Ireland has been both the witness and the focus of a powerful wave of crime fiction that started in the late 1990s and still continues nowadays. The reasons for this boom have been widely discussed among scholars of the genre but are inextricably although not exclusively, tied to the economy. Brian Cliff has explored this relationship, warning against attributing the genre’s boom exclusively to financial circumstances:
In particular, the genre’s growth has been reductively though not untruthfully seen as reflecting the Celtic Tiger, for example, an unfortunate name for an era in which Ireland experienced a dizzying growth in prosperity from the mid1990s followed by an even more vertiginous crash from 2008 on, with widespread corruption and newly urgent social pressures both exacerbated by and reflected in the boom and crash. (2018: 3-4)
Cliff sensibly points out the reductionist view of linking crime fiction exclusively to the economy, while also highlighting the undeniable importance of the Celtic Tiger. Not only did the period change the economy of the country, but it also shaped the patterns, structures, and topics through which society would narrate the changes it underwent, as well as the consequences of the crash. Prior to 1990, Ireland had never been considered a rich country or a powerful economy. The island, still struggling to cut the ties to its colonial past, was notorious for its semi-perpetual flow of emigration and cyclical crises. However, everything changed in the decade of the 1990s. Ireland experienced an explosive increase in its GDP and reversed the flow of emigration to one of immigration. Although the reforms in the education and labour system were linked to the economy’s improvement, foreign investment and low tax rates were said to be both the contributing factors to the boom but also to the subsequent bust: “The decisions that led to the seeming economic miracle of the 1990s were taken not in the corridors of Leinster House but in the boardrooms of a handful of multinational corporations […] The principally US multinationals that were keen to produce in and for the EU were drawn disproportionately to the Irish Republic” (Coulter and Coleman 2003:18-19). The boom led to a subsequent crash that started to materialise in 2008, as happened to most of the world. In the Irish case, however, the higher the rise, the greater the fall; the crisis was, hence, dramatic. Donal Donavan and Antoin Murphy explain the multifaceted nature of the Irish crisis: “A virus had infected the Irish economy that ended up creating four interconnected crises: (i) a property market crisis; (ii) a banking crisis; (iii) a fiscal crisis; and (iv) a financial crisis. These interrelated crises would together cause one of the most dramatic and largest reversals in economic fortune ever experienced by an industrial country” (2013:2). Donovan and Murphy’s exposition also serves to categorise the different topics related to the aforementioned typologies of crises that have arisen in Irish film. Regardless of its genre, (drama, thriller, comedy), many film works are related to the four different crises and involve minor offences or serious crimes, for there is an intimate relationship between crime, capital, and crisis.
Crime fiction, understood in the broadest sense of fiction involving crime and not only formulaic detective fiction, has always dealt with society’s (mostly middle-class) anxieties, expectations, and issues. As crime fiction usually implies detective fiction, the term employed in this article will be crime story or crime thriller, as Scaggs , building on Freeman’s work, comments:
As early as 1924 R. Austin Freeman, the author of the Dr Thorndyke stories and novels, distinguished between detective fiction, “which finds its principal motive in the unravelment of crimes or similar intricate mysteries” (Freeman 1992: 7), and what he calls “the mere crime story”, in which “the incidents – tragic, horrible, even repulsive – form the actual theme, and the quality aimed at is horror” (Freeman 1992: 9). The “mere crime story” in Freeman’s terminology corresponds to the modern crime thriller. (Scaggs 2005:106)
By problematising crime, other interrelated topics such as class or gender were also articulated in a particular way according to the nation’s specificities and current era: “it is a narrative vector for exploring a wider range of social, political, cultural, or philosophical issues that do not necessarily have anything to do with crime in themselves” (Gulddal and King 2020: 5). Accordingly, 1940s American noir raised anxieties about female independence; while crime fiction in Britain’s Thatcher era frequently dealt with the negotiation of class identities which were increasingly challenged. Maureen Reddy, while discussing Benjamin Black’s novels, observes how conflicting visions about national identity and state corruption are emphasised through Banville’s crime fiction: “All the novels in the Quirke series revolve around the deep corruption of powerful Irish institutions. The alternative these novels offer to that corruption is a pseudo-outsider status embodied by Quirke that is presented as a more authentic version of Irishness than the Irishness that enabled such corruption in the first place” (2015:133). Although the economy is not always mentioned, it is usually an underlying motif since most of the issues dealt with in crime thrillers have their origin in economic issues or are strongly linked to them. As Laura Finch argues, thrillers, both literary and cinematic, can be an ideal genre to tackle financial and societal issues because “the relationship between the abstract and the concrete becomes mapped onto a divide between fiction and finance: the novel’s values are used to critique the economy’s lack of values, and in response to the abstractions of fictional finance, these fictions become charismatically factual” (2015:749). When complications emerge, concepts like production, consumption, and property are usually present and part of the conflict: “the sheer proliferation of goods to accumulate and the excesses of individual self-enrichment have fed a growing body of crime literature satirizing contemporary society and elaborating the relationship between crime, commercialism, and consumption” (Horsley 2005:184).
