The con trick has a still more abiding pull on Mamet’s imagination: it reverses the parental situation. In the con, the public is put in the role of the helpless child, while the con artist is the parent who knows the game and controls all the rules and the information. The whole enterprise is an assertion of omnipotence and a refusal to admit helplessness, which speaks to something deep in Mamet’s nature. At the finale of “House of Games,” Mike is held at gunpoint by Ford, who has shot him twice. Ford says, “Beg me for your life.” But Mike, a con man to the last, won’t. He’d rather die than be infantilized and surrender his sense of autonomy. Ford shoots him again. “Thank you, sir, may I have another?” Mike says as Ford fires three more shots into him. ….. [and] “The Spanish Prisoner,” in which a con trick played on a credulous company man becomes a moral lesson about how the getting of wisdom equals the getting of skepticism.
1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.
2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive.
3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.