SCREENING Marx Reloaded
Marx Reloaded is screening at the ICA, London between 10th and 16th February 2012.
It’s almost incomprehensible now to imagine the world Karl Marx was born into. The industrial revolution was still in its embryonic phase. London’s population hovered at just under a million people. By the time Marx died in 1883, it was five million and growing. Marx would have lived through the rise of mass production, urban sprawl, the rapid expansion of transport networks and the ascension of the middle-class. Essentially, he grew up with the creation of the modern world. With that same modern world potentially on the brink of catastrophe over a century later, is he still relevant? Can we apply the same ideas to the modern day as Marx could to the 19th century?
Marx Reloaded puts this question to several pre-eminent socio-political thinkers and sets out to explore the relevance of Marx’s work to the current global financial crisis, through one deceptively simple question familiar to all fans of the works of the brothers Wachowski – do you want to take the red pill, or the blue pill? The blue pill is normality and the preservation of the status quo, with all its faults intact. The red pill will take you down the rabbit hole into something very different. With many commentators declaring capitalism to be on the brink of collapse, is it worth taking a chance on the red pill? Or is the modern capitalist system still salvageable? What can we expect to happen if we take the red pill? What will we lose?
Through a combination of surreal animated sequences and interviews with eminent thinkers like John N Gray, Antonio Negri, Slavoj Zizek and Micheal Hardt, Marx Reloaded runs through a list of Karl Marx’s most important theories and their relevance to modern society in an attempt to answer these questions.
Topics under debate include commodity fetishism, the state of the New Left, and the exploitation of workers as methods of production in the first world shift from material goods to ideas, with both Marxist and sceptical viewpoints espoused at each stage. Marx’s theories are deconstructed for the layman and hi-tech infographics are used to put them into a real-world context. In the wake of an alleged revival of communist thinking, Marx Reloaded wonders if taking the red pill is therefore really a viable answer to the global financial crisis…
Make no mistake, beneath the animation and BBC News-style graphics, this is hardcore socio-economic theory. The quirky presentation and Matrix references may give the impression that Marx Reloaded is an accessible multiplex-filling documentary, a la Michael Moore, but most laymen will be lost in seconds as the talking heads rip through the pages of Das Kapital at a furiously unforgiving rate. As an introduction to Marx for first year economics/philosophy students, it works fine. As a spiritual sequel to the likes of Farenheit 9/11 or The Corporation, it is a failure.
Marx Reloaded’s biggest flaw is a failure to balance quirky presentation with challenging content.
Marx Reloaded’s biggest flaw is a failure to balance quirky presentation with challenging content, falling between two stools in the process. Documentary makers like Adam Curtis can express complicated theories through simple, digestible narratives and a careful juxtaposition of visuals and commentary. Jason Barker, while undoubtedly qualified, is no Adam Curtis. The surreal animations, in which a mirrored-shades clad Leon Trotsky assumes the role of Morpheus to Karl Marx’s Neo, are entertaining but ultimately distracting, failing to adequately explain the theories expressed.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this disparity is the focus on talking heads. The interviewees are the real stars of Marx Reloaded, but the much-hyped cast-of-academic-thousands is as much the film’s handicap as its greatest strength. Few of the interviewees disappoint, although you can’t help but feel sorry for the Adam Smith Institute’s Eamonn Butler assuming the role of free-market whipping boy in a room full of left-leaning academics (it’ll come as little surprise to learn what pill he chooses). The problem with cramming so many thinkers into under an hour of film is that ideas need to be cut back for brevity’s sake, and so rather than simplify their thoughts, each attempts to cram theories worthy of a manifesto into their two minute’s screen time. Again, this shouldn’t be a problem for a keen undergraduate, pen at the ready and finger on the pause button, but those of us with only a marginal knowledge of economics will be quickly left behind.
Given more room to breathe, each of the talking heads would make an engaging interviewee, particularly wild-haired bird-flipping Slavoj Zizek, whose furious rants are almost worth the price of entry alone. The choice of interviewees covers most of the bases in the debate, although understandably it’s a little pro-Marx heavy. It’s just a shame that such legendary thinkers as Antonio Negri have their theories pared back so severely to squeeze in more speakers, so that their words lose their intended impact in the rush to squeeze in more viewpoints.
Marx Reloaded is careful not to fall into the trap of pushing a Marxist agenda, but, in the rush to produce a balanced argument, the overall impact of its points is lost. Such dense works as Marx’s require careful presentation if they’re to make any sense to economics rookies. There is no doubt that Jason Barker is a prominent intellectual, but a documentary about Marx needs more careful hands than his. “Communism,” Slavoj argues at one point, “is a society in which everyone can dwell in his or her stupidity.” At the end of Marx Reloaded, many members of the audience will no doubt be feeling the same way.
Intriguing ideas let down by clumsy presentation, Marx Reloaded is a film more suited to the lecture hall than the multiplex. To those studying Marx, it is highly recommended. The merely curious would be better off investing in a textbook.
Film: Dream Home Release date: 19th November 2010
Certificate: 18 Running time: 96 mins Director: Pang…
Unhappiness can be a bridge to happiness, but try
telling Saga Noren that. The Øresund Bridge, which…
Veteran South Korean Director Lee Myung-se’s take
on stylized action cinema follows the trend set by…