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Film / How to Get Ahead in Advertising

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A difficult to classify 1989 British film made by director Bruce Robinson and featuring Richard E. Grant (i.e. the team behind Withnail and I).

How to Get Ahead in Advertising is the story of Dennis Dimbleby Bagley, a highly efficient but highly strung advertising executive who is having trouble inventing an advertising campaign for the latest boil cream, as well as trying to reconcile himself to the fact that he is a seller of lies and propaganda. Soon however, Bagley's more ruthless side begins to manifest itself in the form of a talking boil on his shoulder. And it only gets worse from there...


How to Get a Trope in Advertising:

  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Boil fully takes over Bagley's body by the end of the film.
  • Body Horror: The Boil. A huge gross boil grows on Bagley's body... and it has a mind of its own and starts talking. Then it takes over Bagley's body.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bagley is a cynical, sarcastic advertising executive who snarks about his business and clients and many other things.
  • Does Not Like Men: Julia's friend Penny is openly hostile to Bagley and other men and talks smack about men in general.
  • Fat Bastard: Penny is Julia's overweight "friend". She a snooty vegan (though she insists fish do not count as meat) and she spreads the secrets Julia told her in confidence.
  • Fun with Homophones: To get ahead and to get a head. Dennis wants to get ahead in his career but instead he gets a head: a boil shaped like his head grows on his shoulder.
  • Advertisement:
  • Garrulous Growth: Bagley grows a huge talking boil shaped like his own head on his right shoulder. The boil has Dennis' face and voice and is even more ruthless than Dennis himself.
  • Gollum Made Me Do It: Initially the Boil can only talk. Eventually it begins to take over Bagley's whole body and ultimately has him lanced.
  • Hearing Voices: Boil originally communicates with Bagley (on whose body he grows) through shared thoughts. Others believe it is simply Bagley hearing voices, hallucinating and going mad. Boil later starts to talk.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: With the Boil as Hyde, all of Bagley's cynicism and depravity rolled into one little pustule. Bagley appears to have gained a more positive outlook on life and wants to do some good to make up for working in adverting that only spreads lies and propaganda.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never made clear if the Boil is real, or if it is just a manifestation of Bagley's growing madness.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film goes from moments of farcical comedy to horror incredibly quickly.
  • New Era Speech: The Boil delivers a truly spectacular one at the end of the film, as he rides his horse through the English countryside and waxes poetic on the beauty of advertising.
  • Pun-Based Title: How to Get Ahead in Advertising has a pun in the phrase "get ahead" and "get a head".
  • Same Language Dub: Hugh Armstong is dubbed by Nicky Henson.


Video Example(s):


Bagley's Rant

Bagley is an advertising executive who suffered a bizarre breakdown over a crisis of conscience. In the final scene, completely consumed by his dark side, he vows to devote his life to bringing the world the tackiest excesses of modern commercialism.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

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