Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346
There is a subtle moral fabric to Speed-the-Plow, as there is to all David Mamet’s plays. In Speed-the-Plow, Mamet casts a person at the lowest level of the totem pole—a temporary secretary and a woman—to be the one who attempts to make a difference, to “do good,” to create a film with ethical values instead of one designed to make money.
Within Mamet’s scheme, Charlie Fox emerges as the victorious antihero because Fox has no confusing, contradictory scruples and no self-defeating desire to “do good.” Uncomplicated in his desire for money and power, he will do whatever it takes to get to the top. Since Fox does not seem to possess one admirable quality, moral confusion confronts an intelligent audience which finds itself rooting for this disreputable person’s victory, validating his “money above art” credo, and cheering for his shoddy way of life.
Gould submerges whatever urges he has to “do good” in order to be successful in his dog-eat-dog world. He believes himself to be loyal, but he honors that loyalty only until a better deal comes along. Gould is a happy, self-proclaimed “secure whore” until Karen reawakens his slumbering ideals. Karen’s own idealism, however, is seen to be impure, inspired by her desire for power (unacceptable for women in Mamet’s male world). When Karen consciously uses sex to achieve her goal, she becomes the play’s real whore. Her methods are the worse because she thinks herself better. She, like most Mamet characters, not “knowing herself,” proves herself to be a fake idealist and a hypocrite. In Mamet’s moral world, there can be nothing worse.
The audience is never meant to assume that the theoretical “radiation book,” full of ideas about the meaning of existence, would make a good film. It is confusing; its plot cannot be explained, as the buddy film can, in one simple sentence. Karen’s explication of people’s fears in scene 2 is intentionally turgid and unconvincing, forcing the observation that people’s deepest fears cannot perhaps be intelligibly or honestly expressed.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806
Friendship and Loyalty
The two main characters in Speed-the-Plow, Bobby Gould, the new head of production at a major motion picture studio, and Charlie Fox, a producer, have been friends for over twenty years. This friendship is at the center of the play, and their loyalty to each other makes it turn. Gould and Fox began their careers together in the mailroom at a studio and have remained loyal to each other over the years. When Fox unexpectedly gets the twenty-four-hour option to the next Doug Brown movie, Fox takes the project to his old friend Gould. Fox emphasizes that he could have taken the project ‘‘across the street,’’ i.e. to another studio, but his loyalty and friendship compelled him to see Gould first. Gould seizes the opportunity, though his boss will be unavailable until the next morning.
The Gould-Fox friendship then undergoes a test of loyalty. Karen, the temporary secretary, is good-looking, and Fox bets Gould $500 that he cannot get her into bed. To accomplish this end, Gould has Karen do a reader’s report on a novel and visit his home later to discuss her work. Karen does so, and convinces Gould that he would be doing ‘‘good’’ to make the novel into a movie rather than the Doug Brown project. The next morning, when Fox comes back for their meeting with the studio head, he is appalled to find that Gould has forsaken his loyalty and will go with Karen’s project instead of the prison film.
Fox proceeds to do everything he can to make Gould act like a loyal friend and do his project instead. Fox only accomplishes his goal when he proves Karen is not what she seems, using her own words against her. Fox shows that Karen is using Gould to get ahead in Hollywood, while Fox’s motivations are more pure. He has their best interests at heart, and wants to share success with his loyal friend. Fox argues, and Gould ends up agreeS ing, that they have more at stake with each other and that Karen is an outsider and a whore. Speed-the- Plow argues that Friendship between men is more important than a relationship—no matter what the motivation—with a woman like Karen.
Ethics, Honesty, and Idealism
Each of the characters in Speed-the-Plow has his or her own ethical standards. These ethics create conflicts between the characters. Charlie Fox is the simplest character ethically. He has no qualms about calling himself a ‘‘whore.’’ He wants to be successful at any cost and works only for the money, the power, and the prestige. He sees Bobby Gould as his ticket to that end. He is not idealistic about the movie industry in the least. He accepts that movies are a commodity and does not pretend otherwise.
Bobby Gould is much more conflicted and complex. Like Fox, he also admits to being a ‘‘whore’’ and knows that movies are a commodity. He sees the opportunity in the Doug Brown picture, no matter that the plot is a list of movie cliches. But Gould has some latent idealism. When he and Fox discuss how much money they will make off this project, it is Gould who points out that money is not everything. Much of Bobby’s idealism is brought out by Karen. Gould tells her that he wants to do ‘‘good’’ films and that he wants to make a difference. To that end, Gould decides to greenlight the novel, which Karen believes is deeply meaningful, instead of the Doug Brown picture. Though Fox convinces him to do the Brown project by the end of the play, Gould has shown that he has deeper thoughts and motivations.
Karen, the temporary secretary, appears to be the least honest and ethical character. When she is introduced in Scene 1, she appears to be naive and idealistic. She thinks films should be ‘‘good’’ and be meaningful for their audience. Gould gives her an opportunity to do the courtesy read on a novel, and she finds deep meaning in it. She convinces him to do the novel instead of the Doug Brown project. But Fox, quick to spot his own kind, reveals Karen’s true nature. Karen wants to be a part of the Hollywood dealmaking process. Karen admits she slept with Gould only because he agreed to do the novel. Karen also says that she read the script for the Doug Brown project and that is was not very good. This is suspect for a woman who claimed to know nothing about the movie-making world. At a key moment, Karen reminds Gould that ‘‘Bob, we have a meeeting.’’ The ‘‘we’’ shows Gould that Karen has forced herself into the process and has been less than honest about her intentions. What Karen really believes, beyond her own self-service, is never made clear.
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