Adam Curtis is easily one of the most thought-provoking documentary film makers of our time, and Pandora's Box is his first multi-part deep dive, covering the fallout from political and technocratic rationalism.
Although not Adam Curtis' first documentary film, this series (originally aired in 1992) deviated from his prior conventional documentaries in artistic presentation, style, and subject matter. He blends music with collages of editing cuts in sequences that highlight subject matter instead of detract from it.
This unique artistic production makes Pandora's Box a very engaging series, as well as all of his following documentary works shot in this style. Pandora's Box is absolutely bingeworthy, but unlike the endless and mindless Hollywood TV series available for bingewatching, you won't feel like you've wasted your day on this one.
I don't generally recommend watching not-so-current documentary films, but Pandora's Box is just as relevant and eye-opening now as it was when it first aired. It is hard to summarize this work as a whole, but Curtis' films all touch on societal issues, how governments and corporations manipulate their subjects, and most of all, how the ruling class and elites force their ideologies on the world.
Pandora's Box - E1 (The Engineers' Plot)
The first of six, this episode covers the Bolsheviks and their attempt to make the world more "rational." I am originally from Indiana, and until I watched this film, I didn't even know the Soviets copied the former industrial powerhouse of Gary, Indiana, in an attempt to re-create a sort of American industrial dream. A theme of treating citizens like statistics and failed attempts to control the masses in machine-like ways pervades this episode
Pandora's Box - E2 (To The Brink Of Eternity)
In this episode you'll see how "game theory" grabbed the interest of the United States government, and how they attempted to use this way of thinking to stay one step ahead in the Cold War. Mathematicians were hired by the RAND Corporation to develop strategies to control the world and enemies of the state. In methods very similar to the Soviets, they attempted to use data to control and manipulate the world, but failed to acknowledge the unpredictability of human beings.
Pandora's Box - E3 (The League of Gentlemen)
No we head over to the UK, and we see how Labour and Conservative governments attempted to follow what they thought were scientific laws to create prosperity and recapture the glory of the past. Economists convinced ruling Margaret Thatcher there were fool-proof technical ways using the "science of money" to steer the country back on track. We are now seeing a recurring theme here, a way o thinking very similar to the Soviets and Americans, which also ultimately failed.
Pandora's Box - E4 (Goodbye Mrs. Ant)
This one is all about the now-banned in many countries DDT, an insecticide that has caused unknowable amounts of human health and environmental damage around the world. Once again the recurring theme of using scientific methods to control unpredictable things (nature) remains, and we see how chemical corporations thought they were harnessing powers of evolution.
Although it took far too long, thanks to Rachel Carson and her groundbreaking book 'Silent Spring,'managed to shift the public perception of chemicals, but also failed to immediately impact the use of pesticides.
Pandora's Box - E5 (Black Power)
Over to 1950s and 1960s Ghana now, and how President Kwame Nkrumah attempted to use technology and science to turn newly independent Ghana into an industrialized modern nation. This vision would be achieved via the Volta Dam project and the electricity it provided. Nkrumah became increasingly dictatorial and internationally isolated with time, and ultimately the dam project failed to bring swift economic prosperity to Ghana.
Pandora's Box - E6 (A Is For Atom)
In the final episode of this series, we're going atomic, and looking at how scientists and politicians thought they could reinvent the world with with limitless energy. This aired when the Chernobyl disaster was still very fresh in the minds of the world, and great global PR efforts were made to assure a disaster like this would never happen again. Well, when profit motives are a priority, safety takes a back seat, and Fukushima was a harsh reminder we still haven't faced the problems head on yet.
Stay tuned for another Adam Curtis documentary exploration...
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