So Much Less Than Moore in 'Corporation'
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page C05
The only thing lacking from "The Corporation" is the colon and the subtitle -- ": Threat or Menace?"
In other words, this is another unhelpful screed, uncontaminated by sense or perspective, that preaches loudly to the choir. The choir will probably love it ("Fabulous, eye-opening and triumphantly humane" -- leftwingnutbag.com) and most others will happily ignore it.
Screeds, of course, can be diverting, even charming, finally entertaining, as Michael Moore has made a fortune proving. But so devoid of any of these virtues is "The Corporation" that its best moments are actually lifted from Moore's film "The Big One," in which he cavorts charmingly but to excellent point with Phil Knight, the head of Nike. Otherwise, the new film is mostly talking-head interviews with such droning didacts as Noam Chomsky, who could put a left-wing insomniac into a coma in about nine seconds. It's fair and balanced in exactly the way the right-wing variant of this sort of thing claims to be fair and balanced. That is, not a damn bit.
Its most flamboyant rhetorical trope is risible, to say the least. It attempts to infer from the corporation's legal identity as a person (a source of great bitterness to the filmmakers, by the way) a diagnosis of a person -- in this case, a diagnosis of pathology. It goes, therefore, to great and obvious pains to match aspects of corporate behavior (by anecdote, not case law or substantial statistical proof) with identifiers of the mental category called psychopathology. Thus corporations "avoid the truth," "refuse to feel guilt" and so forth. Yes, they do; but so, too, do most large organizations, such as the United States Army or the Roman Catholic Church or the International Socialist Organization. That is the nature of large organizations with policy agendas; in them, forever and ever, people occasionally forget their moral identities.
The film's directors, Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar, are of course almost completely predictable in the imagery they select to illustrate their points. They love, for example, early 20th-century archival film of giant steam-driven shovels raping and pillaging and gouging and crushing and smashing and ripping and tearing and ripping and raping and pillaging and gouging the earth. Smokestacks belching furious, napalm-like gushes of oxidizing phosphors are another favorite, as are -- O, easiest and cheapest of shots -- '50s educational films in which Chad, the boy in the glasses, explains to Mary and Billy how corporations help us all.
It goes on and on and on, raping, pillaging and gouging, for several centuries. I think it could be argued that the film itself is psycho, it's so humorless and unrelenting. It seems to worship some collectivist Camelot in the past where everything was free and there was enough for everybody and the Earth was green. Archaeologists have yet to confirm that such an age existed.
And it seems to offer no meaningful alternative to corporate economies. Would we want to turn everything over to the government? It seems to me that's been tried, without much success. But the movie hasn't the time or the inclination to explore middle grounds by which corporate responsibility could be incentivized. It's the angry guy at the party who stands too close and spits while he talks.
The Corporation (145 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated but contains no salacious material.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
A showdown at Nike headquarters is one of the few redeeming moments of the almost comically humorless leftist screed.