It also helps to be a complete jerk. No mother, you can't come in, you may be a zombie. Stop whining!
Leftist filmmakers have been churning out polemical documentaries like Fahrenheit 9/11, Supersize Me, Outfoxed, and Who Killed the Electric Car? for some time. The right is just getting started (Mine Your Own Business, IndoctrinateU), but I'm not sure it's a trend worth joining. The movie "Expelled" with Ben Stein as narrator, gives the Intelligent Design controversy the Michael Moore treatment, and suffers for it. All movies in this category are dishonest at some level. For example, Expelled makes a half-hearted attempt to employ the tired trope that the narrator is investigating something. We need a whole new term for the genre. Something like "argumentary" or "propagamentary." Something with mentary at the end.
In a misguided attempt to lighten up a serious topic, the filmmakers constantly splice black and white stock footage into the narrative. For instance, if someone is describing an argument between two parties, we are treated to a shot from some '30's screwball comedy with two guys slapping each other. It's as dumb and annoying as it sounds. The repetition of this juvenile technique significantly detracts from the film's message. The movie also overuses newsreel images of the Berlin Wall to reinforce the metaphor of a barrier that has been put up in Academia to keep discussion of Intelligent Design out. There is so much of it that at times I wondered whether the topic was the Cold War rather than Darwinism.
In terms of content, "Expelled" concentrates on the wrong things. Instead of making the straightforward argument that detecting design in nature is a legitimate line of scientific inquiry, the movie takes a great deal of time to complain of persecution and to draw a link between Darwinism and Hitler. Even for someone like me, who is sympathetic to the charges, the evidence for harassment and suppression seemed scant and the alarmism surrounding it was unnecessary.
While I believe the guilt-by-association ploy with respect to Nazism was both irrelevant to the film's purpose and partially wrong (contra David Berlinski, Darwinism was neither a necessary nor sufficient cause of the Holocaust), Darwinists should not take much comfort. First, their claim that the Nazis misunderstood Darwinism invites some uncomfortable questions about exactly how they got it wrong that would be worth a documentary in and of itself. Second, this defense can be read as hypocritical. They retort, "Don't blame us if some crazies use our theories to do dumb stuff." But they use the same flawed reasoning they rightly criticize to dismiss Intelligent Design ("We can't entertain I.D. because the crazy fundamentalists will use it to implement theocracy!").
The best parts of the movie are the interviews with the atheist Darwinists. The movie would have done much better to let these guys talk more. The moments with William Provine and his honest nihilism were haunting. Dawkins was marvelous as always. His frustration with Stein's laborious and ridiculous ticking off of Dawkin's disbelief in the entire catalog of potential deities was very understandable, and the segment's inclusion in the film was inexcusable. Dawkins gave the whole game away, however, in one unguarded moment when he allowed that super-intelligent aliens may have seeded the earth with biotic material. He allowed that science might be able to detect the "fingerprint" of such activity. His caveat that the aliens themselves would have had to have evolved via a Darwinism rang hollow. He admitted that we can employ scientific principles to perceive design in biology. These ten seconds of dialog nearly redeem the entire project.
A movie enjoying this much attention is a major opportunity to education and persuade. Expelled's failures are disappointing, especially in light of far superior predecessors such as The Privileged Planet. Fortunately, truth is immune to the vicissitudes of its defenders, and we can hope a better case is made in the future.
"15-year-old Tracey Berkowitz is naked under a shower curtain at the back of a bus, looking for her little brother Sonny, who thinks he's a dog."Yeah, this is a film that just begged to be made. Who knows, maybe it will be brilliant (it did get nominated for a pile of Genies). Maybe it will be exactly what it looks like - a bunch of depressed Canadians making an ugly movie because in the film industry ugly=important. This is precisely the kind of movies that get hailed by online critics and undergraduate dimwits as being "intelligent" and "an experience", while those living in the real world roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders.
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