Requiem for the American Dream opens with Noam Chomsky reminiscing about the good ol’ days of the Great Depression. As bad as it got during the Depression, he recalls a shared understanding among the people that this shall pass. Now things are bad again, he claims, and this time nobody seems as optimistic that things will get any better. Of course, it’s perfectly normal that the outlook of a young boy packing into the back of the family truck with Grandma, Grandpa, Ma, Pa, and Uncle Tom and heading to California looking for work (assuming of course that his childhood was exactly like The Grapes of Wrath, which is my only point of reference) is probably a little rosier than that of a cranky 85 year-old linguist but he has my attention. He claims that the disparity between the rich and poor in the US has never been higher, predicting the death of the American Middle Class. Which worries me a little, as a member of said Middle Class.
It all started with America’s beloved forefathers, who understood Democracy’s biggest problem. In a true democracy, with poor people having the right to vote, what’s to stop the underprivileged from voting to take the big fancy houses away from the rich? Hardly seems fair, doesn’t it, since the rich worked so hard for said property? So they were left with two choices: take steps to reduce inequality or to limit democracy. So, according to Chomsky, begins the process of building a system that limits the access of the underprivileged to the highest office in the land.
Honestly, I’m not a fan of documentaries like these. Requiem features four years worth of interviews with Chomsky. Visually, we’re offered only tight close-ups of the renowned political activist’s face that even the most vain of starlets would never agree to along with the occasional stock footage of skyscrapers and highways. The filmmakers seek no other opinions, neither dissenting or complementary, and Chomsky’s lecture is accompanied only by an irritating score from Malcolm Francis.
So it’s not much of a documentary. That doesn’t mean its subject isn’t worth listening to. His observations are as alarming as they are timely. Even better, he has the decency to offer some hope for the future, reminding the American people that their system is set up so that regular people can bring about real change as long as they stop fighting amongst themselves and stand up and make themselves heard. Still, the documentary has nothing to offer but the words of Noam Chomsky. So you’re probably better off just reading some Chomsky.