Saving Face

Always Be Closing

(c) Seth Anderson

David Mamet’s Glengarry Glenross could be the poster boy for Dirty Looks. The story of four real estate salesmen with jobs on the line if they don’t close their deals, the play/movie reveals a working life immersed in self-pity, backstabbing, disrespect, misplaced pride and humiliation. An emotional car crash right in the heart of the relational, viewers are both horrified and fascinated by the onslaught of human misery – the callous disregard for reputation and civility, men (not a woman in sight) taking chunks out of each other trying to get ‘on the board’ and claim the mantle of top dog in the office.

The brilliance of the story is that it transforms the everyday and the humdrum, the supposedly petty squabbles of office life, into high drama. Characters such as Dave Moss and George Aaronow (played by Ed Harris and Alan Arkin respectively) represent the unheroic, men who gossip and bitch about their colleagues and complain about their own position, all the while judging others as losers, deadbeats and screw-ups. The claustrophobia and lack of perspective on show rings true to the viewer, the  combination of helplessness and self-serving arrogance a reflection of the less savoury
aspects of working in modern organisations.

Among all the misery, one character stands out. Jack Lemmon, in the role of a lifetime, plays Shelley ‘the machine’ Levene, a veteran salesman and the embodiment of desperation. Levene, the man no one wants to be, needs to get his hands on the prime leads, the Glengarry leads. He tries everything in his arsenal – charm, pity, threats, bribes, but his lack of success results in him robbing the leads instead. The scenes with Levene are at times difficult to watch, as they depict a man cast adrift from the world of reputation, respect and honour – a world Levene craves to be part of once again.

The final emotional punch arrives when Levene asks why the office manager Williamson (played by Kevin Spacey) has been so cruel to him, why he takes such evident pleasure in telling him his ‘deal’ is a dud. The reply – ‘because I don’t like you’ – is callous but a logical conclusion to Glengarry Glenross. Levene is left to confront the consequences of his actions, an old man forced to live with the regrets of a life gone wrong.

But then again, when strategy comes from Downtown, what can you do?

By Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.