The Dropout (2021): A Trojan Horse with Truth in its Belly
A friend recently recommended this Hulu original show to me, so a couple months ago I sat down and watched it. It follows the rise and fall of once-billionaire, Elizabeth Holmes: founder of Theranos (Amanda Seyfried convincingly plays Holmes). From an early age, Holmes desired to become a billionaire and change the world. She almost got there until the world discovered she was a fraud.
On one hand, the show is a fascinating and profound character study with moral backbone. Sin reaps consequences in this narrative. My favorite line in the show takes place in a conversation between two characters (see picture above) who have witnessed some of the company's empty and dangerous claims. They decide to reveal what's taking place despite the backlash they will receive. Why?
"Because there is truth. There is truth," Erika Cheung (Camryn Mi-young Kim) states.
Now, that had my attention!
According to Cheung (and the worldview of the mini-series), truth is something that exists. Truth isn't merely the opinion of a person or community. Either Elizabeth Holmes is lying about what her machines can do or not. And in this show, two young people pursue the truth and uncover it. For a while, they pay dearly for their whistle-blowing, but eventually, the lies living beneath Theranos meet the light.
On the other hand, the show takes a compassionate look at Elizabeth Holmes. Ambition can be a ruthless master. We see the toll it takes on her. This reminds me of one of my favorite films that tackles ambition: The Founder (2016) (see five #5). It's the story of Ray Kroc and how he "founded" McDonald's. As viewers, we watch a hungry, humbled salesman morph into a titan of fast-food industry. His slow transformation reveals the moral compromises he took to get to the top.
This also reminds me that the relentless pursuit of money and power isn't a non-Christian problem. It's a human problem. Before we judge Elizabeth Holmes or Ray Kroc too quickly, we can step back and realize the incredible allure of "the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions" (1 John 2:16). Many men and women of God have fallen to the same poisons as Holmes and Kroc.
REALITY DISTORTION FIELD
Like many, I read and enjoyed Walter Isaacson's biography on Steve Jobs. It's an utterly fascinating work that offers a glimpse into this magnetic entrepreneur. Steve was known for putting off a Reality Distortion Field (RDF). Part charisma, part unconquerable confidence, he could convince people to do the things they never thought they could do, and he could convince people to believe things that weren't true. As shown in many scenes in The Dropout, Elizabeth idolized Jobs, and she got really good at producing a Reality Distortion Field herself. Unfortunately, reality is stubborn. Eventually, it will make itself known. In this case, when the Field collapsed, it brought a tidal wave of pain with it.
A CAUTIONARY TALE
In conclusion, I think this serves as a persuasive, thoughtful cautionary tale.
Be warned, though, this mini-series isn't for young people, as it includes language and some sexual content. But it is a story that tells the truth. And that's not always the case in our films and movies. When we see it in a place like Hulu, pause and thank God for his common grace.
Dane Bundy is President of Stage & Story and Director of Fine Arts at Regents School of Austin, a classical Christian school in Austin, TX.