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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Canadian Film Review: The Corporation (2003)

* * * 1/2

Director: Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott

"Some of the best creative minds are employed to assure our faith in the corporate world view. They seduce us with beguiling illusions, designed to divert our minds and manufacture our consent." The Corporation is one of those movies you watch with a divided mind. On the one hand, at some level, the film is telling you a lot of what you already know but, on the other hand, you'd also prefer not to acknowledge it since it's so damn depressing. The Corporation has a nice thread of dark humor running through it, which alleviates things a little bit, but the film's subject is still depressing to think about.

The Corporation traces the evolution of the business corporation from a relatively small and very controlled part of business life to the all-consuming, world dominating entity that it is today. To make their case, directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott focus on a United States Supreme Court Case from 1886 in which corporations were afforded the rights of persons. As persons, corporation have greater power (for example, they can own other corporations, which they couldn't prior to the 1886 decision), but they also have less accountability than an actual human person. If a human person commits a crime, they can go to jail - you can't send a corporation to jail, you can only fine it and if the fine for doing something illegal is less than the cost of doing things legally in the first place, well... It's a very scary thought.

Achbar and Abbott use the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV as the framework for the film, eventually coming around to diagnosing the modern corporation as a psychopath. It's difficult to argue with their assessment, though it must also be acknowledged that the film is terribly one-sided. Certainly, it would be difficult in pretty much any set of circumstances to muster sympathy for the bottom-line focused corporations of the world, but the alternatives suggested by the film are presented in a way that's far too simplistic and ignores the fact that some of history's greatest atrocities have been committed in non-Capitalist countries.

The film features a wealth of interviews from people with various levels of involvement within and working against corporations, some more compelling and interesting than others. For me, the most interesting interview subject was Ray Anderson, who talks at length about trying to find a way to conduct business in a sustainable way and how he came around to this particular point-of-view. There are also interviews with Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Moore, who points out that many of his films are attacks on corporation that are funded by corporations. When even anti-corporate sentiment can be commodified and turned into profit, what hope is there of escaping from corporate domination?

At 145 minutes, The Corporation is perhaps longer than it absolutely needs to be but I think that it's paced well-enough that you hardly notice. It also helps, of course, that it approaches its subject in such a vigorous and thought-provoking way. All in all, I found The Corporation to be rather riveting.

1 comment:

Famous Women in Business said...

But for a film that spent much time on the status of corporations as persons, it was surprising that there was no mention of the growing "Corporate Death Penalty" movement--if corporations enjoy the rights of people, shouldn't they also qualify for the ultimate punishment when they kill?