Freakonomics (2010) – Film Review

Freakonomics attempts to unveil the 'hidden side of everything' in this documentary...

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Freakonomics provides enlightening insight into ‘the hidden side of everything’. Writers Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner narrate and discuss the topics covered in the film. Spanning across different spectrums of the human world, Freakonomics offers an engaging lesson regarding the relationship between sociology, economics and humanity, making otherwise rather stuffy subject areas amusing and entertaining.

Combining absorbing stories, fun graphics and an enjoyably simple soundtrack, the film offers an entertaining mix of informational tidbits including chapter-like segments from some of the best directors in the documentary arena, including Alex Gibney and Morgan Spurlock (the latter being best known for Super-size Me). The segments they provide cover varying topics ranging from parenthood to sumo wrestling.

Freakonomics is a film that is not only aware of its literary roots but is one that openly embraces it. Whilst each of the segments are given chapter-like introductions, the graphics and diagrams are innocent echoes of the book on which most of the documentary is based. Its open reflection of its paperback counterpart offers a neat edge to the film and makes its content more accessible to those who may have been put off reading the several-hundred page book.

The facts presented in the film are revealing and are presented in an engaging way. In the section entitled ‘A Roshunda By Any Other Name’ the importance of a person’s name on the life they lead is explored leading to some fascinating insights. Through its sociological research, it manages to bust some myths whilst bringing some home truths to light. Be warned though, as it lists names that are linked to certain successes you may just fear for your own. Freakonomics‘s light-hearted approach runs throughout the film and you will find yourself chuckling when the tale of how a man named one son Winner and another Loser is told. You just couldn’t make it up.

The film shines brightest when it tests the success of using incentives in ‘Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed’. Both moving and captivating, this section applies the film’s principle of uncovering the truth behind life’s little mysteries to real people and makes for enthralling viewing. Ultimately proving you can only provide help to those who want to be helped, the people featured in this section provide the film with characters who are easily empathised with.

Through its examining of the human condition the film explores humanity’s moral compass and the importance we, as a society, place on honna (truth) and tatmae (facade) whilst making some bold (yet very convincing) statements. Interestingly, for example, Levitt proposes that the American legalisation of abortions in 1973 led to the low crime rates of the 1990’s. It may sound daft but, after watching the film, it seems likely that Levitt’s assumptions are correct.

Although they openly admit their work wont change lives Levitt and Dubner, through Freakonomics, manage to challenge some comfortable notions. After watching the film you will be left with the feeling that you now view the world a little differently after being shown how to see through the information we are endlessly bombarded with. Freakonomics is thought-provoking, and, although it may centre primarily on the U.S., it offers some interesting lessons for everyone to learn from from two economists simply trying to get a handle on the world around them.

Best segment: This would either be ‘Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed’ or ‘Pure Corruption’
Best line: Comes from the wise-guy wit of one of the teens featured in ‘ Can a Ninth Grader Be Bribed to Succeed’: ‘I can promise you milk and cookies, but if the oven is broke, you’re just getting milk’
Best song: The credits peel by to the sound of This Too Shall Pass by OK Go

The book has sold over 4 million copies worldwide

Bradley says: Freakonomics makes for fascinating viewing.

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