Bigger Than Life (1956)

by Afra Nariman

Bigger Than Life (1956)

Director: Nicholas Ray

Stars: James Mason, Barbara Rush, Walter Matthau, Robert F. Simon


Melodramatic, at times genuinely funny and at others just as genuinely frightening, Bigger Than Life creeps up on you. Ray is pointing his finger at the hypocrisy of American life in a myriad of ways — i.e.: pharmaceutical companies, educational system, lack of appreciation for school teachers, etc. — and through the film he ultimately sheds light on the lose-lose situation that is the notion of The American Dream, or living in a capitalist-driven society in general. Much like Ed Avery’s (James Mason) medical circumstances in the film, where to survive he needs to take the pills that also lead to his psychosis — Ray is likening this to the way of life that constitutes such a society as ours. To survive in this society, one must overwork and essentially become addicted to work; but much like Ed’s addiction to his life saving medicine, the addictive relationship one has with working in order to survive, leads to a type of psychosis where we completely lose ourselves over the course of the rat race we’re forced to participate in.

Side note: This is one of the best looking films from 1950’s Hollywood. Incredible use of shadows and colors. My favorite shot is probably the scene where Richie is doing homework with Ed looking over him, his shadow looming “bigger than life,” and Lou is in the doorway observing the frightening scene with Ed’s towering shadow overwhelming the frame.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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