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If you lean toward the extreme beliefs that the super-rich are either
inherently shallow and evil, or they earned their wealth fair and
square precisely because they are the greatest among us, your opinion
of this film is already pre-determined, and you should probably not
waste your time watching it even though the subjects under
consideration only inherited their wealth.
For thoughtful people, however, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. Jamie Johnson deserves so much credit for being a young man of privilege who dares to think about what his good fortune really means, much like the rest of humanity is forced to think daily about what their poverty and debt really means. Frankly, I never would have expected such an even-handed treatment of the subject from "one of them".
The biggest barrier to learning how the super-rich really think is access. To gain access you must either be one of them, which usually precludes talking about money publicly, or you must be a member of the mainstream media, which only offers favorably-edited, politically-correct glimpses of reality (otherwise the media too would lose their access). Johnson has produced an essential work here by bridging the gap and allowing the rest of the world to witness, largely unedited, the way in which these extremely wealthy young people view their own fortunes. I can only hope the day will come when older generations among the super-rich will agree to be similarly interviewed, although I suspect we will all be deeply saddened by what they have to say.
Just like on skid row, a few of the young people here (especially Johnson himself) seem above average in terms of humanity, most of them are just average, and the remaining few seem to be useless wastes of human flesh that would bring shame to any family, rich or poor. That's pretty much the same bell curve you'll find in any other social strata of society, proving once again that money is ultimately irrelevant except to those who are obsessed by it.
Much has been written here about Luke Weill's contribution to the film, which I found simply embarrassing to watch. If he is the ambassador of our species when the gray aliens finally land, I won't even argue with their decision to wipe humanity off the face of the earth without a trial. He makes a great case that there is nothing wrong with extraordinary wealth, but everything wrong with inherited wealth. Most important, Weill proves that whether you are rich or poor, the quality of the person become is your own choice. I've seen little whiners like that come from plenty of poor families, so his disturbing behavior has nothing to do with his family's wealth. The gene pool in the Hamptons seems as muddy as it is everywhere else in the world.
But it is Juliet Hartford who deserves the contempt award here for her answer to the question of what she'd do with a million dollars cash. Laughing at the homeless? I've worked with the homeless for years, and most of them are far superior in character and personality to Ms. Hartford (and from what I can tell, the homeless are more talented as well). Thank God she is locked in her own zoo, surrounded only by her own kind. I hate to think of how much damage a woman like this could cause in the real world, where real people live.
Surprisingly, Ivanka Trump comes across as fairly down-to-earth. Ordinarily I would argue with a billionaire's decision to use that money to simply build more ugly concrete and steel, when she has so much potential to build a better world instead. But at least she justifies her ambitions with a genuine interest in real estate development ("it's in our blood"). That's better than nothing.
The only "sympathy" I can feel for these kids is the fact that they have been deprived of reality all their lives, and I don't see any way they'll ever experience that. They are so terrified of dating outside their own circles despite the incredibly boring people they have to choose from, I can't see them ever making a truly meaningful connection with the masses that define their own species. Concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and simplicity seem to be completely foreign to them. Their parents really stole a lot from them, and it's a shame they don't recognize this and forsake their wealth for a better life. After all, they can always earn their own fortune later--it'd be as easy for them as it is for the rest of us, right?
It is well-known that those with money do not ever speak of
money--theirs or anyone else's. Jamie Johnson admirably shattered this
longstanding taboo, despite pleas from his own father and lawyer not to
make the film, and discovered the hard way what happens when the
secrecy curtain is lifted from the uber-wealthy. "Born Rich" is
ostensibly Johnson's way of finding normalcy, whatever that may mean to
those born into wealth; unfortunately, he was ostracized from the Gen-X
upper class for turning a mirror onto the real lives of his blue-blood
The most fascinating part of Born Rich isn't what is seen on camera, but what took place offscreen. Luke Weil sued Johnson to have his footage cut from the film, claiming that he--an Ivy-league-educated adult--was tricked into signing a release. Weil's lawsuit was thrown out, and it is now apparent to the world why he didn't want his footage seen. Among other gems, Weil tells the interviewer that any woman who wouldn't sign a pre-nup is "an ungrateful little bitch," brags of coasting through Brown University without attending class, and how he would taunt classmates with "I can buy your family."
Sadly, Weil is not even the most odious of the film's assembled characters. That distinction belongs to Carlo von Zeitschel, a minor European royal who claims to be a descendant of Kaiser Wilhelm II (strangely, his name does not appear in the Kaiser's family tree). With his chain-smoking and foreign flippancy, he sneers "I have no intention of being loyal to any woman anytime soon, not that I probably ever will be... One day I'll fall in love and I'll get married, whatever. I'll probably get divorced a couple of years later." (In the DVD's deleted scenes, he dismisses his American peers as "so cheesy, they're like the f*cking Brady Bunch.")
