Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Film Review: Zeitgeist: Moving Forward

It's difficult to review documentaries without letting your own personal feelings interject, especially one as all encompassing as Zeitgeist: Moving Forward. If one were to review this film based through the looking glass of one's own politics it would immediately become bias and consequently its worth as an objective, balanced look at what is presented here questionable. Consequently it is desirable to refrain from passing any personal judgement on the information included in the film. Rather, the methodology will focus on what other politically motivated critics have said, whilst also attempting to look at some of the questions that might have been skirted over. This review is not intended in any way to push the author's own personal opinions upon its reader and that it is best to have watched the film yourself in order to garner your own frame of reference in relation to what is being said.

Zeitgeist isn't just a film documentary. To understand the film, you must also understand that it is a movement in its own right. Thus, it would be pertinent to explain what they're all about in order to establish the context of the film. What it is remains somewhat of a misnomer. Those involved have often been called everything from 'Marxist' to 'Fascist', and perhaps the most maligning tag of all, 'conspiracy theorists'. Spawned from the philosophical musings of philosopher Jacque Fresco, the Zeitgeist movement aim to fundamentally reengineer human society toward a post-scarcity world based around the scientific method. As with all political theory, many of their ideas coincide with other ideologies, and it is some of these overlapping ideas which some have selectively singled out to justify their definitions of the movement within a narrowly defined political paradigm. Zeitgeist followers accept that some ideas may indeed overlap, but reject any claims they fall into one of the existing political ideologies. Certainly there does seem to be a lack of understanding surrounding the Zeitgeist movement, and it is indeed often wrongly labelled as a knee-jerk reaction to a challenged belief system. Yet, it uncannily shares characteristics with one long forgotten ideology, one it has yet to be called, and one that might be the most fitting label of all.

Peter Joseph's Zeitgeist: Moving Forward is the third film in the series attempting to answer that question everyone on Earth has asked; 'why are things so fucked up?'Moving Forward is the most mature of the bunch, seeking to distance itself from mainstream critics who have dismissed the movement as 'conspiracist crackpots'. At two-hours and forty-minutes long, any attempt to adequately summarise its contents would probably end in abject failure. However, when discussing anything to do with politics, economics and in general why human beings make the decisions they do there is always one fundamental argument in which the discussion comes back to; nature vs. nurture. Attempting to answer this comprises the first section of the film. Through the use of scientific studies and interviews with academics in the fields of biology, neurology and behavioural psychology the film makes an incredibly persuasive case that neither nature nor nurture alone can accurately explain human behaviour. It then logically extrapolates by asking whether the condition we've created in the modern world supports our health, needs and development. This second section is all about the monetary system in which the film asserts that the society which is built around this system is ineffective in meeting human needs, broadly defined under Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. More to the point, Moving Forward accuses this system of actually being detrimental to our ability to achieve them. Thus the film moves onto its final third section; how to fix the problem through redesigning society and applying the scientific method to social concerns. This is the part that makes the film not just controversial, but downright subversive.

Admittedly Moving Forward is the most thorough in the series. Criticisms of the previous two films cited a lack of proper references and the mixing of truth with half-truths as their main problems. Moving Forward has gone a long way to rectify this, and the academic information and statistical evidence used to support its claims in the first two sections is nothing short of compelling. Some of it will literally have you shaking your head in both disgust and absolute astonishment. The way in which the culmination of all these things you have long suspected is so forcefully, vehemently and concisely conveyed is tantamount to taking a shot of adrenaline. Certainly, if you have any empathy you will be angered. But herein lies part of the problem with Moving Forward. Foremost, the sources it uses - the academics, the studies - are clearly selected in a one-sided academic fest without dissenting opinion. While this is inevitable with any film of this nature it might have been more effective if they sought sources that may have tried to contradict them and address those critiques. The second criticism in relation to the information presented is that Moving Forward has very high production values. This might be seen as a plus point, and in one sense it is insofar that it can be taken more seriously. But its production values are so good that the film is almost hypnotic. Boasting an emotive musical score to boot you might be forgiven for mistaking whether Moving Forward is genuinely presenting you with information for critical analysis or whether it's pushing it on you through emotional osmosis. Conspiracy theorists, notably Truthers, New World Order believers and Evangelical Christians all argue the latter, adding that the Zeitgeist movement is a cultist patsy front for the NWO designed to brainwash you. While you'd be a tad retarded to take it that far, Moving Forward most certainly appeals to your emotions. Whether you see that as a weakness of the film or utterly superfluous would probably depend on your open-mindedness to the ideas presented.

