Arch Hammer has been a saleman, dispatcher, truck driver, con man, bookie, and bartender. He is a cheap man, cheapness in mind, cheapness in taste, and a man who possesses the unique talent of changing his appearance with a twitch in his muscles or a change in facial expression. Like so many lost souls, being so unhappy and lost in his own life he looks to bring chaos and disruption into the lives of others.
The first person Hammer chooses to mimic is beloved trumpet player John Foster. John tragically passed away in an accident and Hammer, looking like Foster visits Foster’s former jazz club and looks to steal away Foster’s ex girlfriend. Next Hammer takes on the appearance of local gangster Virgil Sterig who was recently killed by Mr. Pennell. Hammer visits Mr. Pennell to extort money from him and he is successful in doing so. Lastly, Hammer takes on the appearance of boxer Andy Marshak. As boxer Andy Marshak, Hammer runs into the real Andy’s father who has a couple of things he would like to get off his chest regarding his disapproval of the life decisions Andy has made. He explains what a disappointment he is to the family, how he broke his mother’s heart, and didn’t do right by a young girl who loved him. Hammer pushes away Marshak’s father and leaves him lying on the ground. Hammer makes his way back to his hotel room as Arch Hammer where a police detective is there is ask him a few questions. When leaving the hotel with the detective, Hammer is able to change his face one more into the face of Andy Marshak. When Hammer is outside the hotel he comes face to face with Andy Marshak’s father who isn’t done telling Andy how he feels. He pulls out a gun and shoots Hammer in the stomach believing he is shooting his son Andy. As Hammer lays there dying, all the faces of the people he impersonated appear and eventually his true identity in the last one to show itself.
The lesson that Arch Hammer didn’t learn is that happiness comes from within. It is not something one can get from a job, from others, from impersonating others, or stealing from others. Hammer was not only cheap in mind and taste but cheap in how he tried to achieve fulfillment in life. Hammer thought that by changing jobs or even changing his appearance he would achieve the happiness he so desired, but in the end he realized he was only running away from himself.
Many of us experience the same unsettlement that Arch Hammer feels in this episode. We feel as if we could be happier when something happens. I will be happy when I find a mate. I will be happy when I make more money. I will be happy when I have a new job. I will be happy when I lose 10 pounds. And so on. Happiness is not something that is achieved in milestones, instead it is a frame of mind. Happiness is something achieved from within. It is a choice one makes every day to create a life they are proud of and brings them joy. It can’t be stolen or impersonated, it has to be created.
With all of us being in self isolation, we have a wonderful opportunity to sit with ourselves with no distraction and determine what it is to be happy. In “normal” times, people don’t often take the time to get to know themselves, sit in silence or peace with themselves, and listen to what their hearts most desire. We fill our lives with activities that keep our minds occupied so we don’t have to deal with the hard work of choosing happiness. Take this time of self isolation to put the phone down, stop looking at social media for approval or comparison, stop watching television, and sit with yourself and learn how to make yourself happy. When you choose happiness, it doesn’t matter what situation you find yourself in, you will always be able to cope, survive, and even thrive.