It seems we Americans are indebted to Canada for a great deal more
than brilliant comedians and affordable prescription drugs, as they
have given us this outstanding political documentary film, which
affords us an invaluable glimpse into the nature of the business
institution that now seems to define us, both as a nation and as
a people. We would do well to wake up and pay attention.
This is it folks. The Corporation seizes the holy grail
of political documentary filmmaking, presenting complicated ideas
in such an informative, persuasive, and entertaining way as to change
opinions and motivate people to go out and make a difference. It
may come as no great surprise that this film is an indictment rather
than a celebration of its titular subject, but the comprehensive
understanding that it achieves in presenting its argument is nothing
less than extraordinary.
In actual research, The Corporation is exhaustive. It
covers the origins and historical development of the corporation
as business institution in as painless a way as possible. It is
not boring, after all, because this is not a history with which
we are at all familiar. For instance, it turns out that the corporation
as a business entity is afforded the same rights as an individual,
so the film does a pathological analysis of the corporation as if
it were an actual individual, with predictable but compelling results.
The Corporation also provides interviews with all manner
of people intimate with corporate machinations, from virtually every
conceivable point of view. The film recognizes the amazing accomplishments
of corporations and marvels at the efficiency. Then there are the
expected detailed case histories of corporate misadventures, being
familiar to all of us, but there are also some examples that will
probably be horrifyingly new. Even where we are most familiar and
dismissive of corporate malfeasance, the film establishes a contextual
understanding that should shock you out of complacence.
The Corporation does not achieve this through the predictable
fear-mongering and sermonizing that you might expect, but through
long and considered arguments that it hammers meticulously and relentlessly.
That may make the film sound worse than a term paper or a political
convention, but don’t let that scare you; it really is remarkably
entertaining. The better comparison would be to a parody of a corporate
training film, which the film structurally mocks but uses to good
organizational advantage. Illustrative graphics and actual excerpts
from various old “educational” films provide welcome
relief and a few laughs. But even here, the message of the humor
always seems to add a new dimension to the topic at that moment.
Sometimes the implications of these asides are so deeply meaningful
that you scarcely know which message to ponder.
In my opinion, the editing and direction of this film are done with
a skill that invites comparison to the musical masters of the symphonic
form, a very useful analogy. Like most symphonies, this film is
serious stuff. Each theme is an important political thought, and
the implications of that thought are expressed, supported, and developed
through a variety of means (film clips, anecdotal interviews, talking
heads expressing philosophical opinions, corporate documentation
of its own malfeasance), almost like hearing it played by different
instruments. There is even the counter-point of dissenting opinions,
which do not confuse the issue at hand, but make it even more interesting
and complex. Rather than trying to reduce your thoughts to the conclusion
of an endlessly repeated pop chorus, this film encourages you to
think about many things at once, or you get to choose. This film
sweeps over you, rather than slapping you around. In these days
of swift-boat politics, this deep-water approach is very refreshing.
Even the actual music in the film is relatively subtle and rarely
I’ll admit that not everyone can sit through a symphony, and
at a running time of 145 minutes, this film makes demands on the
viewer, but you simply have to regard the enormity of their task.
How can you possibly hope to distract a nation, or the parts of
the world, that has blissfully suckled at the teat of unbridled
capitalism? As it turns out, the milk that sustains us might be
tainted with pus, literally. I’ll indulge them a little excess.
One last point: Remember the question that was circulating after
9/11? “Why do they hate us?” The answer is not as simple
as “They are just jealous of all our freedom,” and this
film will give you a far more intelligent and even-handed explanation
than we would ever have reason to expect. Even if you worship at
the corporate church, I don’t feel that I should have to argue
as to why this is important. You just need to see the film.