously. In other movies, the kidnapping plot would be the entire point of the thing. Here, it's just another incident/anecdote, and the film rushes on to the next bit. Some would call this a flaw, but the death of light satire is a cumbersome plot.

Oh, and Adam Brody and Rob Lowe were hi-larious! I kind of wish there had been more of them, but in reality, they probably got the correct amount of screen time. Don't drive your funny characters into the ground!

Name: Shane
Date: 2006-04-22 12:06:56
Link to this Comment: 19119

I am the discussion killer!!!

Name: asf
Date: 2006-05-20 22:01:19
Link to this Comment: 19411

I read the book.

Name: Sean Gould
Date: 2006-05-28 10:42:27
Link to this Comment: 19431

How was the book in comparison to the movie?

book v movie
Date: 2006-06-04 12:08:04
Link to this Comment: 19461

I actually didn't see the movie but i read a detailed summery. Anyway, it appears that Nick's son plays a huge role in the movie. There are about 2 mentions of him in the book. Also, the FBI has a very different role

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