Whatever your political affiliation it is difficult to argue with the points put across in the first two sections of the film. Where many balk however is at the proposals by the Zeitgeist movement to rectify the matter. What they advocate is a complete eradication of money where goods and services are under the collective ownership of the people. Demand and production are carried out by computers tracking the planet's resources and fully-automated robotic factories. It's not so much fears of Skynet taking over but as one familiar YouTube philosopher Stefan Molyneux put it, "Marxism with robots". Rightly, there is good reason to fear collectivised central planning given the historical precedence. Zeitgeisters would argue that it is not so much the method of economic distribution, but rather the political which has always hindered its workability. Rather than shouting down what the Zeitgeist movement calls a 'Resource Based Economy', perhaps it is more pertinent to ask how in such a system you would calculate demand and opportunity cost without the pricing mechanism, which is often seen as the fairest way to distribute resources. The idea, one Zeitgeister might retort, is that demand is recorded on a centralised data collection system through surveys and individual requests where the computer will set production targets according to the resources available in a high-tech internet-like system. For some this might not be a convincing enough substitute to the current price mechanism, but in theory this would technically be more efficient. And that's what is at the core of this film, to promote a system based on efficiency - something far less wasteful than the current practices of capitalism which is inarguably leading Earth toward ecological collapse. You will of course find that members of the movement are incredibly dogmatic in regards to what is proposed in the film, yet in theory the ideology proposed here should be adaptable. If it is, as it claims to be, based on the scientific method then it should without hesitation or sentimentality discard theories which fail the tests of scientific rigour.

If you've ever read any Kropotkin or Bakunin you might recognise that the long forgotten ideology alluded to earlier is anarcho-communism. The similarities are stark and only begs the question 'how new are all these Zeitgeist theories?'. If you want to call the Zeitgeist movement anything this would be the closest you would get to it. Like anarchists the world over, the Zeitgeist movement's core support emanates primarily from young people seeking answers, distrustful of governments who have left them out in the cold. At a time when graduate unemployment is at an all time high and government austerity measures have seen the rise of tuition fees it understandable that people are looking to all kinds of alternatives for answers. Whether Moving Forward offers anything revolutionary in the way of political thought however is still debatable.

Zeitgeist: Moving Forward is a difficult film to objectively review without letting one's own emotionally charged preconceptions interfere. Sure, it's all too easy to bury your head in the sand and dismiss everything said in this film. And yes, it will probably threaten everything you previously thought to be true, and this would understandably be the natural reaction. Naturally the film has its weaknesses, and there's a particularly interesting debate raging on YouTube at the moment between Peter Joseph and Stefan Molyneux. However, what's more beguiling than anything is that Peter Joseph often comes across as a perturbed and socially dysfunctional intellectual, wafting around with an air of arrogance unbecoming of him. Indeed, Joseph has been known on certain occasions to call those who disagree with him "intellectually incapable". Even the Zeitgeist forums have reportedly removed posts they consider 'inappropriate'. For a movement that claims it has little in common with Marxism, they certainly appear to occasionally don the outfit of an NKVD officer from time to time. Yet everyone is an individual and it would be wrong to judge the information presented here through the lens of character assassination. Above all one should view this film with an open mind. At the very least it will make you think, hard, and hopefully reassess what is really valuable in life. It is thought provoking to say the least, but given the chance and the patience, Zeitgeist: Moving Forward may perhaps prove to be one of the most insightful films you've seen in your life.



AP said...

I'm looking forward to watching this. I completely agree with the point made about the emotionally stirring music, however, having watched the teaser trailer.

It'd probably be more correct to call it a presentation and not a documentary. There's a clear agenda beyond conveying information - it's not so much about informing people as it is about reforming them.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. But hence the stirring music and evocative language - tricks to appeal to the viewer's emotions and get them on the film's side, so that when the powerful third act comes, viewers won't baulk so easily - they'll be more likely to swallow the pill.

I only watched the trailer - is the film centred on the thoughts of the old man in the trailer? Or is it someone else?

Alekazam said...

Well, a presentation is a noun, a documentary is an adjective, so a documentary would be the adjective use of the noun 'presentation'. What I mean to say is that a documentary presents you with "facts" and opinions, which this film does. And, like every 'documentary', there is bound to be a bias, angle or framework with which it uses to present its message.

But you're a smart enough guy to recognise the emotive techniques it uses, so I'm sure you'll probably ignore it and take it for what it is. The reason I brought it up as a criticism more than anything is that I'm conscious that those less perceptive are more liable to take it as gospel rather than question it. With regards to the third act however, it is probably the weakest link regardless of emotive techniques used and the most likely segment to be questioned.

As for the trailer, that "old man" is Jacque Fresco, father of the Venus Project and whose ideas most of this film is based upon. Come to think of it, he's not all that present in the film - I think the trailer from the film might in fact be his only appearance iirc. So don't worry about having to listen to the ramblings of a kooky old geriatric the whole way through ;)