Weil's and von Zeitschel's contributions to the film are embarrassing to watch, and epitomize everything that is wrong with inherited wealth. The other heirs in the film do not fare much better: Stephanie Erklentz quit her job as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch so she could spend her days shopping and sipping Bellinis with her friends. Cody Franchetti is an Italian textile heir who works as a model because he doesn't want a "real job." Juliet Hartford fancies herself a starving artist (minus the starving part) who, when asked what she would do with a million dollars in cash, says "I'd give it to the homeless," then bursts out laughing and spurts, "Just kidding!"
However, these vignettes also speak volumes about the sense of narcissistic confusion that stems from having enormous wealth handed down without integrity or values. The real problem with some of these kids is poor parenting, not excess. It is very clear that well-rounded, responsible adults come from proper mentoring, not undeserved wealth or social status.
And despite soundbites like these, Johnson manages to make you feel sorry for his subjects; despite their grossly excessive lifestyles, their wealth is tremendously isolating. These children are locked in their own private world, surrounded only by others like them. They have been trained to never socialize or date outside the upper crust, and while most attended college, their trust funds give them no incentive to make a meaningful contribution to the working world, and no mentors to provide guidance. (When Johnson asks his emotionally-detached father for career advice, he is vaguely advised to become a collector of historical maps.) He goes to great lengths to show the perils of having too much money, using his grandfather's messy life as an example.
The bright spot of "Born Rich" is Ivanka Trump, who is witty and articulate, and balks at the notion that the rich have no problems. She, along with S.I. Newhouse IV and Josiah Hornblower, appear to be the most well-adjusted of the bunch. They have contemplated the bizarreness of their lives, and seem to be aware of the trappings of decadence and materialism. (Newhouse chose to live in a shared college dorm instead of his father's plush Manhattan penthouse.) These three have no pretenses: they are just young adults with big bank accounts and huge legacies to fulfill.
The film is very short - barely over an hour - and Johnson doesn't attempt to delve into the more meaty issues characterizing the class war. He simply turns the camera on his friends, and allows them to expose the classism on their own. Some seem refreshingly average, others troubled, others spoiled, arrogant and mean. But they are all human, and face the same struggle for self-identity as anyone else.
This is why it is extremely important to remain thoughtful and open-minded while watching, and not to categorize all super-rich as "elitist snobs," or naysayers of the rich as "jealous." If you have such pre-formed opinions, you will find little here to change your mind or encourage you to think deeper. Still, every viewer will have a strong reaction to the film in some way, because inherited wealth is at odds with the capitalist principle of worth by way of achievement. That idea will undoubtedly rankle you, regardless of sympathies.
It took enormous chutzpah for Johnson to make this film. Though it is unlikely to change high society's hush-hush attitudes about wealth, or the public's reaction to class clash, this film is a daring experiment and (hopefully) a promising start to a great film-making career.
I avoided watching this film for some time confident it would be a self-indulgent piece of fluff that would grate on my working-class sensibilities. I was wrong. In my humble opinion, Jamie Johnson did a fine job of humanizing himself and his subjects in a way that ,for me, promoted compassion and understanding for persons "different" than myself. Any filmmaker that has the ability and the resources to promote understanding of persons different than ourselves has a talent that hopefully will not be wasted.
Born Rich is a documentary. Having said that, I'm not quite sure how to
approach describing this film. I had such a strong reaction to it that
hard for me to even write this review. Try to view it as I did, with open
ears and an open mind, and one may feel a reaction that I myself was
surprised to feel- sympathy.
"Right..." you're thinking. "Sympathy for those little devils born rich."
No, really. I felt a bit of sympathy and a bit of disgust (just listen to Luke Weil yakking about "little bitch[es]" who won't sign pre-nups) but my true reaction was one of, "Oh... So that's how they live, that's how it is, and if I were one of them, the so-called elite, I'd probably end up a drugged up, boozed-up mess." Why would that life be so bad? The main theme I found running throughout the film was one of despair, especially from the thoughtful and determined filmmaker himself, Jaime Johnson, heir to the the Johnson & Johnson throne. This kid is so honest in his searching, he even gets himself into a bit of legal trouble in the end (I won't ruin the rest of that tidbit for you). One thing that a viewer of modest income will be shocked to learn is that talking about one's wealth, among the fellow wealthy, at least, is taboo. Many of these kids learnt of their parents fortune through the outside world, and not from their parents themselves. I could even understand why some of these kids felt betrayed by this. What I think is disconcerting to most of these kids is that, coming into that knowledge of their own wealth, and whether they realize it or not, they were born without a certain something that every non-rich human on the planet has... that tension of survival, that struggle of having to work to survive, that struggle of knowing that all of our youth and most of our lives are literally wasted on working hard to gain money. The scary thing I thought of while watching this, is that not only is money power, but money is also freedom- and ultimately too much freedom can bring disaster.
The kids in this film are all interesting enough to listen to- they're talking about their "fabulous" lives after all. Most are shallow, mentioning how they have to have that Gucci purse, or those $600 shoes. But a few are thoughtful (Johnson, Ivanka Trump, and Josiah Hornblower, especially) and some downright angry (S.I. IV Newhouse). All said and done, this film is a good look into how these kids function, how they think, and how regardless of wealth, what kind of people they actually are. It goes without saying at the end of the day, if you can't live with yourself, then your life is utterly hopeless.