The Irish case has been no exception. Crime and crime fiction are usually shaped by the rhythms and patterns of the economic system. One of the reasons why Irish crime grew during the Celtic Tiger period is because the country went from deprivation to accumulation and consumption, to deprivation again, at breakneck speed, therefore, causing societal issues and conflict, as well as crises. Film, both altering and altered by the patterns and processes of the economic and cultural spheres, suffered the same transition. Although the focus on rural Ireland has never been abandoned, films from the 1990s onwards were more urban and big-budgeted; but there was also more space for independent filmmakers due to tax breaks and funding. Martin McLoone comments on this boom: “For the first time, then, there was a total film strategy that catered for the commercial development of Ireland as a base for film-making and at the same time provided for indigenous film-making and the nourishment of young film talent” (2019:116). The portrait of Ireland and Irishness was altered, moving between the impulse of keeping that depiction of a sublime, wild, rural past, and an attempt to show Ireland’s new, shiny place in the capitalist market. When the 2008 crisis started, films, mirroring society once again, became increasingly bleak, and many of them dealt with crime through different conflicts and tensions, always related to the crisis (financial or moral) of the nation. Some notable examples are John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard (2011), and Lenny Abramson’s What Richard Did (2012).
This article intends to analyse a crime thriller, Peter Murphy and Rachael Moriarty’s Traders (2015) through a materialist lens, looking at the intersections of crime, crisis, and space in the post-Celtic Tiger era. Initially, the film mimics a characteristically American genre (the crime thriller), but it translates it effectively into the Irish financial context, altering it to deliver a critique of the capitalist consumer society based on commodification and consumption in the manner of crime thrillers, as well as portraying contemporary Dublin. The emphasis between the critique of consumer culture and the bonds of male violence seems to pay homage to David Fincher’s Fight Club, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel: “Central to Fight Club is the interrelated critique of late capitalism and the politics of masculinity” (Giroux 2015:33). It is not the only David Fincher film to share traits with Traders, for Se7en is also a tale of moral twistedness, greed (amongst other sins), and urban decay. In the same manner, RTÉ’s Love/Hate made a dark portrayal of gun violence, criminality, and drugs in Dublin, while also dealing with its effects on masculinity, space, and Irishness. Traders shares many topics and concerns with the previous examples, dealing mostly with the financial crisis, but also, subtly, the fiscal and banking crises, highlighting their interconnectedness and common causes. It is not by chance that the film’s main criticism of consumer culture is made with the awareness of entertainment and through the depiction of the commodification of crime since crime fiction has become the favourite commodity to consume and to be entertained by: “The claim that criminality is inextricably linked with the conditions of modernity is a common one among cultural critics who have turned their attention to the connections between crime and cultural production” (Nicol, McNulty and Pulham 2010:2). Through the analysis of the film’s genre and its specificities, I will explore the portrait of the economy and Irish society delineated, as well as the economic nature and symbols of the crimes the film narrates. By purposely blurring moral and ethical boundaries in the realm of capitalist ambition and depicting the economic conditions conducive to the rise of crime, the film provides a savage portrait of both the consequences of the financial crises and the moral state of a part of Irish society. Traders deals with the capitalist compulsion that Deleuze and Guattari (1987) coined as schizophrenic; for it draws near to its limits while perpetually looking for ways to expand.
Derelict Dublin: The Aesthetics of Bankruptcy
Traders is the story of Harry Fox, an investment trader who loses his job when the company he was working for loses billions overnight, thus entering bankruptcy. Harry, accustomed to the charms and wonders of a wealthy life, suddenly sees himself drowned by mortgage debts and at risk of losing his precious house. One of his colleagues from work, Englishman Vernon, creates a game in which two individuals present their life savings and try to kill each other in a duel, so as to acquire the other’s money and therefore double the sum. When Vernon tries to get Harry to play initially, he refuses, but money and desire will push him into a spiral of violence, crime, and limitless greediness and ambitions.
