The film “Thank You For Smoking,” starring Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, is a satirical dramady about the cigarette industry’s leading lobbyist and the trials and tribulations he overcomes, not only in his career, but in maintaining the respect of his son.
Nick Naylor would, at first glance, appear to be your everyday, average guy, but the reality is he’s big tobacco’s smooth talking man on “the hill”. On a day to day basis he’s fighting the stigma of cigarettes, after all, everyone deserves a fair defense – even multinational corporations. As we pick up his story, he’s planning a strategy to combat new congressional labeling bill for cigarette products – a large skull and crossbones, reading “poison.”
Along the way, he befriends a reporter, telling her the secrets of his trade, only to have them published and plastered on the front page. He’s fired in disgrace, but it’s when he testifies in front of congress regarding the labeling proposition that he redeems himself in the public eye. Naylor testifies that everyone knows cigarettes are dangerous, why label them? Why don’t we also label cars and airplanes? People die in those as well. But more than that, he says smoking is a choice of free will. If you want to protect children, educate them, but then allow them to make a decision all their own. The public applauds him and Naylor starts a firm himself, setting out to protect more of the disenfranchised – cell phones causing brain cancer.
In a lot of ways, this is a perfect libertarian film. While it is a work of satire, it speaks a lot of truth through the lines of comedy. For example, Naylor’s final argument for cigarettes is a matter of free will, of personal choice. Rather than having the government protect the people from themselves, he says, educate the masses and let them decide what’s best for them. Besides this obvious moral to the story (free will and the freedom to choose) Naylor also throws some great jabs at government as a whole. In one particular scene, he decries hypocrisy in government, especially among it’s officials, after being accused a hypocrite himself. Near the film’s final climax, he points out that government often tries to protect the people from themselves and the lunacy of it. But, one of the best scenes regarding the subtle subtext of the film is when Naylor attends his son’s parent day at school. Naylor tells the kids that their will always be people telling you what to do, but it’s important to think for yourself and challenge authority.
1) All works of satire are trying to convey a message, be it political or moral – what’s this film’s message?
2) Should known dangers, such as cigarettes, be labeled as such?
3) Is it right that an entity like big tobacco has an advocate?