Agneta Fischer defines contempt as “the feeling when one judges another person as an inferior human being, and is typically expressed through social exclusion.”1 In Joel Edgerton’s The Gift (2015), Simon (Jason Bateman) treats Gordo (Joel Edgerton) with contempt. Contempt arises for two main reasons: a feeling of superiority combined with a negative judgment of a person’s actions and behavior.
Simon’s contempt for Gordo is revealed in how he talks about him. Although he tells his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), “I feel kind of bad for him”, he has no compassion for his former classmate. He looks down on him, calling him a “creepy little f—ker”, “disgusting and weird”, and writes on his fridge, “Gordo the weirdo.” When you feel contempt for someone, you devalue and diminish them as a person.
Simon’s contempt for Gordo is not without cause. One reason Simon has contempt for Gordo is because of his actions and behavior. Gordo acts inappropriately, telling Simon that he has a “beautiful wife”, then twice visiting Robyn when Simon is at work. Simon tells Robyn, “He’d like to be married to you.” Simon has contempt for Gordo because he violates social norms toward a married woman.
Another reason for Simon’s contempt is pride: his feeling of superiority. He tells Robyn, “This world is about winners and losers.” Simon is a winner, and he doesn’t associate with losers. All of his friends are upper middle class like him. He asks Gordo, “What is it that you do?” For Simon, a man is measured by his career success.
Simon’s contempt begins with harsh words and ends in social exclusion. After Gordo is caught in a lie, Simon tells him, “Don’t visit us anymore.” He can no longer tolerate Gordo because he considers him an inferior human being.
When a person is treated with contempt, they are likely to feel hurt and angry. Gordo, who believes in “an eye for an eye”, tried to forgive Simon for past wrongs, but when he is rejected, he seeks revenge. Simon’s contempt turns a potential friend into an enemy.
Ironically, in the end, Simon the winner becomes a loser. He is fired from his job, and Robyn no longer wants to be married to him. The film reveals how people who do things that are considered immoral or unethical are often treated with contempt. Simon’s unethical behavior at work, and his mistreatment of Gordo causes Robyn to feel contempt for him, and she rejects him.
- Radek Trnka, Karel Balcar and Martin Kuška, eds., Re-Constructing Emotional Spaces: From Experience to Regulation (Prague College of Psychosocial Studies Press, 2011), 77. http://www.pvsps.cz/data/document/20110715/5_Contempt.pdf?id=683