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The Whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the System will survive a couple of loose parts and weak links. Arpanet, as the precursor to the Internet, was designed to withstand localized damage. The Global Economy, too, has survived the terrorism by Al-Qaeda as well as by the Unabomber. Likewise, this film, as a film ABOUT the Internet and the Global Economy, withstands the critiquing of its weaker attributes.
The subject matter of this film is the Brave New World of technological utopia, a Mega-System of sorts. This story entails systematics, globalization, technological rationalization and the paranoid fantasies of this world's discontents. Human behaviour becomes a fabrication of control mechanisms, and in such a world nothing is feared more than a total lack of control, i.e. arbitrary terrorism, such as that of The Unabomber. The ingenuity of this film, on a purely intellectual level, is the way it connects the dots between The Internet, Esalen Institute, New York Times, M.I.T., Henry David Thoreau, Montana and Ted Kaczynski. In a word, this film weaves an intriguing Web about the Web.
One shouldn't be put off by the problematic morals of this film. This film, as a document, is too important to be dismissed as sensationalism or misguided hero-worship. For one, Dammbeck puts Unabomber in a context where one is not made to agree with his radical (and borderline insane) ideas, but instead is given a good sample of the institutional background of the professor-turned-killer, forcing a transition from the merely personal and anecdotal into the realm of History and Causation. What, we are asked, is the relationship between fundamental mathematics and the paranoid fantasies of Gödel and Kaczynski? And what if there is a linkage between the CIA-Army behavioural experiments of the 1950's and 60's and the very real madness of Unabomber? What, after all is said and done, is the role of individual responsibility in a world governed by trends, fluctuations, computer technology and economic mergers? Lutz Dammbeck's documentary is a fascinating voyage into the dark underbelly of the American Dream (to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson). The film maker slices through a number of interweaving threads in search of something intangible yet real, something to cut through the virtual. In fact, the film may be accused of being somewhat incoherent in its production, because the internal logic of the film follows too closely the subjective voyage of the director (with mind maps and internal dialogues given precedence to the voice of the interviewees). That said, subjectivity in documentary film-making can be a strength, and the director takes full advantage of the opening up of new doorways into strange, dark alleys of underreported American history. He is bounced around from door to door, from person to person, from topic to topic. The viewer is in for a roller coaster ride, both dazzling and dizzying.
The film maker exhibits clear signs of ignorance, arrogance, confusion, banality and moral ambivalence - all in varying proportions. Still, the end result manages to be inclusive yet not over-effuse, and, for the viewer, the combinatory effect of topics and interviewees boils down to an altogether charming and fascinating experience. It is hard to say what lessons to learn from this film, but one is at least given a glimpse of the full compass of Genius on the moral scale from the Humanitarian to the Criminally Insane. It is less than comfortable to find out that the difference between a Benefactory Visionary and an Evil Genius is a thin red line...
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