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The Big Short: The Most Metal Movie of 2015?

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Although Mad Max: Fury Road may very well be the most overtly metal movie of 2015, it’s hard to discount The Big Short, writer/director Adam McKay’s dark comedy about the 2008 financial meltdown (based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis). An unlikely candidate for a movie that’s metal as fuck? Yes. But it’s metal as fuck nonetheless!

Metal is represented — quite literally — by Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), the socially awkward, glass-eyed genius who predicted the burst of the housing market bubble two years before it happened. Like a lot of smart, introverted people who don’t quite fit in with the pack, Burry is metalhead, and unabashedly portrayed as such.

The truth is, McKay’s use of pop, rock, and hip-hop throughout the film is excellent. He doesn’t go the Tarantino route of digging up something old that you either haven’t heard in forever or haven’t heard at all, but takes a cue from the Scorsese playbook instead, always utilizing music for at least two of three purposes:

  1. Historical context
  2. Commentary on the scene at hand
  3. Emotion (which should be obvious — it’s used by every filmmaker for that purpose)

The metal songs used in The Big Short*, and their respective purposes from the checklist, are as follows (I guess we’re getting into spoiler territory here, but this is a true story that tells you in the first two minutes what happens at the end, so…):

“Blood and Thunder” by Mastodon — #s 1, 2, & 3

The film begins in 2005, so there’s your historical context. It’s used very early in the movie, as Burry is just beginning his research, and it definitely has a “Let’s kick this shit off!” vibe to it (it’s the opening cut on the album for a reason), so there’s your emotion. And although the song (like every song Leviathan) is technically about Moby Dick, its lyrics can interpreted (as is Moby Dick‘s entire narrative) as a metaphor for any number of things. The fact that Burry’s search for, and discovery of, a once-in-a-lifetime financial windfall is set against the anthemic chorus of “WHITE! WHALE! HOLY! GRAIL!” is no coincidence. Burry’s discovery was, very much, the Holy Grail of financial investing.

“Master of Puppets” by Metallica — #s 2 & 3

The track appears just as some of Burry’s biggest investors are showing up to chew him out and withdraw their money from the fund he runs. So the track’s anxious feel definitely provides the right emotion for the scene — and the lyrics comment on what’s going on, too, again using the song’s original subject (drugs) as a metaphor for its own (money).

“District Divided” by Darkest Hour — #2 & 3

The song is used when Burry is nearing his lowest point in the story: in 2007, the housing bubble burst just as he predicted it would, but corrupt ratings agencies like Standards & Poor’s still would not devalue the Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) Burry was attempting to short.  Read the lyrics for the track and the way it comments on the scene should become self-evident. But the most obvious may be “I’ve felt the wrath of the greedy,” which McKay puts front and center on the soundtrack right before Burry screams in frustration.

“By Demons Be Driven” by Pantera — #2 & 3

Burry plays drums along with this song to calm himself when he’s stressed out. As Bale tells Screenrant when asked about learning to play drums in just two weeks…

“It was a wonderful crash course, double kick drum. Pantera, ‘By Demons Be Driven’ – fantastic song to begin with. This is how Mike Burry unwound. This is actually how he calmed down. He would listen to it all day long in his headphones – and not just that, Mastodon as well – but his brain is on fire so much that death metal calms him. He’s a very different individual to most of us.”

(Let’s cut Bale some slack and just ignore the part where he calls Pantera “death metal.”)

So, in other words: Burry is being driven by demons.

“Eye of the Beholder” by Metallica — #2 & 3

Burry listens to this song at his absolute lowest point in the story: when he disallows his investors from removing their money (to prevent the fund from losing too much money before the short pays off), which, in turn, leads to a lawsuit. Again, the use of the song as both a mood-setter and commentary on the scene should be obvious: “Do you hear what I hear?/ Doors are slamming shut,” etc.

I leave you with one last reason to consider The Big Short 2015’s most metal movie: director Adam McKay has used our music of choice to great effect in the past. In his (admittedly much goofier) 2010 comedy The Other Guys, McKay also uses white collar criminals as the bad guys… and uses Rage Against the Machine’s “Maggie’s Farm” for the excellent closing credits sequence:

So let’s just call him “Metal McKay” from now on, okay?

*Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are also used in the movie, but I’m not including them here because they’re both more hard rock than metal per se. Still, the above conditions still apply to their respective uses.

Adam McKay’s The Big Short is in theaters now. You should see it because Axl likes it and Axl hates even more movies than he does metal bands.

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