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Alive and kicking


An interesting documentary on the politics of fear. Director Curtis explores the last 30 years of politics for signs of fearmongering and finds quite a number of disturbing examples that, put together, weave an interesting story on how politicians are trying to control and guide society with lies and fear.

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It's particularly nice to see the focus shift between the US, Russia and the Muslim countries, each applying very similar techniques to reach very similar goals. It opens up a broader perspective that doesn't pit these countries as very different from each other, which goes well with the actual message of the documentary.

The form is a bit basic though and three hours is quite long, a bit of editing and some smart graphs and/or animations might have helped to make it a bit more attractive, not to mention a little easier to consume. But the core message is strong, the doc is informative and the point is clear. And kudos for ending on a positive note, again, quite in line with the core message.

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom poster

Curtis doing what he loves to do. He takes an essential issue of our modern times, then tracks back to find its political, sociological and ideological origins. Like his other documentaries, I'm not always convinced by the apparent certainty of some of the claims and their connections, but no doubt there are some very interesting tidbits here.

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The Trap tries to sketch how our quest for freedom and liberty became a means of oppression and limitation. By reducing people to mathematical models and nudging them to behave certain ways, our actual freedom and choice have been decreasing, while the inequality gap has been growing.

I'm definitely most drawn to the sociological deep dives, which is why the middle part was by far the most interesting for me. Curtis did a great job of showing how setting targets distorts people's goals, as the target itself becomes a goal and people forget what the target is supposed to represent. There were other parts where I had a harder time keeping engaged, but it's no doubt a worthwhile documentary.

The Century of the Self

2002 / 235m - UK
The Century of the Self poster

I was quite hopeful for this documentary. The topic sounded pretty interesting and I'd seen and liked Curtis' Politics of Fear. It ended up being quite a disappointment though. Rather than uncover part of the human psyche, it's a documentary that's more interested in the who's, when's and why's of group psychology.

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Curtis explores how the individual became the center of attention in the 20th century. Rather than focus on the media and consumer behavior, and try to bare the underlying mechanics at play, Curtis takes a more political angle and dredges up wars and political left/right mind games. Not really what I was hoping for.

There are some interesting anecdotes scattered around this documentary, but they are few and far between. Instead, this is a pretty dry history lesson, with little cinematic value. It also doesn't help that the film is 20 years old and a lot of extremely relevant things happened in those 20 years. Not the eyeopener I was expecting to see.