Film Review: Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth

The information it imparts is often important and definitely enlightening, but, God help us, the general delivery is as dry as dust.

Raoul Martinez and Joshua van Praag’s Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth addresses many of the world’s ills, focusing on so-called democratic societies which, in terms of the schism between the haves and have-nots and the governing systems which perpetuate it, are anything but equal. To explain all this, the filmmakers rely heavily on theories of behavioral psychology, as espoused by interviewed pundits like physicist Vandana Shiva, psychologist Steven Pinker, historian Howard Zinn, philosopher Daniel Dennett, activist Michael Albert and journalist George Monbiot.

Providing more of a lecture than a film, Martinez and van Praag try to inject visual interest amidst all the talking-heads footage with a plethora of B-roll sequences of everything from 9/11 to Kafkaesque shots of anonymous urbanites prowling their cities in a soulless daily grind of not-too-gainful employment. All this while an almost risibly portentous narrator, who recalls Citizen Kane’s “News on the March” guy, intones observations like “We are not born free and to take our freedom for granted is to extinguish the possibility of attaining it.”

One of the film’s most pressing questions is what happened to the 1960s spirit of revolution, replaced by a universal complacency in the face of recurrent, blatant injustice. Footage is shown from the Milgram experiment, conducted at Yale in 1961, which calibrated people’s obedience to authority figures, even those as heinous as the Ku Klux Klan or the Nazis who dreamed up the Holocaust. (Our narrator again: ‘History suggests that there is neither a belief too bizarre nor an action too appalling for humans to embrace, given the necessary cultural influences.”)

To call this film dry would be an understatement, and while it makes myriad strong and valid points, its oppressively didactic approach and overall ambiance, and relative lack of real, lived human experience too often call up the classroom and make it something of an audience endurance test, rife as it is with weighty pronouncements by all those very learned ones. A welcome breakthrough in all this is Shiva’s realization that her education in nuclear research did not take into account the human aspect of the results of radiation, causing her to change career directions. A few more a-ha moments like that, instead of so much prognostic jawing away to illustrate every light bulb glowing in these fervent brains, would have been more than welcome here.