Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
In the Company of Men
Neil LaBute writer/director
LaBute (writer and director) aptly sets his movie in the ubiquitous American scenes of dating and business — work and women. His scenes are all too familiar to the average American — and this is exactly as LaBute intends. Evil does not necessarily wear the guise of an SS uniform. Evil begins long before the death camps of Auschwitz or the Killing Fields of Cambodia can emerge. LaBute’s message: Evil can exist anywhere, on any scale, and men must always remain vigilant or suffer the consequences. LaBute’s story revolves around the interplay of three characters. During a business trip, two old frat buddies, Chad and Howard attempt to mutually seduce a pretty deaf girl at the office. Of course things are not as they appear. Chad and Howard are really potential rivals vying to move up the corporate ladder. The seduction of the girl is Chad’s attempt to unravel Howard and divert him from his role as the overall supervisor — a job Chad wants.
Of the trio, Chad is certainly the most tragic figure. He is the one most capable rational action and using means to achieve ends. He lectures a college intern, “I want you to know a thing because it’s true not because some man says that its right”. After the lecture, Chad finds that he can easily make the intern undress himself simply because he is told to do so. He reveals his philosophy on corporate work, “That’s what business is all about — who is sporting the nastiest sack of venom and who is willing to use it.” Despite his tragic flaws, he is the only character with any sense of integrity. The American culture of the 90’s, and the people who dwell within it, have left Chad a bitter and oppressed man. He despises whiners and affected compassion — thus he hates almost everyone.
Christine is the deaf office girl who is being seduced by both Howard and Chad. Outwardly she appears the victim, but she is playing her own game, a game that must inevitably hurt one of two men. After sleeping with Chad, she continues to date Howard out of compassion. But is that really compassionate? Although her own ends are not so well defined as Chad, they are certainly more defined than Howard’s. Howard is the most despicable character, he acts without knowing why, he does what he is told and never questions it. Seduce a lonely young girl — for the sole purpose of wreaking emotional havoc — sure why not. At least Chad had a personal motive in the seduction. Without thought and deliberation, men are incapable of purposeful action and they become automatons. Howard is the kind of man capable of anything, the kind that makes evil on a vast scale possible.
Early on Chad tells him: “Never lose control — that’s the key, Howard — that is the real key to universe — trust me.” Unfortunately, for Howard control is impossible — as it is for any man incapable of reflection. As the last scene of the movie suggests, Howard is a man totally out of control. In the end, the film delivers justice. Chad after admitting the entire plan of seduction and the real victim, contemptuously asks, “How does it feel to really hurt someone, Howard?”
What did you expect?