The first shots of Traders already carry an important message: the uncanny quietness of the space depicted. All the establishing shots that the audience is shown (a stalled tractor, the ruins of an unfinished building site, or an abandoned house…) share an apparent peacefulness. However, that peacefulness is not defined by an idyllic, pastoral space; but by its shallowness, as ruins of spaces left behind. After the bursting of the property bubble in the 2008 crisis, it was not uncommon to find such residential areas left behind and unfinished all over Ireland, in what was known as “ghost estates”: “Ireland’s property crash left vast tracks of vacant and derelict property scattered across the landscape […], it was the images and stories of ‘ghost estates’ that became the material and symbolic apotheosis of Ireland’s economic crisis” (O’Callaghan, Boyle and Kitchin 2014:122). Visually, thus, the film is already foreshadowing that the story is set in a time of crisis, after the boom of the Celtic Tiger. There are also many shots of empty and unfinished buildings, evidencing both the financial and the property crisis. The film is structured through contrasts. The first one can be found in those early shots of the ghost estates, for it is not long until the audience witnesses how Harry Fox, the protagonist, is choking another man to death inside one of the abandoned houses. Although there is a clear contrast between the peacefulness of the landscape and the violence of the scene, these are not unrelated: “Ireland has some 100,000 unsold houses, ‘toxic assets’ owned by developers, owed to Irish and international banks, under the stewardship of the National Assets Management Agency. There are also some 160,000 unoccupied rental spaces” (Keohane and Kuhling 2015:51). The data provided by Keohane and Kuhling illustrated the toxic consequences derived from the crisis at the time. As personifications of the capital, Kevin, Harry, and Vernon (the three investment traders) are also toxic assets, and consequently, behave in a toxic way. Kevin, the one who commits suicide at the beginning of the film due to his inability to sustain his lifestyle after getting fired, mentions such toxicity to Harry, who acknowledges it: ‘“Apparently, we are all fucking toxic because of the 14 billion. Someone said they are looking for people in Singapore’. We were toxic, and they knew that in London and Singapore” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 04:49). There is a direct correspondence between the financial bankruptcy and its reflection in the space of the ghost estates and the moral bankruptcy of the protagonists. It is the result of the capital’s system of toxicity flourishing. The context of the crisis sets the perfect conditions for a boom in trading. After Kevin commits suicide, Vernon links suicide rates and crisis: “Did you know that for every 1% rise in unemployment, there is a 0.8% rise in suicide? Yeah, it’s called econocide. ‘But Kevin wasn’t poor, he had money’. But did he have enough?” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 10:51). Crime is one of the societal issues mentioned above that derives from a process of deprivation to accumulation to deprivation again over a short period of time, as happened with Ireland. Money is the ultimate object of desire, and it is its shortage that pushes the protagonist to any means necessary in order to get more:
Man becomes ever poorer as man, his need for money becomes ever greater if he wants to master the hostile power. The power of his money declines in inverse proportion to the increase in the volume of production: that is, his neediness grows as the power of money increases. The need for money is therefore the true need produced by the economic system, and it is the only need which the latter produces (Marx 1959: 49).
Marx highlights money’s omnipotent ability as a ruler of life and a mediator of men’s existence: “money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life” (Marx 1959:59). As the mediator of human existence, money also becomes the definer of life, and Harry and Vernon’s are completely defined by it.
