Money Heist: It’s Not About The Money

Money Heist, or La Casa De Papel, is originally a Spanish television series that garnered a cult-like following from fans worldwide since its adoption by Netflix. The series tells the story of a group of criminals led by a professor who executes the two biggest heists in the history of Spain. What sets this story apart is the thorough character development, sophisticated plot, and strong sentiments of rebellion. Money Heist eventually became a global token of resistance and liberation from capitalist oppression. However, how and why did that happen?

The characters have a lot of…character!

The story is told by going back and forth between scenes of the planning stages and ones of the heist itself. Meanwhile, Tokyo—one of the criminals—tells us an unreliable narration of what is going on. Through this dynamic, we learn about the characters’ past lives while seeing the effects of their life events play out during the heist.

The professor, the mastermind of the heist, manages to gain the unrelenting trust of his gang’s members with his compelling purpose and meticulous plan. He does whatever it takes to make it work, at times seeming to surprise himself at the lengths he is willing to go. This determination manifests itself into a suave persona (unlike his timid nature) when he needs to win over the head detective in charge of stopping the heist, and get an edge over the police force. 

Berlin, who turns out to be a borderline-psychopath during the heist, is easily the most complex character and a personal favourite. He finely dances the line between a sensitive and empathetic human, and a cold and calculating ruthless criminal—making him simultaneously lovable and terrifying. One day he straps Tokyo and rolls her down the Royal Mint’s stairs, whereas another day he volunteers to give a heartfelt interview and captures the public’s sympathy towards the group. 

The tension of the heist creates a perfect environment to explore the complexity of emotions arising in the characters. Denver’s relationship with his dad (Moscow) and their strained past with his mother; Nairobi, whose purpose in life has become to reunite with her lost son; Tokyo and Rio’s turbulent romance; the criminals’ relationships with the hostages. With skillful acting bringing them to life, we get the chance to bond with them deeply.

A Noble Crime

The professor claims that the government carries out what they call “liquidity injections.” They make money seemingly out of thin air by irresponsibly printing more bills to fulfill whatever agenda they have. This money, however, stays in government banks and does not make it to the economy as business loans. Meanwhile, hyper-inflation hurts everyday citizens.

He believed that, in their heist, they would be doing the same thing the government has been doing for years but this time the money would go into the real country’s economy instead. Hence, their crime, according to him, was really a heroic, robin-hood-esque act — a challenge to, and liberation from, a cruel capitalist state. 

The second heist is a continuation of this rebellion. The professor comes back to finish the job by further exposing the police force’s illegal torture of suspects without trial, and the governments’ desperation to protect its dirty laundry hidden deep inside the Bank of Spain.

The professor lives out his father’s heist’s legacy, the gang gets a grandiose and guilt-free escape from their money problems, and we get one more reason to root hard for the criminals.

Red jumpsuits, Dali masks, and “Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!”

Money heist portrays frustrations at an unfair system—Berlin’s anger at being defamed by the press, Rio’s illegal torture, Nairobi’s pain of having her child taken away, the public’s support for the criminals once the government is exposed—and wraps them up in three easily distinguishable symbols: the red jumpsuits and the Dali masks worn by the gang, and the theme song Bella Ciao, which plays at significant moments of freedom and resistance during the show. 

The Spanish artist Salvador Dalí is well known for his surrealist art which encourages rebellion against traditional confines and expectations. The color red has often been associated with passion and rebellion, one example being the red flag of Les Misérables. Bella Ciao is an Italian protest folk song that became a revolutionary anthem during World War II. 

Les Misérables

In Puerto Rico, protesters wore dali masks and red jumpsuits and held banners of iconic lines from the show. In Iraq, a music video was made for the song Bella Ciao with arabic lyrics reflecting the protesters’ message and it received a great deal of traction around the country.

Iraq protest

During a time rife with distrust in governments and frustration with abuse of power, Money Heist combines these deeply revolutionary symbols with a set of charming characters and a tension-filled plot that feeds our short attention spans; bringing these symbols to life. That explains why the series inspired similar heists in real life and became used in protests worldwide. 

By: Hiba Azhari

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