Nothing’s Shocking (or Revelatory) About ‘The Shock Doctrine’

Good source material can't save this too fast for deep thought film from becoming an oozing mess.

The Shock Doctrine

Distributor: Zeitgeist
Cast: Naomi Klein
Directors: Michael Winterbottom, Mat Whitecross
Release date: 2011-10-18

Based on Naomi Klein’s book or the same name, The Shock Doctrine examines the role that radical “free market” policies have played in shaping the modern political landscape. One of the film’s greatest villains is late economist Milton Freidman, the man who, in crude terms, sought to drive a stake into the heart of government regulation once and for all. Like you-know-who in the Rolling Stones classic “Sympathy For The Devil”, directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross tell us, Friedman was present or at the heart of virtually every major eruption of free market capitalism and the subsequent upheaval it wrought upon various cultures in its wake.

The other September 11––the 1973 United States-sponsored coup d’état which saw then Chilean president Salvador Allende overthrown (Allende subsequently committed suicide) and replaced by military dictator Augusto Pinochet––was, the film argues, a watershed moment for the kind of economic policies Friedman advocated. (In the film they’re referred to as policies coming from the Chicago school––Friedman was a longtime faculty member at the University of Chicago.) September 11 1973 was a pivotal moment that paved the way for Thatcher’s Britain and the subsequent chasm between the wealthy and the poor there and to Ronald Reagan’s scorched earth economic policies. (Friedman was an economic advisor to Reagan.)

All of this, of course, led to the war on terror, the war in Iraqi, the circuitous policies of the George W. Bush years, the close friendship between Thatcher and the notoriously cruel Pinochet, the rise of military contractors and their wealth, the threat of the privatization of education in America, the brutality of poverty in American and elsewhere, and so on.

All that in a throroughly exhausting 82 minutes.

Indeed, the breakneck pace is one of the The Shock Doctrine's greatest problems. Winterbottom and Whitecross hustle through these events with a superficiality that rivals sophomore research papers. Shock therapy, which works as the main metaphor in Klein’s book, gets lost in the early minutes of the film and revisited somewhat clumsily at the picture’s end. Along with archival footage there are scenes of Klein delivering lectures––about as exciting as it sounds––and a few other blink-and-you-miss-it moments with some of the characters who populate the book and whose stories need to be told in greater depth for us to understand the full impact Friedman-style economics have had.

It all happens so fast that we don’t really have time to absorb the magnitude of the implications and thus the conclusions reached––or, rather, haphazardly suggested––are not as convincing as they might be were we given more evidence and allowed to think for ourselves. The 1973 Chilean coup itself would have made a fascinating documentary as would an in-depth exploration of the brutality unleashed in Yeltsin’s Russia.

This DVD issue offers no extras, save for the film's trailer; those seeking additional insights into The Shock Doctrine will have to look elsewhere. In short, rather than a seminar we have a survey that doesn’t so much ask us to think as it asks us to believe and that is perhaps the great disappointment of The Shock Doctrine.


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