The two protagonists of the film, Harry Fox, and Vernon Stynes, seem to initially portray binary oppositions. Vernon is not conventionally attractive, his facial features are childish just like his behaviour, he is mocked by others, and he is always blurting out statistics: “Educated people do tend to have an above average life expectancy” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 2:26). He represents academic knowledge, and passivity; unable to deal with the consequences of his actions, he is always acting behind someone else’s back. It is no coincidence that the character the audience is inclined to despise for his despicable attributes and behaviour is also the only character of English origin. Ruth Barton has suggested that Irish fiction both in literature and film often conceptualises Irishness in dialectical opposition to Englishness through a “myth of Irishness that was both antiquarian and revolutionary, that defined itself through its difference and superiority to Englishness and made a direct appeal to the sympathies of local and international audiences” (2004:13). Initially, visual and character differences are highlighted. Superiority is what defines the relationship between Harry and Vernon. The protagonist is tall, with attractive features, and a man of action. He represents experience and empirical knowledge. Harry represents everything that Vernon finds aspirational, everything he has not yet achieved. While Vernon has to go live with his mother in a house on the outskirts of Dublin, Harry inhabits a spacious, elegant, and chic loft in the city centre, near the river. It is not that Harry and Vernon belong to different classes, since they were both investment traders working for the same company and there is no mention that one was subordinate to the other. Nonetheless, they have different social statuses. Following Weber, Tak Win Chan, and John H. Goldthorpe explore class differentiation: “we regard class structure as one formed by the social relations of economic life or, more specifically, by relations in labour markets and production units. Thus, a primary level of differentiation of class positions is that which sets apart employers, self-employed workers, and employees” (2007:513). Chan and Goldthorpe clarify, however, that there are further differences in modern societies even among employees of the same kind, as the relationships with the employers are different depending on a variety of factors, such as the types of contracts. Furthermore, Chan and Goldthorpe define status as: “a structure of relations of perceived, and in some degree accepted, social superiority, equality, and inferiority among individuals. This does not reflect personal qualities, but rather the degree of “social honor” attached to certain of their positional or perhaps purely ascribed attributes” (2007:514). Harry has a higher and superior status than Vernon because both tacitly agree on such matters, as Harry is the owner of all the commodities that Vernon aspires to own. When visiting Harry’s loft, Vernon is amazed: “Oh, what a cool place, Harry, it must have cost a fortune” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 13:15). The place is not defined through its use value of being a comfortable place where Harry can live. Its desirability is defined by its exchange value of revealing Harry’s status and allure. Accordingly, what defines Vernon’s relationship with Harry is a desire mediated by money, the desire to have a higher status: “the capitalist, his actions, and his desire for more capital are the product, not of the individual and freedom of individual choice, but of the social relations of commodity exchange within which the capitalist subject is enmeshed” (Pfeifer 2017:258-259). Both Harry and Vernon are effectively immersed in the social relations of commodity exchange. The desire for more capital is what makes Vernon create the “game” of trading.
Capital in Crisis: Value, Interest, and Abstraction. Reterritorializing Crime
Both Harry and Vernon work in international asset management, they try to optimise asset values to obtain the highest possible benefits, hence, they define their relationships mostly through value and interest. Already at the beginning of the film, Harry also defines his relationship with the audience according to interest and value: “Back then I worked in international asset management, don’t worry, I’m not gonna bore you with the details. I’m gonna tell you what happened when the company lost 14 billion overnight and we all lost our jobs. That’s a more interesting story” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 1:10). Interest is precisely what binds Harry and Vernon together. Interest in its polysemy both “as something that brings advantages to or affects someone” or “money that you earn from keeping your money in an account in a bank or other financial organization” (Cambridge Dictionary). Although it could appear that the interest Harry mentions is “the quality that makes you think that something is interesting” (Cambridge Dictionary), it is not the exclusive meaning, his notion of “interest” is related to having “appeal”, but it is always conceived in economic terms. Vernon gets the idea to create the game from a story he is told by Harry and Kevin the night after getting fired. According to rumours, a man named Chuck Difford put all of his life savings to red at the first Casino he saw in Las Vegas, and, even though the odds were even, he ended up doubling his money. Vernon, as an aspiring capitalist, is left stunned by this idea, for, as Harry states: “The point is it is better to be a bum with nothing than a bum with not enough” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 03:06). The drive to acquire more and more is what defines the actions of all traders:
As the conscious representative of this movement, the possessor of money becomes a capitalist. His person, or rather his pocket, is the point from which the money starts, and to which it returns. The expansion of value, which is the objective basis or mainspring of the circulation M—C—M, becomes his subjective aim, and it is only in so far as the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations, that he functions as a capitalist, that is, as capital personified and endowed with consciousness and a will. (Marx 1982: 254)
