Warning: Spoilers are ahead for the ending of I Care A Lot.
The new Netflix dark thriller I Care a Lot begins with Marla Grayson, a shady legal guardian played by Rosamund Pike, laying out her personal motto about generating personal wealth. "Playing fair is a joke invented by rich people to keep the rest of us poor," she says in her opening voiceover. "I've been poor. It doesn't agree with me."
For those who hope Marla may become some sort of millennial Robin Hood, the ending of I Care A Lot puts those notions to rest. In the final moments of the bitter satire, Marla no longer channels Wall Street money monster Gordon Gekko, but still manages to make greed sound good. She is now a wealthy woman due to her ability to game the system, but her money can't save her. Instead, it ends up killing her.
It's a moralistic end to a film about a less than moral character. Payback that may seem deserved to some, while too preachy for others. Either way it is a twist that forces the audience to reevaluate the film and what it's trying to say about not only Marla, but our get-rich-at-any-cost society.
Marla is not a good person. In fact, she says, in the opening moments of the film, that "there's no such thing as good people," only "people who take and those getting took." She then breaks these two categories down further: predators and prey, lions and lambs. "I am a fucking lioness," she proudly declares. Hear her roar.
Marla admits she used to think working hard would bring her success and happiness, but those days are over. Now, this sociopathic Girl Boss lives her life manipulating the legal system so she can scam elderly wards out of their assets. It seems to be a pretty lucrative business, but Marla wants more, which is how she ends up meeting Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), a rich retiree with no heirs. She's known as a "cherry" in Marla's line of work, the prize at the top of the scammer sundae. A big payday that could let her give up the guardianship grift.
However, Jennifer isn't the regular old lady Marla thought she was. She's the mother of a presumed-dead Russian mobster named Roman Luynov (Peter Dinklage), who is more than willing to do anything for dear old mom. Seriously, this guy makes eclairs look menacing. Being the perfectly blonde bobbed lioness that she is, Marla doesn't back down to Roman, but calls his bluff. When his lawyer offers her $150,000 in cash to release Jennifer from her care, she balks at the number. She even has Jennifer committed to a psychiatric facility to show that's she's not playing around.
When Roman kidnaps Marla in retaliation, she tries to reason with him, believing she has the upper hand since she's not afraid to die. He, however, is afraid of losing his mom. Roman instead drugs her and sends her and her car off a cliff into a river. Yet she somehow survives with only a tooth out of place. The calculating Marla is always one step ahead of Roman because she thinks just like him. They're both predators. To beat him, she takes his plan and ups the ante. She drugs him, not to kill him, but to leave him powerless. When he's discovered naked and unconscious on the road, he's dubbed a John Doe, so when he's admitted into the hospital for a possible overdose she is able to legally become his guardian and have access to his money.
Her knowledge of the law and her ability to legally misuse it is what makes her so scary and she knows it. Roman also knows how helpful this could be to his money-making future so he offers Marla an opportunity to go into business with him, to start a "countrywide guardianship corporation." And then he says the magic words: "The money we could make." With dollar signs in her eyes, Marla takes him up on his offer to accumulate the kind of generational wealth she could only dream of. But this money makes her soft.
Marla starts thinking like the rich, underestimating her true, less affluent enemies, and getting a little too high off her own supply. Now a She.E.O, she's doing interviews that laud her success, which came at the expense of so many. She's rewritten her story. She's now a good person who worked hard to get where she is. It was a "leap of faith," she claims in her final monologue, which includes a few new human categorizations: insider or outsider, those good with money or good at people. She is clearly the former.
With Roman on her side she thinks she no longer has to watch her back. Everything she did was justifiable since it got her to the top; sacrifices that had to be made. She forgot about those who suffered for her success, the other not so good people. Specifically, Feldstrom (Macon Blair), the man we see fighting early on for access to his mom, one of Marla's wards. He returns in the film's final moments look for vengeance. Right after he pulls the trigger, he lets her know his mother died. "You never let me see her and she died in there alone," he screams. "You fucking bitch."
What this bitter finale shows is that our capitalist society hurts us all. It forces us to play by its rules, giving ourselves over to its power and turning against everyone else. While Marla and her associates are so willing to game the system, Feldstrom guns her down in desperation, knowing he's been forgotten by that same system. When it failed him, he took measures into his own hands, not unlike Marla did to get where she is now.
There are no heroes in this story, only victims. Feldstrom is a murderer who will will likely live out his life, just as his mom did, locked up and alone. Even Marla is a victim of a society that prioritizes wealth over everything else and allows her to sell her villainous career trajectory as an inspiring tale. "I'm just someone who cares," she claims, but it's not about anything other than her bank account, which leaves her vulnerable. Her tragic end proves that even lionesses get poached.