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Inequality for All

Dartmouth Films

The Divide (2016)

Director Katharine Round has a clear political agenda here, which is fine. The marketing tagline is “What happens when the rich get richer?” The trouble is that this is not remotely what her movie is really about. It’s a simple setup: She follows seven different people who talk about how their lives are affected by their jobs. The Americans are a Walmart employee, a fast-food clerk, a stay-at-home mother in a gated community, a psychiatrist to the wolves of Wall Street and a man who’s been in prison for more than 20 years. (There are also two British participants, a care worker and a drug addict, who add unfortunately little to the film.) Vignettes of their lives are interspersed with talking-head commentary about the financial crisis and how the international financial markets have been shaped by political choices during the last 30 or so years.

But Ms. Round has missed her movie’s real point: Every single one of her subjects is afraid. They are worried about what happens if they miss work for even a few days due to things like major surgery or being in a coma. They are worried about how their time is scheduled and how little control they have over it. They are worried about the schools they are sending their children to. They are worried about how little time they spend with their children, and how their children are impacted on work having to be their priority. They are worried that their homes are not safe, or will not stay worthwhile investments. The prisoner worries about how he’s been changed by his time instead, and how he’s going to eat once he gets out. Some of the struggles are a little amusing — such as the people in the gated communities striving to outdo each other with pimped-out golf carts — but even these make plain the fear that exists on the capitalist treadmill.

So why was the movie purportedly about the divide between the rich and the poor, and not about the fear of what happens when capitalism is the only way? Why were the different people all shot alone — although only the black interviewee’s behind-the-scenes clips were included, which is problematic — instead of being brought together to discuss their problems and work together to find solutions? Toward the end of the film, it becomes apparent three of the participants were discovered via their public involvement in workers’ rights protests, and yet the word “union” isn’t mentioned once. If the differing ethos of individualism versus collective action aren’t even discussed in a documentary that is meant to be a call to arms, then individualism has won; there’s no argument; KO. And the trouble is it doesn’t seem Ms. Round even thought of that.

She managed to recruit an impressive array of economic thinkers, including Noam Chomsky; but as the movie stands, she edited the footage to suit her agenda instead of discovering her agenda from the footage in front of her. But her agenda as it stands is a holler into the void. There's nothing here to convince a rich person that perhaps there's an easier way for him or her to maintain his or her comfort. And the working-class people already know what they are going through. So as it is, what arms are we meant to be called to? Imagine how much more interesting “The Divide” would have been if the director had listened to her interviewees and built her rallying cry on their shoulders instead of their backs.


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