It could be argued, then, that Harry is somehow responsible for pushing Vernon towards the idea of easily doubling one’s money, although one story cannot be to blame for the interpretation of the listener. As a narrator and because it is of interest to him to maintain his portrait of an upright man, Harry is quick to deflect that moral responsibility in favour of the ethics of the individual entrepreneur: “Vernon loved that story. So, in a way, everything that happened after that it’s actually Chuck Difford’s fault” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015, 03:19). The externalization of the blame is of interest to Harry and echoes the reaction of the most powerful social strata in Ireland when the financial crisis occurred. Micheal O’Flynn, Lee F. Monaghan, and Martin J. Power conduct an analysis of the different ways in which political parties and the finance sectors deflected blame for Ireland’s crisis away from themselves: “The bail-out of Irish banks fits a pre-established pattern, revealing a power structure that renders the process of scapegoating intelligible” (O’Flynn, Monaghan and Power 2014:11). It is not so much scapegoating, for Harry does not blame an underprivileged group, but deflection. Harry and Vernon are personifications of the capital endowed with consciousness and a will, as Marx remarked. It is that consciousness that Harry often employs so as to justify his interest in Vernon, as well as in playing the game: “Vernon was back at home. He could afford to fail” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 10:06). Harry is somewhat disgusted by Vernon, but he is in dire straits due to financial issues. Vernon, by contrast, is delighted, as he is interested in acquiring Harry’s commodities, so as to improve his own self-worth. Harry bluntly states: “Two months earlier if Vernon had called around to my apartment, I wouldn’t have asked him in. But that day, well, he had a business plan and some beer. I like beer, and I needed a plan” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 13:07). The strategy of granting Harry with the narratorial voice in the film operates like a catalogue to reflect of all the excuses and moral justifications that the elites adopt whenever crises are looming. As both characters are constantly placed in opposition, Harry usually tries to remind the audience of his superiority both morally and economically: “I wasn’t like Vernon”, “Vernon’s brand of trouble. Wow. No one could have seen that coming” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015 11:49). Harry is initially repulsed and alarmed by Vernon’s proposition to trade. However, it is only a superstructural alarm, as the roots of his consciousness are deeply embedded within the capitalist system of relations and drives. Vernon’s business plan is the extreme culmination of all the concepts that mediate in Harry’s and Vernon’s existence: interest, value, abstraction, and reterritorialization; all of which depend on money. It is not, then, coincidental that Vernon decides to call the game trading, for a trader could be described, in a simplistic reduction, as someone who buys and sells commodities with the aim of obtaining the highest benefit. It is just another instance of how the economy and market relations inundate all areas of social life. The game is very simple: one player must withdraw all his life savings and find another participant willing to play whose life savings are of a similar sum. Both participants agree to meet in a pub and check that the other is following the rules of what is allowed and what is not. It is worthwhile mentioning that most examples of traders that are shown in the film operate through the notion of trust, trusting that both of them are going to abide by the rules of a criminal game that, however, guarantees to make the winner richer: “The strategic importance of trust in the analysis of economy and society is that it appears as an aspect of economic culture at the heart of economic relations, rather than as a mode of cultural expression, so to speak, outside the economy but impacting upon it” (Holton 2013:194). When the process of exchanging suicide notes for the family of the deceased has ended, they take different buses to get away from the centre and make sure that no one is following them. When they get to the outskirts of the city, the game can begin. The participants must kill each other. The purpose is to eliminate the opponent to get his money. The rules of the game are just the projection and radicalisation of the neoliberal project of deregulation and commodification: human lives are commodified in order to obtain a higher sum of money, just like a basic economic trading operation. Once again, as in the earlier example with Harry’s flat, the use value becomes useless. The exchange value is the real dictator of worth. Life is just a commodity, the asset that gives access to more money. This blurring of value contributes to a process of abstraction, present in today’s arenas of our capitalist system, not just in the economy. Pfeifer comments on this process of abstraction:
In other words, the abstraction that attends the exchange-value of the commodity form is anything but a mere idea or thought. It is a “real abstraction” that has a material form (in the commodity itself, and in the material act of exchange) and has material consequences in the social world and not just in the minds of individuals. (2017: 257)
The abstraction is created in the individuals’ minds, but they spring from everyday social relations and interactions, as Pfeifer points out. Consequently, trading, as both a social and economic practice, represents the sublimation of this process of abstraction. The material consequences that Pfeifer mentions turn out to be death for the participants of trading.
