Friday, May 28, 2010
The Shock Doctrine. (2009)
Mat Whitecross and Michael Winterbottom
This is the third Winterbottom I've seen this week -- I dug my heels into A Mighty Heart and watched The Road to Guantanamo again to prepare myself for the visual feast always presented in his awesome use of the screen. A quote about Winterbottom in this month's
Film Comment refers to him as, "one of the least categorizable in contemporary cinema, a baffling proposition for auteur critics," and I couldn't agree with this description more. Later in the year when The Killer Inside Me and Summer in Genoa come out, followed quickly next year by The Promised Land, we may well remember this as his most prolific directorial moment, a time that showcased his ability to produce every kind of film imaginable. (That is, if we haven't already come to that conclusion, as I probably already have.)
The Shock Doctrine is a mesmerizing work of pulsating, relentless imagery saturated in brain-burning theories grounded in (what seems like) natural fact. The narrative drives forward in visual display like a rocket at warp speed. In that way it reminded me of Chris Marker's Grin Without a Cat, the standard setting film of the documentary form, where if you blink and think, you just might sink. There's so much to consider; you've got to keep your head in the ball game in order to keep up with the overflow of ideas.
It's essentially a retelling of the many theories in the book. Writer/conspiracist Klein is captured in the film as a featured speaker at her many appearances -- from the University of Chicago, where a lot of her theories began in the 1950s, to conferences she's toured world-round. A few of her speaking events even looked like they were held in churches.
The theory can be very convoluted when broken down and picked apart in every minute detail, but essentially it is this: disasters create opportunity for power-over economics in ways that would otherwise be unthinkable. Some are planned, others are simply acts of nature that can be jumped on (Katrina, for instance) and corporately owned.
"Shocks" to the cultural narrative cause us to quickly forget who we are, our collective story, where we come from, our purpose and communal goals. Shocks lead entire cultures and nations into survival mode, and in the process opportunities arise for governments and economists to intervene. When deregulation in post-shock stress creates unrestrained capitalism, a handful of people gain billions of dollars while millions, perhaps billions of others, are left behind. The country one is left behind in may determine how "poor" he or she actually feels. The poorest of the poor nations know they are poor, and in those places there is fierce anger at the powers-that-be. In countries like America and England, well, most of us don't really feel all that poor, do we?
The premise basically holds that free markets are not won through a demand for freedom or justice, but they're brought on by corporate authoritarian and (sometimes subtle) economic rule. The first examples given are in Chile and Argentina, from the late sixties into the seventies; into the UK under Thatcher in the late 70s and through the 80s; and the Bush administration of Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s. There are strange coincidences in every situation that show manufactured economic collapse that creates a shock to the system, letting multi-national corporations take advantage of societies, leaving damage in their wake while they gobble up any leftover wealth.
In that aspect, the film is closest related to The End of Poverty?, an excellent recent documentary that describes the last 500 years of "military" or "disaster" capitalism. But The Shock Doctrine holds to the last fifty or sixty years and delves into details there.
Some of the info you find is unsurprising if you're a reader or watcher of a multitude of contemporary doc, but here it is well said and somewhat easily grasped. But the film itself is tight -- sometimes too tight. I'd need to see it quite a few more times before being able to go into further detail than this very general, brief overview. I do have the book saved at the local library.
If you run across it, I'd like to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I'll be reading Ms. Klein's book.
Bottom line: Seems conspiratorial but certainly within reason -- and unsurprising even in its shock. Winterbottom's visual aesthetic is greatly on display, his stirring images worth the price of admission to anything he decides to touch.