Film Review | Inequality for All (2013)

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We make the rules of the economy – and we have the power to change those rules.

This is a documentary by Robert Reich – more on whom later – about inequality in the United States. Having lived in London for my entire life, that was a little bit outside my general knowledge base, but I can’t say that particularly mattered. One of the best things about this documentary was how accessible it was; I was watching it as part of an Economics class, so obviously that helped, but I do think that this particular documentary is likely to be quite easy to get into even without a background in those sorts of details. It’s a very coherent, very cogent piece – it’s structured around Reich, who’s now a professor of economics, giving explanations of different concepts, and then cutting away to first hand footage and testimonials that are relevant to the idea and further expound upon it. There’s also segments from lectures that Reich gives at the University of California, which are in and of themselves quite informative, as well as being quite well presented – a particularly notable segment breaking down the economics of an iPhone comes to mind.

Inequality for All takes quite a left-wing perspective – understandable, I imagine, given that Reich is a former democrat, and in recent years a vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders. In terms of the general message, the stance is quite clear; Reich feels that inequality is one of the biggest problems facing the US today, and has been trying to deal with it for nearly 30 years now. Some of the facts are quite galling, actually – the US is close to being the most wealth unequal country in the world, for example, with the poorest 47% of Americans having no wealth at all. (You can read more on the film’s website, if you’re interested.) He makes a strong and quite well substantiated case that the concept of “trickle-down economics”, with a focus on the super-rich rather than the working and middle classes, is fundamentally flawed; an interview with one such super-rich individual highlights the fact that, since he mostly saves money and actually spends little, that’s essentially a withdrawal of money from the economy. It’s far better, in a broader sense, to have a flourishing working and middle class, given that they will spend money and thus help the economy to grow.

Having said that, I don’t think that this movie does particularly lambast or deal an unfair hand to more right wing economic views. It’s very clear than Reich disagrees with them, as does the director; an IMDb review cites him as saying “there always doesn’t have to be two sides to a story”, essentially taking the stance that all the facts within the movie are presented accurately, and that’s enough in and of itself. Equally, though, the movie takes time to deal with those it criticises (the aforementioned super-rich), as well as presenting the story of some Republican voters who have been hurt by those right wing economic policies – individuals who remain Republic voters, that is. While I imagine they wouldn’t agree with Reich’s ideology, there’s no sense that they’ve been treated unfairly, or that they’re being criticised. Indeed, you see something of a debate between they and he, with footage of a talk Reich gave in their community.

To an extent, it also doubles as a profile on Robert Reich, who’s a very interesting person himself. As Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of Labour, he’s been involved in politics at a pretty high level for quite a long time; even before that, though, he’d began working for the government during the Carter administration. We get a lot of insight into what drives Reich as a person, and why he does dedicate his life to trying to “fight the bullies, to protect the powerless, to make sure that the people without a voice have a voice”. He presents himself quite well – certainly he looks to be a very good lecturer and teacher – and it’s also abundantly clear he’s got a brilliant sense of humour. Reich is under five foot tall, and there’s plenty of jokes surrounding that; there’s a clip from his inaugural speech when appointed Secretary of Labour, for example, where he opens the speech with something along the lines of “All modesty aside, somehow I always knew I’d be on Bill Clinton’s short list for Secretary of Labour”. He also presented an economics based television programme with a tall Republican friend of his called “The Long and Short of it”. I found it quite funny, in any case, but I’m easily amused.

Ultimately, Inequality for All is one of the most informative, and indeed most engaging, documentaries that I’ve watched in a long time. True, I’m drawing from a limited sample size there, but this is undoubtedly a very good piece of media; I think if you live in America, or you’re interested in politics & economics, this should be required viewing.

9/10

Related:

Film Review: Money Monster (2016)

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Man of Steel: How Superman killing Zod was mishandled

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So, what with Batman vs Superman having come out recently, Man of Steel has been on my mind a little bit; with the sequel movie looking to be as controversial as its predecessor, I wanted to just take a moment to analyse this scene for a second.

This particular scene is a real point of contention. Superman kills Zod, here, and obviously that caused quite the furore because Superman, typically, does not kill. (Zak Snyder and Dave Goyer both felt the need to justify this by saying that killing Zod is where Superman will get his no killing rule from, as if everyone needs to get one kill in, just to make up their minds. This is a ridiculous justification, in any case, but also irrelevant, given the first thing Superman does in Dawn of Justice is kill a man.)

Now, this scene is quite an easy one to focus on for many people, because of the whole killing Zod thing; it’s not so much that having Superman kill is the most heinous transgression that this film makes, rather that this is emblematic of a series of mistakes made by Man of Steel – namely, the fact it revels in gratuitous violence for its own sake.

Following some scenes of wanton destruction that were evidently inspired by 9/11 footage (and in pretty poor taste, obviously), leaving Metropolis little more than a smoking crater, we reach this point. And it’s staggering how wrongheaded this scene was – but also very informative about the approach taken by Man of Steel.

After Superman kills Zod, note what the camera focuses on. We don’t actually see the family at all – on first viewing, I actually assumed they’d been killed, and it was following their deaths that Superman killed Zod. (I could sort of appreciate the moment more, had that been the case; obviously I don’t want to advocate more killing in this movie, but I can understand the anguish if it’s more explicitly about Superman’s failure to save people.)

But if you pay close attention to the edge of the frame, you can see that the family did in fact live. So why isn’t this made more explicit? Why do we not get a clear shot of them?

The answer is that this scene isn’t about the family. It’s about Superman killing Zod. We’re not watching an act of murder because it’s the only thing that can be done to save some innocents.

We’re watching Superman kill Zod because Zack Snyder and Dave Goyer thought that Superman killing would be cool.

And that says a lot about what’s wrong with Man of Steel.

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