Trading quickly triumphs among individuals, with more and more participants investing their lives and savings in order to double the sum. It is also worthwhile mentioning that the vast majority of participants are men, and when a woman appears Harry is upset about it and initially refuses to trade. While discussing Irish contemporary crime fiction novels, Charlotte Beyer highlights the links between masculinity, violence, and crisis, arguing that crises destabilise the masculine codification of selfhood. Therefore, men usually resort try to recover their sense of identity through violence: “the association of troubled masculinities with the seedy underbelly of contemporary Irish urban existence. These portrayals foreground masculinity’s problematic association with violence, and the values, norms, and behaviours associated with it” (2016:1-2). Furthermore, the initial links between masculinity and violence grow even more problematic once the crisis arises. At the very beginning, when Vernon is pitching the idea to Harry, he finds all of Vernon’s designated rules, like carrying the money in a green sports bag or getting off the bus at a certain number of stops, random and absurd. Vernon is deeply offended at Harry’s disrespect for trading rules: “It’s just one of the rules. I’ve been writing the rules for days” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015: 14:16). Nevertheless, once Harry thrives at trading, he is the one offended and many times uses the non-compliance with the rules, once again as a moral justification for his actions: “Pickaxe had made it easier for me: he tried to rob the fucking money” (Murphy and Moriarty 2015: 41:53). Pickaxe, another trader, ends up brutally killed because, according to Harry, he does not follow the rules. Such rules are never to be questioned or infringed, just like the rules of the market. Not only does the fact that Vernon calls the game trading mean that the economic processes of abstraction, interest, and value become sublimated; changing its form but not its essence; but it also involves another similar term: it becomes reterritorialized. As it has been mentioned before, the context of the crises creates the soil and conditions for crime to arise. The crisis of accumulation, the overnight bursting of the property bubble, the debt crisis, and the fleeing of foreign investment have provoked the sinking of the financial industry, unable to carry out its operations. The part of Dublin that is equivalent to London’s city, where all the companies and investors had their headquarters, next to the river, only makes an appearance because Harry lives there, a symbol of the vestiges of a territory that is no longer operative. Deleuze and Guattari define deterritorialization as “the movement or process by which something escapes or departs from a given territory” (1987: 508). The territory is in this case both spatial and symbolic:
A “territory” in the ethological sense is understood as the environment of a group (e.g. a pack of wolves, a pack of rats, or a group of nomads) that cannot itself be objectively located but is constituted by the patterns of interaction through which the group or pack secures a certain stability and location. Just in the same way the environment of a single person (his or her social environment, personal living space, or his or her habits) can be seen as a “territory”, in the psychological sense, from which the person acts or returns to. (Günzel 1998:140)
As embodiments of capital relations defined by abstraction, Harry, Vernon, and all the traders constitute a symbolic territory. The spatiality alludes to the process of deserting the city and especially the city centre, in favour of ghost estates. Without the possibility of accumulating more, Vernon’s idea of executing trading through making a business out of murder, constitutes a reterritorialization, as it often happens in abandoned or derelict parts of the outskirts. O’Callaghan, Boyle, and Kitchin allege that ghost estates have been used as a symbol of the crisis and as containers of the discourses related to it: “in the context of crash, the ‘ghost estate’ functioned as an ‘empty signifier’ through which hegemonic struggles over how to narrate, and thus re-inscribe, the event of the crisis were staged. We explore the double role played by ‘ghost estates’ […] as a vehicle used to discursively contain the crisis through a neoliberal narrative of ‘excess’” (2014:121). According to O’Callaghan, Boyle, and Kitchin, then, “ghost estates” can be symbols of a neoliberal narrative of excess that blames the working classes for trying to aspire to a higher status and hence, to superior commodities (a nice house in the suburbs). Excess is undoubtedly present in the film, but within the mindset of the protagonists, representatives of the financial world. The standpoint of the film in relation to the crisis, however, is not clear until the ending, when it dwells on abstraction just like its protagonists.
