Pop Culture

Game theory in film, music, and fiction.


Hudson Hawk

(Review by Mike Shor)

Described as wildly entertaining by some and one of the worst movies of the year by most, Hudson Hawk is a Da Vinci Code meats Abbott & Costello cartoon-like adventure. Bruce Willis plays Hudson Hawk, a reformed burglar who is kidnapped and forced to steal Da Vinci's statuette of a horse. The object is the key to alchemy discovered by Da Vinci years prior. His captors, the flamboyant Mayflowers, at one point attend an art auction.

Hawk: You know, after all these years I still get goosebumps going to these auctions. The paintings, the sculptures, the things that aren't really paintings or sculptures.

The auction:

ECCENTRIC BALD AUCTIONEER: And finally, Lot number 17, thought to be lost in the war, and again last night, the Da Vinci "Sforza," the jewel of the sale. Fan-taas-tic...
... There have naturally been questions of its authenticity, so to verify we have Doctor Anna Baragli of the Vatican. Doc?

ANNA: ... Fantastic. Perfection. The Vatican extends its jealousy to the lucky bidder.

ECCENTRIC BALD AUCTIONEER: We'll begin the bidding at 82.5 million dollars. To you, sir. Eighty-three, Ninety--your bid, madame--Ninety point five...

DARWIN MAYFLOWER lOO million clams, Francesco!

[The crowd orgasms as Vanity Fair cover boy, DARWIN MAYFLOWER works the aisle, playfully mussing up the appreciative, tiaraed Princess's hair, giddily high- fiving the Rock Star, and sloppily frenching the Hooker.]

ECCENTRIC BALD AUCTIONEER: 100 million dollars to Mr. Darwin Mayflower.

[Darwin moves to one of two reserved empty seats as his wife, Minerva, makes her entrance par excellahnce. She is outrageously dressed with a mammoth Tiffany watch that extends from her wrist down to, acting as a leash, her obnoxious little dog, BUNNY.]

MINERVA: Francesco, 100 million and one.

[Darwin, to the crowd's delight, holds his struck heart.]

DARWIN: Outbid by my own wench, quelle bummere.

MINERVA: Poor baby..... Here, Bunny.

ECCENTRIC BALD AUCTIONEER: Fan-taas-tic, the bid is at 100 million and one dollars.

... Going ... Going ... Gone!

How much were Minerva and Darwin willing to pay for the object? We can infer that Darwin was willing to pay no more than $100 million, since he did offer a bid of that amount, but was unwilling to go even two dollars higher. We can also infer that Minerva was willing to bid at least$100 million, but can never know how high she was really willing to go.

We can learn two things about English auctions. First, Darwin's bid was rather silly. If $100 million is the value of the object to him, then why bid exactly that amount (leaving no potential surplus) rather than outbidding the previous bidder by only a small amount. More importantly, we can see that English Auctions (in private value settings) are identical to second-price auctions. The auctioneer receives an amount equal to the second-highest valuation (Darwin's), since extracting the full amount that Minerva is willing to pay is not possible using this mechanism.