JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Freakonomics (Directors: Heidi Ewing, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Eugene Jarecki, Morgan Spurlock) - June 30, 2012
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Freakonomics

4 4
93 min.

There are no stupid questions

Based largely on their bestselling book of the same name, economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner (cross reference below) have engaged a covey of filmmakers to bring to life five examples of what can happen when really difficult questions are asked.

The result is hardly earth shattering revelations but more engaging bits of cinematic points of view (and you don’t have to read their book to hold your own if the subject of Freakonomics ever comes up at a cocktail party—think Kobo for the lazy).

The premise is simple: examine apparent truths (realtors want to sell for the highest possible price because they are commission based; the crime rate is falling; ritual-rich sumo wrestling is a pure sport) or assumptions (your name determines your destiny; the graduation percentage of grade nine students will increase if improved marks are rewarded with cash) using scientific methods and real data to more plausibly explain the findings than “I think, I feel.”

The most interesting of the lot is the “It’s not Always a Wonderful Life” (marvellously narrated by Melvin Van Peebles). Deftly intercut with footage from the James Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, the surprising drop in major crimes in the ‘90s is explained in two words: legalized abortion. In the aftermath of Roe vs. Wade (1973), few would have predicted that if unwanted pregnancies were ended based on the mother’s right to choose that the talent pool for the next generation of thugs would be much smaller. Is that really the reason or does the system manipulate its own data to prove that various tough-on-crime initiatives are successful? That couldn’t happen, of course. It’s as unlikely as the financial gurus of Wall Street fleecing the public out of billions of dollars even as the likes of Alan Greenspan look on in—apparently—utter amazement.

The only remaining question, perhaps, can provide the answer to all honne (real truth)/tatemae (social façade) dilemmas: How can human nature be prevented? JWR

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