As one of the most well-known intellectuals and documentary subjects in the world, Noam Chomsky needs no introduction, and he doesn't receive one in this chilling documentary. Instead, the film opens in silence as Chomsky stares back, his face lit like a Rembrandt portrait: all white face on inky black, eyes rheumy but blazing.
The camera rarely shifts from the linguist and political thinker’s face. When it does, it's to show us the Statue of Liberty or American flags framed by sunshine — shorthand images for the American Dream, a concept that, at root, says Chomsky, equals class mobility. But unlike generations who lived through the Great Depression, he insists, Americans today have no hope that their class status will improve.
In long-form interviews, Chomsky outlines 10 principles for how “the masters” who occupy the top 1% of the economic hierarchy maintain control over the rest of us. Here, as in his political writings, Chomsky forms a coherent argument for class revolution by connecting disparate-seeming institutions and laws. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, for example, essentially allowed corporations to control political advertising. Chomsky argues that the economic majority has been continuously led to vote against its interests, and today is left confused as to why its financial future looks so dire.
The film lacks visual ingenuity, but the point isn't to show us something new — it's to tell us something we might not have heard. And what Chomsky says is as unsettling as it is persuasive. But he's hopeful. America remains the freest nation in the world, he says, and if the people realize that potential, everything can change.