A lot of people are saying this movie tries to inspire sympathy for the rich
- that is not the case.
It is one rich kid interviewing others. The Johnson + Johnson kid interviews the Trump kid, some Luke guy, and a bunch of others who inherited money from grandparents. They will never work a day in their life, unless they want to (one kid makes 50 G a year at his job). But their life isn't totally easy. But this isn't to inspire sympathy.
Overall, I'd say to give this thing a watch. I didn't wanna make this review too long or too dignified like others have done, I'm just saying that it's interesting to watch.
The only flaw is that if you don't catch it from the beginning, you won't know who everyone is because they don't tell you in the middle.
The supposedly inane problems of inherited wealth are reframed quite well in
this film. I felt that there was an important contradiction made clear.
America's 400 year old flight from Europe's monarchies and class systems is
both long over and yet still taking place. I don't believe that this
contradiction has anything to do with money.
Personal dignity is the prize at the end of the American dream. And yet dignity is far more elusive than we'd like to believe. This has a lot more to do with practical parenting and the real value that children have to their parents and how it's shown, NOT how much they spend or can spend on their children.
Americans have steadfastly (in principal) defined personal worth by personal achievement. Whether you began your days in humble circumstances or not, you can with effort, create the wealth and comfort for yourself and your family that you need. This is the American Idea. And yet this principal becomes mere theory for those whose lives are defined utterly by someone else's effort, often long before they were born.
The problems of these people are somewhat anachronistic to the rest of us. And also quietly disturbing because there is a wound that the American identity struggles with on the subject of wealth, power, history and privilege (royalty). Americans are both attracted to the glamor of privilege and repelled intellectually. Some part of our problem is universal; how to define personal value when those with power apparently don't need to worry about it. There is an important moment in the film where, in a candid remark, a young man describes a sense of pique he'd experienced where he had said to himself about someone he was annoyed with, "we could buy your family," and he believes it. This says volumes about the sense of narcissistic confusion that stems from an identity where basic values have not been passed down and personal dignity is not fought for. What more compelling is that the young man also seems to be aware of that fact.
A few of these people seem to be trying to reset their values to relate to the rest of us. This is a specifically American virtue and it separates them from the rest who have delusions of relevance bloated even more by this film's interest in their lives; they wouldn't be out of place in the courts of Europe a century ago.
A fascinating film.
Worth seeing. I wasn't as offended by the world-view presented as others were. These are very young people grappling with enormous privilege, which unsurprisingly, is its own circle of Hell. Ironically, their struggles are not very different from anyone else's. "What am I going to do with myself?" is something everyone asks. Not having to work is just the other side of having to work. Ultimately, we all still have to make our way in this world. But, one does get a sense of the truism of Thoreau's comment that(paraphrase)"to be born rich is not to be born at all, but rather, still-born." I saw this on HBO and watched Indian Point, another documentary, right after. There was Robert F. Kennedy, another child of privilege, hard at work doing something that matters to him. The individuals who are struggling in Born Rich could benefit by watching him at work and learning how to live.
This movie won't spoil the well of idealism from which you drink. It is interesting to see the things these kids are conditioned to perceive as stress. They handle most situations in a surprisingly humble manner. Especially the Trump and Johnson children. Regardless of social class, the children with the most parental bonding are consequently the most mature and responsible...i.e., Trump, Johnson. The best example of this is the fact that they respect and admire their parents, as opposed to resenting them and their efforts to bless them financially. Bottom line, parenting/mentoring makes well rounded, responsible children into adults. Not money or social status. Highly recommend.
I watched the documentary of born rich by Jamie Johnson in my sociology class. It was very interesting. I enjoyed all of it except Luke Weil's arrogant comments and attitude. I cant believe he said the things he did. Then he had thee audacity to actually sue Jamie Johnson? What? He says he was "tricked" into filming the movie. Even if he was tricked, which I don't believe he was, if that is his outlook on life, I am glad I never have to worry about coming in contact with him. He is an embarrassment to the elite population and should be sanctioned for the way he acted in this movie. I have children of my own and I am in the high upper class but if my children ever represented me and my family the way Luke did his, I would be very upset. But my 5 and 6 year old have better morals than Luke Weil does and they would never say anything like he did.
I watched Jamie Johnson's movie...and I applaud his efforts and success to do so. I am sorry that his peers felt so "apprehensive" about helping him with his possible career endeavor. Friends help each other out, when able...that is the difference between friends and acquaintances. As well, I hope that none of the kids suffer from any negative feedback about their lives, thoughts, dreams and ideals, that they shared with us. I'm glad that I got to see how these rich kids have grown up and how they live their day-to-day lives. I like seeing how ALL "other halves" live. I hope that the "public" will see these affluent individuals as...individuals. I truly wish I was able to tell Luke Weil that his wish to be indispensable will (hopefully) be realized when he becomes a father. There is no life or love, equal to that of being a loving and thoughtful parent. Bravo to all of the kids that shared their lives with us, and especially to Jamie for thinking of it and taking the initiative! For all participants....I wish you lots of laughter, love and inner serenity! Thank you
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