Communication Strategies

Interpersonal Communication in “The Pursuit of Happyness”

            “The Pursuit of Happyness” is a touching film about a man who overcomes great odds to going from being a salesman of bone density scanners to become  an stock broker.  Various means of interpersonal communication are shown throughout this movie: they underline Chris’s relationship with himself, with his wife, and with their son. 


            The voice-over gives the viewer an insight into Chris’s character and his self concept – or the way that he sees himself – from the beginning of the movie: he says that he did not know his father until he himself was an adult, and wanted his own son to know him. It is clear that Chris’s view of himself relies heavily on his role as a father.  More is revealed about Chris’s relationship with himself through the Rubik’s cube: this is a symbol, a thing which represents something else in the story, and it symbolizes Chris’s struggle to overcome the odds and to make his life better.  Chris’s field of experience – or the person’s background which affects how that person sees the world – is also part of this struggle, and it is well-demonstrated in the movie when he talks about the lines on the resume for education, saying “I didn’t need that many lines”.  This is also shown in the way in which Chris learns to navigate his way through the culture of wealthy and largely white stockbrokers: the scene at the house of the CEO and Chris’s conversation there shows the intercultural communication, for the ways in which people of different groups communication with one another. At the end of the movie, the cost of his struggle is shown in his face in the scene where he is given the job: it is obvious that he is trying hard not to break down and cry in front of his bosses, following a rule of display, or a rule which says how much emotion it is acceptable to show in public. 

Indirect show of Chris’s Struggle.  Chris’s struggle is also shown through the means of power distance, or the distance between those who have power and those who do not in a given society: this is shown when Chris is watching the stock brokers coming down the steps, wanting to be part of that world.   It is also shown through the communication channel –  or the means by which communication is performed, such as the radio or television – of the telephone which Chris is tied to during his internship as he tries to get ahead; it is also shown by the communication setting – or the place in which communication takes place – for his talk with the stockbroker at the beginning of the movie on the steps of the stock exchange:  this is what changes his life and leads him to become a stockbroker.


            Interpersonal communication also shows the viewer the breakdown in the marriage between Chris and his wife Linda.  One way in which they do this is through nonverbal communication, or ways of communicating that do not involved direct words: the scene where he and his wife are in bed together, and he pulls away when she tries to touch him, then she rolls over and yanks the blankets onto her side, is a great way of showing the breakdown in their relationship. It is also shown through feedback, or the response that one person gives another while they are communicating: his wife’s unbelieving and angry response to his suggestion that he go and apply to be a stockbroker is a good example of feedback.  His relationship with his wife is a complementary relationship – that is, it is a relationship where one person reacts to what the other person is doing and their differences are highlighted: this is shown in the scene where Chris follows Linda angrily down the street, and they get into a shouting match about their son and her leaving them.  This relationship is also shown through sending and receiving of messages to each other: in another words, of the things Chris says to Linda and the things she says in return.  On the balcony, Chris is trying to send a message to Linda that things are going to be all right, but Linda receives the message angrily and does not believe  him.  This scene is a good example, too, of over-attribution : or the placing of too much importance on one part of who someone is: Linda seems to be blaming all their problems on Chris as he struggles to be a provider.  This also shows the communication barrier – anything which prevents one party from sending a  message to another – which is the feelings of anger they have for one another and which prevent them from really talking to each other.

Indirect Show of the Conflict between Linda and Chris.  The movie does not only show the breakdown in the marriage between Linda and Chris directly. It also shows it indirectly.  One example of this is the scene in the liquor store, where Chris is frantically seek information about his wife who has just left him and his neighbor is babbling on about the game.  This is an example of noise, or anything in the outside environment that distracts from communication. .


            The strongest and healthiest relationship in this movie is Chris’s relationship with his son Christopher, and this is shown through many methods of interpersonal communication throughout the course of this movie.  Their discussion about the connotation – or the exact meaning – of words is shown wonderfully in his discussion with Christopher on the difference between “probably” and “possibly” when they are talking about going to the gain; this is in contrast to the discussion on the “f-word” in the beginning of the movie: Chris gives his son the connotative meaning – or the emotional importance of the word; he tells Christopher that it is an “adult word” and is “shows anger”.  The encoding – or the process of putting ideas into a message – and decoding —the process of taking in the message and trying to understand it – are shown in the scene at the basketball court, where Chris tells his son not to believe people when they tell him he can’t do something, and Christopher takes this message in.  This scene is also a good example of enculturation, or the way that one generation passes on its beliefs to another generation, and, too, of active listening: Chris really seems to be taking in what his father has told him.

Displays of Affection between Chris and his Son. Throughout the movie, even when they are  frustrated or angry at each other, there is an affection between father and son, an other-orientation, or a state in which one person is very attuned to and attentive to the other.  This is best shown in the scene in the church where Chris takes his son’s hand and kisses it.  This is also underscored in their relationship dimension – which is communication that speaks of the relationship between the two people communicating and not on any outside factor.  A scene to demonstrate this is where Chris scoops up his son in daycare and holds him as the movie ends.  It also demonstrates affirmation, or a show of support, even if non-verbally.  


            Throughout this movie, interpersonal communication is evident in the ways the characters interact with each other and with themselves.  Together, these various methods of communication show us Chris’s relationships with himself,  his wife, and his son.  It is primarily these relationships which drive the movie.