Less the funerary mass its title promises than a coroner’s report on the methods of a murder, Requiem for the American Dream listens as Noam Chomsky calmly, persuasively explains exactly how the most powerful sliver of the nation’s population has expanded and cemented shocking inequalities of wealth and influence. The short, sharp, smart essay-film makes excellent use of Chomsky’s insights while serving as one of the best entry points to the discussion of inequality popularized by the Occupy movement and furthered with Thomas Piketty‘s unlikely best-seller Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Arriving barely a year after Michel Gondry‘s Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? prompted one to wonder how many Chomsky docs the marketplace would support, the film suffers an obvious box-office disadvantage. But the timeliness and potency of its message (and the claim that these are the last longform interviews the famous intellectual will grant) help set it apart, and viewers who catch it at fests, in niche bookings or on video are almost certain to spread the word to left-leaning friends.
A three-person filmmaking team of Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, and Jared P. Scott employs stylistic notes borrowed from Errol Morris to enliven talking-head shots of the 86-year-old professor (interviews were spread over the course of four years), using plenty of appropriate stock footage and accompanying visuals with Malcolm Francis‘ sometimes Glass-y score. Their most noteworthy visual flourish is animated interstitial material, based on artwork by Mark Wagner, in which one-dollar bills are slice-and-diced so that George Washington can introduce various subjects.
The film’s 10 main chapters spell out different “principles of the concentration of wealth and power.” And if many of the ideas here are familiar to politically aware Americans (“Run the Regulators,” “Engineer Elections”), all benefit from Chomsky’s authoritative analysis. Unlike many critics of the current state of things, Chomsky doesn’t let indignation make him sound shrill or naive. Over and over, he points out that this or that unpleasant reality “is exactly what you’d expect” when the rich are freed from governmental restraints; he’s no more shocked than he would be at seeing a lion disemboweling his prey.
Even those steeped in complaints about the One Percent are likely to encounter new useful ideas or perfectly crystallized talking points here. Chomsky pushes forward, for instance, the existing term “precariat” to refer to an increasingly precarious proletariat; elsewhere, he deftly argues that branding one’s debate opponent “anti-American” is a tactic that only makes sense under totalitarian regimes. As one expects, Chomsky again proves to know more about his targets than they seem to know about themselves, calling on bits of history that damn not only the business-boosting right wing, but those on the supposed left side of American politics who, in Chomsky’s terms, serve most of the same “masters.”
Production company: PF Pictures
Directors-Screenwriters-Producers: Peter Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott
Executive producers: Diana Holtzberg
Directors of photography: Mike McSweeney, Rob Featherstone
Editor: Alan Canant
Music: Malcolm Francis
Sales: Rena Ronson, UTA
No rating, 72 minutes