This sample essay on Trading Places Characters reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.
Trading Places is a film about contrasting people and how different people from diverse backgrounds can adapt to new surroundings. The two main characters are Lewis Winthorpe, a well off, successful businessman and Billy-Ray Valentine, a homeless man with no money or possessions. These two characters are put into an alien environment when they ‘trade places’ and live each other’s lives, as the result of a bet between the two brothers who own the company Winthorpe works for.
Local Hero concentrates more on the contrast in physical environment. In this film
MacIntire, who works for a large oil company in Texas, is sent to work in a small remote village in Scotland. The locals seem to be very relaxed and the pace of life is very slow, unlike the busy employees of the Texas oil company.
The film explores how MacIntire gradually takes on the behaviour of the new culture.
The film ‘Trading Places’ sets the scene at the start by showing examples of the two very different worlds it is going to explore. For example: a shot of a job centre – bland and busy with artificial lighting where only the backs of heads can be seen – is followed by a shot of Winthorpe’s kitchen – The butler preparing breakfast on a clean, marble surface. In the background, fresh flowers.
In the film Billy-Ray Valentine is a beggar who has to think up ways of making enough money for his next meal.
He tries to dupe people into believing that he is a war veteran who has lost his eyesight as well as his legs.
He works hard to make people believe him so that they will give him money. He lives by his wits. Mr. Winthorpe, however, does not work hard for his money at all. He has never had to worry about where his next meal will be coming from or even what shirt he will be wearing that day. He has a butler whose job it is to do that for him.
The first bit of contrast seen in this film is that of the places of work of the two main characters. Billy-Ray works on a street corner. It is very dirty. Although it is quite busy, people don’t seem to pay any attention to him and try to avoid walking near him on the pavement. Winthorpe’s workplace is extremely diverse. It has a grand foyer, receptionists’ desks lining the walls, all answering phone calls, doing paperwork. As he walks through the double doors at the entrance everyone says hello to him. “Good morning Mr. Winthorpe” “How are you Mr. Winthorpe?”. His private office is also large. He has a big desk and a reclining, leather chair. The walls are faced with beautiful paintings and in the corner, there is a sofa for when he feels tired.
The first sighting we get of Billy-Ray, he is dressed in rags. He has dirty clothes on, shoes with holes in and his whole appearance is grubby. Winthorpe is dressed in the complete opposite. He has a blazer with matching tie, a neatly ironed shirt, pressed trousers and polished shoes.
As a result of the bet between the owners of the company that Winthorpe works for, Billy-Ray Valentine and Lewis Winthorpe change places. The owners have different opinions about what makes a man successful. One has the idea that if a person, particularly a black person, comes from a not very well off background, they will never be successful. The other has the complete opposite opinion, that no matter who you are, if you are given the opportunity to do well in life, you will. So they have a bet on it. Drugs are planted on Winthorpe and the police are informed. Winthorpe is arrested and put in jail and Billy-Ray Valentine is employed to take his place.
Winthorpe loses his job, his house and his bank account, which contains a lot of money, and his car. Billy-Ray is given it all.
One of the biggest differences that the characters have to cope with is the fact one has gone from being homeless to living in a mansion, while the other has gone from the mansion to a life of poverty. Billy-Ray’s home environment is now luxurious. He lives in a huge house with a mahogany staircase, full of valuable ornaments and paintings. He eats his meals in a grand dining room, using expensive silverware. He has long relaxing baths in a large Jacuzzi with scented bubble bath, and he sleeps in a full-sized, four-poster bed. Meanwhile Winthorpe, on being released from jail, has nowhere and is reduced to living in a one bedroom flat which is owned by someone else.
Billy-Ray now has money and Winthorpe is penniless. At first Billy-Ray struggles to accept his riches – walking around the house, picking up objects and putting them in his pocket to steal them. After a while he begins to realise what he now has and tells guests, that he has invited round, to watch not to spill anything on his Persian rug. Winthorpe, however, never manages to cope without money. He finds it hard at the beginning and even harder at the end.
Billy-Ray manages to cope successfully in his new environment. His knowledge of people helps him to do well. Winthorpe on the other hand cannot handle not having any money or possessions. Billy-Ray now lives in a privileged world. He has to make business decisions but has no previous business experience on which to rely on.
However his life on the street has given him an education of a different sort.
Winthorpe however had no previous experience on which to draw. His life had not taught him to cope with poverty or even how to do everyday things. He had taken his life and money for granted. He was used to getting respect because of who he was and had not really had to earn it. He had shown that he had a very low opinion of people who lived in poverty, which was where he was now, earlier in the film when he believed that Billy-Ray had stolen his brief case. Now he is seeing things in a different light.
Local Hero also has a story line where one man is put into a completely different physical environment to the one he is used to. This comedy looks at the conflict between a Texas oil company and the canny residents of a Scottish fishing village whose land is needed by the Americans for their North Sea oil base. MacIntire has to leave the hectic life of working in Texas and go and work in Scotland. In Texas he works in a large office for a large company in a ‘concrete jungle’. The city is full of giant skyscrapers towering above all. The roads are all motorways, long, overcrowded and with impatient drivers. MacIntire is used to working in a busy office along with many others. There are people always on the phone, doing paper work, with no time to stop and look at the stars. Everyone is working under pressure. But now he gets the chance to leave Texas and work in the out doors. A Scottish man, who is going to help him find his way around the area he will be staying, meets him at the airport. Straight away you can see a difference in the appearance of the two men. MacIntire, in a suit and tie, where as the local is wearing trousers and a polo neck jumper.
MacIntire is driven to where he is going to be staying. They drive along winding roads that stretch for miles, with no sign of habitation, through picturesque valleys and over lush green hills. The sky is a blue/grey and in the far distance, the sea. The area is so serene. There are no other cars on the road and not an office block in sight.
While in Scotland MacIntire stays in a small Bed and Breakfast. Next door is a small accountants office. The accountant that works in the office happens to be the same person that owns the bed and breakfast and goes from one to the other all day. MacIntire believes that the inhabitants of the fishing village don’t actually know why he is there. He is lulled into believing that the slow pace of life means that the people are unable to understand the wheeling and dealing of the Texan corporation. Although relaxed, the villagers are a lot smarter than MacIntire thinks. They hold secret meetings and discuss what to do about their problem.
MacIntire soon learns to like the pace of life on the island and comes to resent the interruptions from his boss in America. He spends time just walking along the beach admiring the view of the sea and looking at the stars.
As the film progresses you see a change in MacIntire’s appearance. He begins to wear polo neck jumpers instead of shirts and ties, as you have previously seen worn by the Scottish businessmen. He starts to have a drink in the pub with the locals as if he too was a local, and all together he seems less ‘business like’. By the end of the film, MacIntire wants to stay in the peacefulness of Scotland rather than return to the busy life of Texas.
I think that both of these films are effective at putting across the contrast in different lifestyles in their own ways. Trading Places has two businessmen ‘playing God’ with Billy-Ray’s and Winthrop’s lives, turning them around at the drop of a hat. Local Hero shows the changes of one man, MacIntire, as he stays in an alien environment for longer periods of time. They both show individuals getting an insight into a completely different way of life outside their previous experiences, and the effect it has on them. In most cases the person has found that they actually prefer the other lifestyle to their own. Winthorpe, on the other hand, doesn’t prefer his new life to the old one but I think he now appreciates how hard some people have to work for money and how easy his life was for him before.