We’ve all heard a lot about some of the richest people in the world: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. Many of us know the stories of how these billionaires persevered for their success, but also recognize their problematic missteps along the way.
Let me introduce to you another icon that challenges this flawed billionaire archetype: revered stock prodigy and business magnate from Omaha, NE, Warren Buffett. According to the new documentary made about his life, “Becoming Warren Buffett,” he may be stupidly rich, but unlike other billionaire legends, the documentary argues that Buffett is a morally infallible human being.
Warren Buffett was always someone I had heard of but didn’t know a lot about, so I decided to give this new documentary a try. Directed by Brian Oakes and Peter Kunhardt, “Becoming Warren Buffett” outlines Buffett’s whole life and career. It traces his early childhood and exposes his deep love for his wife Susan, while delving into his career success as an investor and discussing his gifts and blatant privileges. While the information in the movie is laid out in a plain manner, the final message of the movie is one of awe: Buffett is one of the most lovable, sensitive and effortlessly genius people the world has to offer, or at least that is what the makers of the documentary believe.
The documentary is simple and typical in its structure. Interviews with Buffett are interwoven with clips of him living his humble life, eating three-dollar McDonald’s breakfasts and discussing his love of reading. There are also ample interviews with Buffett’s friends and family, dramatic newspaper headlines and the quintessential sentimental music at the end.
The plain style of the documentary wasn’t necessarily a bad thing—I liked how it was easy to understand—but there were parts that came off a little too predictable. I especially found the ending, where the movie played pensive music and featured Warren Buffett saying inspiring things while panoramas of sunsets and fields flashed on the screen, to be sappy, even though I do admit that I teared up a little bit.
My main criticism of the documentary, though, lies in the fact that the movie didn’t have one negative thing to say about the multibillionaire. The film depicts Buffett as a saint—he is all at once an economic prodigy, a loyal husband, a mindful philanthropist and an overall kind-hearted soul. With a humble Midwestern beginning, Buffet shows us how if you work hard enough at something you have an interest in, you can achieve the American Dream—and then help others when you’ve made it to the top. He is stunningly honest, incredibly wise. He gives away all his money to help the less fortunate. You think, “How sincere! How sweet! Our hero!”
But to me, this is too suspicious. Every time someone praised him in the documentary, I couldn’t help but ponder whether the documentary was simply over-glorifying Buffett or if the man truly is God’s gift to humankind. Surely, he has to have some flaws, and perhaps if the movie portrayed some sort of complexity to his character, it would have been a little more interesting. In fact, the portrayal of Buffett in the movie reminded me of that one person we all know who you secretly despise because they are just too absurdly perfect.
With Buffett’s foolproof character, I wanted there to be some chaos or at least one scandal. The movie did try to have a moment of trouble when it talked about the Salomon Brothers crisis. In the late 1980s, an investment bank called the Salomon Brothers went under investigation for risky bond trading. The firm was destined to go bankrupt, but thanks to Warren Buffet, who invested millions of dollars into the company, the investment bank was able to stay afloat. Here is where the documentary played some intense music and flashed controversial newspaper headlines across the screen. But alas, the “scandal” doesn’t even reflect a personal struggle of Buffett’s, and as expected, he comes in, saves the day and appears even more honest and thoughtful than before. Buffett even says, and in an effortless tone that makes you wonder why someone wouldn’t have obviously invested all their money in a risky move to save a business, that “the company had 8,000 people that needed to be employed.” “Wow, what a kind guy,” you think.
The movie isn’t entirely ridiculous in equating Buffett with self-made perfection, however. There are a few moments that scrutinize Buffett’s obvious privilege that allowed him to get so far in his career. There are times when Buffet proclaims in innocent revelations that being a “male in the U.S.” gave him a huge advantage in life or that he can’t understand why someone would be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Additionally, in interviews with Susan Buffett, Warren Buffett’s wife, she discusses how her husband transformed into a more philanthropic person and liberal-minded individual due to her influence. I think that his social awareness was important for the documentary to touch on because it showed the audience that Buffett’s success wasn’t solely based on his abilities, but also on his societal situation, bringing the billionaire back down to earth.
Perhaps I am being too skeptical of such a kind, practical person. Regardless of how much the movie glorifies him, Warren Buffett really is a remarkable individual. I would recommend it only if you are interested in learning more about this shy billionaire, and it left me questioning whether he is too endearing to be real!