The ending presents Harry with a dilemma: Vernon has tried to set him up by hiring some other traders to kill him. Nonetheless, he has some money that belongs to Vernon and indirectly owes him his fortune; for Vernon created the game. Vernon wants to partner up, but Harry, with his limitless ambition and greed, cannot risk the possibility of Vernon trying to set him up again, so he stabs him in cold blood. Once again, however, he deflects away any moral responsibility and presents excuses to justify the violence: “You’re a dangerous man, Vernon” (Murphy and Moriarty 1:26:45). Vernon is no less dangerous than Harry, who is also bound to be perpetually enslaved by his desire for more capital:
Capitalism is the only social machine that is constructed on the basis of decoded flows, substituting for intrinsic codes, an axiomatic of abstract quantities in the form of money. Capitalism, therefore, liberates the flow of desire, but under social conditions that define its limit and the possibilities of its own dissolution so that it is constantly opposing with all of its exasperated strength the movement that drives it toward its limit. (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:139-140)
The quote by Deleuze and Guattari perfectly encapsulates what the film narrates. To trade represents an exaggeration of how capitalism works. Once he starts, Harry replaces all of his codes (like camaraderie) for abstract quantities in the form of money; like the fact that he should pay Vernon his five thousand euros back. Desire and interest are what pushes Harry to act, to always wish for more. Under the conditions of the crisis, social limitations are even more deregulated and allow Harry and the rest of the traders to trespass the moral and financial limits, therefore trespassing also the space limits of the city. Harry, as the personification of capital, has proved that he functions in the same way: he is constantly pushing for more and, at the same time, opposing that very same drive, promising himself that the next trade will be the last, as the ending shows. Nevertheless, up to this point, it has been made clear to the audience that it will never be.
Traders illustrates the quote by Deleuze and Guattari of how Capitalism works perpetually on the edge of dissolving while looking to expand. Harry, as the personification of this, is always at the edge of dissolution (death) while looking to expand his fortune through his never-ending flow of desire. He is aware of such a fact when he states: “That’s it, that’s how I spent the last four months of my life. Just one more trade, then I’m done” (Murphy and Moriarty 1:27:25). Despite his statement, Harry has proven to possess the awareness that he will never be done. Under the social conditions of the Irish crisis, the defined limits are altered and reterritorialized into crime. Mimicking these patterns, the limits of the city (once the epitome of economic activity) are expanded and overcome in search of something liminal, such as the ghost estates, a space where the moral rules of the city no longer apply. A new space to operate on for a new activity to benefit from. Capital and its accumulation crisis expand its flows of desire into crime so as to keep perpetuating itself. Traders provides us with a portrait of the aftermath of the post-Celtic crisis as a cautionary tale. What Scaggs, drawing on Freeman, called ‘the mere crime story’ (2005:106) is not “mere” by any measure, but indeed the aim pursued is the horror, the horror of what the economic crisis did to Irish society, the horror within the mind of those responsible and the horror of the capitalist system we live by. The relationship between crime, capital, and crisis is the true horror. It could be argued that Traders perpetuates the neoliberal narrative of excess that O’Callaghan, Boyle, and Kitchin complained about: it certainly highlights the thirst for excess as one of the causes for which crime arises, focusing on an individual scale and never addressing the problems generated by the crisis overtly. However, not only do Harry and Vernon function as personifications of capital relations but also as containers of a narrative discourse of the crisis. The film represents a deviation from the usual crime thriller. If Finch (2015) argued that there was a division between fiction and finance, that division is completely blurred in Traders, since finance is fiction and fiction can work just like finance, through interest and value. Nonetheless, it does represent the abstraction of finance and how it can become factual; for, as Pfeifer explained, those abstractions arise from the material conditions and economic relations of everyday life. Therefore, abstractions are also shaped and altered by the protagonists of the crime thrillers, their relationships to space and to other characters, and the type of crime they are committing.
By choosing to focus on white-collar crime and to focus on representatives of the finance sector, the film narrates the pervasive effects of the Capital flowing era in Ireland. Moreover, it emphasizes the relationships between unconstrained capitalism and its crisis, a cyclical part of the system. Crime is also related to capital, since it becomes a toxic effect of the rules of the market, mimicking both its way of organising production and its patterns of interest, control, and abstraction. It depicts the collapse of the private economic sphere and of the city as the moral and economic centre, as well as the twisting of the rules of the “capital” to keep the “interest” high. The only important character besides the protagonists, Orla, is a nurse whose father suffers from dementia. Orla functions as the representative both for the working class and of the public sector, both of which were repeatedly vilified in Irish political discourses about the crisis. Traders, nonetheless, puts all the blame on the financial sector, narrating the means by which it deflects away responsibility for its actions and seeks to perpetuate its power to keep accumulating more. Through the crime thriller, hyperbole, and characters as almost archetypes of capital and capital relations, the film manages to both provide a bleak and acidic critique of the capitalist system and its consequences, while also squarely placing the focus on those responsible for the Irish crisis.