—About this Film
Matchstick Men was a fantastic con movie. I absolutely love con movies because I find my own ignorance to be astounding. I always think to myself, “Man, that could be me falling for that trick.” And I love that it isn’t me. Lies and deception have always intrigued me because I can’t imagine how people pull them off successfully. The few attempts that I have made at lying have failed miserably, and I was the only one to suffer. Case in point with the movie. The lies and deceptions only last so long before one’s quality of living suffers a blow. Roy’s quality of life is severely diminished when we meet him, and he could choose a different life. But, like most of us, we don’t take a good look until a crisis comes. Why is a crisis necessary? Why don’t we look at the road blocks that try to stop us before disaster? The reality is that the game has to end somewhere, and usually isn’t in our favor. From what I could tell, there were at least four major road blocks that Roy smashed through before realizing that his own words were true: Crime pays, just not very well.
Neurotic Tendencies – From the beginning, Roy is depicted as an obsessive compulsive person who cannot function without medication. Although he is obsessed with cleanliness, he is also a chain smoker. He hates the outdoors and is constantly grunting, winking, and ticking from the stress of being a criminal. Now, this should be a pretty obvious road block to someone heading in the wrong direction, especially when the neurosis infringes upon their work. Roy experiences an attack during an ordinary con transaction which he and Frank have performed numerous times. But, Frank must whisk him away before they got caught. When his pills turn up missing, he becomes totally dysfunctional and hides out cleaning his house for days. He visits a new psychiatrist who gives him soy pills instead of legitimate medication. When Roy discovers the fake pills, his doctor replies directly, “Your neurosis is small time. Your conscience is another story.” Throughout the story, his compulsions are tied to his conscience. When he is with his daughter, opening up and living freely, the ticks disappear. But as soon as stress, danger or changes come, the ticks return. Had he faced his neurosis and admitted that the life of a criminal was affecting him physically, he might have turned around. But he didn’t. He drove right through.
Getting Caught – Roy gets caught several times, although not necessarily by his victims. First, his daughter catches him after discovering a gun and money in his doggie bank. He reluctantly tells her that he is a criminal. He admits to her that the life of crime isn’t glamorous because he often has to steal from people who don’t deserve it. But this admission doesn’t stop him from doing it. In fact, he later concedes to let Angela in on a scam with him. Roy also gets caught by the psychiatrist. After numerous sessions, the doctor asks him, “What would you do if you had to change careers?” Roy says, “What, if I wasn’t an antiques broker?” “No, if you weren’t a criminal.” The psychiatrist catches him in the lie. And since Roy has just had a blowout with his daughter, he decides to make a clean start. However, in an excellent plot twist, he is caught again, but this time by a former victim. He is forced back into the life of crime, and in true to life fashion, he falls into his criminal ways quite naturally. Roy might have made the hard decision to suffer through the consequences of being an honest man after this incident. But, he didn’t. He drove right through.
A Positive Influence – Sometimes the roadblock isn’t so much a hindrance to our actions, but a persuasion to go another direction. Angela, his daughter, happens to be both. A double-edged sword, she inspires him to do better with his life, but then drags him down. At first, her position as his daughter creates a positive influence on Roy’s life. He is forced to deal with his “career” from the perspective of being a parent. Does he want to corrupt her? Does he even want to tell her the truth? And finally, does he want to use her in his own scams? It’s a terrible decision to have to make. When she asks him to show her a con game, he replies, “You’re a bright, innocent, beautiful girl and I don’t want to ruin that.” But she wants to be ruined. The adventure is too taunting, and he gives in. Later he guiltily admits to the psychologist that their little scam was the most fun they have had together. To some degree, he sees her as a protégé, a talented offspring of his talented self, and perhaps even like a new toy he can have fun with. He could have made the decision to not corrupt her and to do the honest thing. But he didn’t. He drove right through. Now, he does make the right decision later. He gets out of the business after a scam has gone bad and he parts ways with Angela. But just as Roy decides to do the right thing, the other blade of the sword makes its impression and she gets involved again of her own free will. She toys with his conscience throughout the story and her positive influence is only exacted when he considers his influence as a parent. At any time, he could decide to stop the games, to leave his life of crime, or even to set her free of his world, but he doesn’t. The paternal road block isn’t strong enough for him. He drives right through.
Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t wish for the ending to be spoiled, do not read any further.
The Double Cross – The final road block, and the one that makes him change, is the ultimate double cross in the last 10 minutes of the film. I absolutely loved it! I have to admit, this was one of the best movie endings I have seen this year. I didn’t see it coming, although I should have. I was too wrapped up in the father/daughter story line to think twice about Frank, who constantly expresses gratitude and love for Roy. I thought I had Frank figured out, that he was a pretty good guy, and I was glad that Roy had one friend in the world he could count on… Whoosh!! There goes the rug! I thought of Angela’s words to Roy, “I don’t think you’re a bad guy.” He replied, “That’s what makes me good at it.” That’s what made Frank good at it too. At first, I was very disappointed for Roy. Experiencing parenthood is one of the most marvelous, life changing things that can happen to a person. You expect it to change you, and it does. To know that the entire thing was a farse, especially at the hands of Frank, gave me little hope for Roy in the end. Honestly, after the whole scam was revealed, I expected some kind of counter-scam from Roy. I thought the story would end on a light-hearted payback note. But fortunately, the double cross was a dead end for Roy. It was a better ending because it was more true of life. When you lose everything, you have to question what it was that attracted you to those things in the first place. You have to ask if you want to rebuild and redevelop the things that were your life before. Roy decides he does not. There is nowhere else to go on a dead end road, so he turns around. He heads back to the grocery store clerk and starts all over.
I really loved this ending because it is the story of my life and the story of so many other peoples’ lives. If you have ever lost it all and come to the end of yourself, you know the pain it took to get there. Whether it was suffering, betrayal, stupid mistakes, consequences of your own decisions, or even a series of divine roadblocks, you usually decide you don’t want to take that journey again. It was there that I chose Christ, just like Roy chose to embrace a new life. Roy forgives those who hurt him, claiming, “You didn’t take it from me, I gave it to you,” And he states that he sees life differently now. Thank God for the roadblocks along the way! I have developed eyes for seeing some of the signs now, and I’m grateful when God tries to keep me from harm. Sometimes I listen, but sometimes I drive right through. It is the nature of humanity. But one thing is sure: If God cares enough to put up road blocks for us, He must care about where we are going in life.
“Although the Lord has given you bread of adversity and water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. And you will hear a word behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right or to the left.” - Isaiah 30:21