Vicky Cristina .001% of Humanity
By Taylor Marvin
I enjoyed this movie a lot. But I could suggest a new title:
“Rich White People Don’t Have Real Problems”
Jokes aside, Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a fun movie, and I’m glad I watched it. I imagine this film has a strange effect on people. On the one hand, it’s clever and entertaining, and is a wonderfully escapist fantasy. On the other, it’s only escapist because it’s exactly that — a fantasy. The lives of the characters in Vicky Cristina Barcelona have almost nothing in common with anyone I know — they’re all artists and poets who live in expensive mansions and lavish townhouses while flying off for impromptu romantic weekends in private planes. All of these people are impossibly gorgeous, cultured, can “tire of American materialism” because of their magical off-screen incomes, and live in a world where it’s possible to pursue a gloriously impractical masters degree in Catalan Identity even if you’re only capable of broken Spanish. The film idealizes values of non-commercial artistry that are almost insulting in their complete dismissal of the limitation of reality those of us not fortunate enough to count ourselves among the idle rich face. It’s the life that most of us, myself included, would love but seems impossibly distant. There’s a reason for this distance — almost no one lives like this. Of course, everyone knows this, and that’s why the vicarious fantasies of cinema exists. However, that still begs an interesting question: how many people actually are lucky enough to live Vicky Cristina, and what are my chances of being one of them?
First off, it’s clear that our characters are extremely wealthy. Javier Bardem’s character is an artist who inhabits a beautiful mansion in an expensive city, and can afford to drive gorgeous vintage automobiles. Vicky’s masters in Catalan Identity is commonly accepted code for “I plan on never having to support myself.” Similarly, Cristina is established to have spent the last few years producing a non-commercial movie, strongly suggesting she too is wealthy enough to avoid actual work.
It’s reasonable to assume that to enjoy this lifestyle you would have to be a wealthy resident of an OECD country. While there are certainly rich citizens of non-OECD countries, their numbers are small enough that we can reasonably disregard them. Similarly, the lifestyles of Vicky Cristina’s characters implies a high personal income — US $80,000 in purchasing power parity (PPP) a year seems like a reasonable lower-bound requirement. However, wealth isn’t enough to enjoy this lifestyle; youth is also important. Anyone over 40 is likely to old to enjoy the spontaneity and casual health of Vicky, Cristina and Juan Antonio’s lives. So, to start off our estimate let’s find the percentage of OECD member residents between the ages of of 20 and 39 with an income of over US $80,000/yr, PPP.
From OECD data, in 2000 roughly 30% of the population in OECD countries was between the ages of 20 and 39, giving a total of 336,628,000 people, or 5.5% of the world’s population. Now, making the reasonably justified assumption that Vicky Cristina’s main characters have an average income of US $80,000 per year, their income places them in the top 0.78% of the world income distribution. Here’s where things get a bit complicated. We need to make the assumption that only a non-significant number of people with incomes over $80,000 live outside the OECD. This is certainly wrong, but simplified the required data and is justified for our purposes. If we restrict this figure to OECD residents between 20-39 (making the unrealistic assumption income is equally distributed among age groups, which is clearly not true) we have .234% of the world that’s young and rich enough to aspire to the lives of Vicky Christina Barcelona.
However, there’s another factor that makes the lives of Juan Antonio and company so alluring: their attractiveness. The believability of the film rests on this — the romantic promiscuity at the center of the film’s plot is significantly more realistic for extremely attractive people. However, how can we quantify this requirement?
Let’s start with the women. Penelope Cruz, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson are all extremely beautiful. To start off, let’s say that they fall into the 99.5th percentile for human attractiveness, meaning that they each can be expected to be the best looking member of a random group of 200 people.
However, on second thought this percentile ranking seems wildly too low. Objectively, Vicky Cristina’s female stars are some of the most beautiful people on the planet, and certainly rank higher than the 99.5th percentile of attractiveness. Think about it — in my life I’ve seem thousands of faces noteworthy enough to remember, and can think of only a handful anywhere near as beautiful as the women of Vicky Cristina. Lets say that they’re a much more reasonable 1 out of 1,000, giving us 99.9th percentile. Even this seems low, but let’s work with it.
The same is true for male star Javier Bardem. The movie’s plot rests on his attractiveness — if he isn’t sufficiently charismatic, his seduction of three outrageously beautiful women wouldn’t be convincing even with cinema’s normal suspension of disbelief. Unscientifically, I’d rank Bardem as less objectively attractive than the female leads (though this could just be the leftover trauma of seeing No Country for Old Men at an impressionable age), but he’s still certainly in the 99th human attractiveness percentile. This gives us a combined average in the 99.575th percentile, making the cast better looking than 99.575% percent of humanity.
No we’re ready for a combined figure. Of the .099% of humanity young and rich enough to aspire to Vicky Cristina, only .425% can be expected to be attractive enough to truly live the glamorous lives shown in the film. That gives us a combined number of .001% of the world’s population. Given the current world population, we can expect there to be 67,752 people in the world with the attractiveness, youth, and income to live the lives of Vicky Cristina. Your chances of being one is roughly one in 100,000. The characters of Vicky Cristina are literally one in a hundred thousand.
Still feel bad about your uneventful, unromantic life? For comparison, your odds of being struck by lighting in your lifetime are 1/10,000. You are much more likely to be hit by lightning than be a carefree Spanish painter caught in a passionate love quadrangle.
Of course, this is a movie where being shot at point-blank range in the hand somehow doesn’t blow off your palm, so I’m not sure how useful this analysis is. Additionally, the large assumptions incorporated into this calculation likely make it very inaccurate. Personal consumption in Mediterranean Europe is significantly lower than in the US or northern Europe, throwing off our income figure, as does the fact that older people tend to have higher income than the age group we’re interested in. However, this is a decent figure, and these assumptions don’t ruin the fun. I’m sure I made some calculation mistakes, so feel free to try and find them.
And yes, I can enjoy movies without overanalyzing them. I think Vicky would sympathize with me.