One hundred and fifty years ago, say the filmmakers, the corporation was a relatively significant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic and pervasive presence in all our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today's dominant institution. The film explores corporations' pathological pursuit of profit, and how corporations created unprecedented wealth - but at what cost, ask the filmmakers.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Having had a continuous business arrangement with Australia's largest corporation for the past six years or so (and a couple of second rankers as well), I have a bug's eye view of corporate culture, which provides me a particular perspective of this film.
I see The Corporation as a (rather long) shrink session, with 'the corporation' as the client. This view is enhanced by the film's early clarification of how the corporation emerged as a legal 'person' in the mid 1800s. The word 'corp' is of course from the Latin 'corpus' for 'body'. But it's the collective psyche that we're talking about here, and The Corporation makes an early diagnosis: that this client suffers from a syndrome best described as the pathological pursuit of profit. The film posits, not too originally, that sometimes this is not a good thing for the wider community.
While there are other well worn judgements paraded here, and if the style of the film is good old fashioned doco making with plenty of overlaid images to ensure visual satisfaction, the film does offer a number of fascinating insights, between trotting out the predictable likes of Noaomi Kline (author of No Logo), MIT Professor Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore.
For instance, there is a moment that makes you really think in triplicate, when a commodities broker reveals, with a degree of self recrimination, that the thought that flashed through his and his colleagues' mind after the terrorists flew jets into New York's two towers of trade, was that their clients who were 'in' gold would make a windfall profit. At first, you recoil from this seemingly callous reaction; but our sense of outrage is primarily driven by the death toll, and we may gradually accept that the broker and his peers are just as sickened by the event as we are. To relate some of the consequences to their own world is perhaps just human. It isn't a gleeful observation he makes, but a fateful one.
Exploring the mindset of corporate players, the filmmakers say that those who work within corporations may be good people, decent, caring and fair; but not necessarily so when they go to work. I can attest to this theory being proven in daily dealings with my clients. Corporate lawyers, for instance, usually protect their clients at any moral cost. This subject has been exercised in films such as Erin Brokovich, where otherwise honourable men (women lawyers, too) act dishonourably for the sake of the corporate entity that employs them. This locking up of a person's natural morality and decency is the most pernicious corruption perpetrated by the corporation.
The film concludes that there may be a global reaction to the power of the corporation, and a renewal of the concept of citizenship, in which we take back local power, suppress the negative aspects of corporate power and promote the concept of democracy between The Individual and The Corporation.
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CORPORATION, THE (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring Jane Akre, Ray Anderson, Maude Barlow, Chris Barrett, Noam Chomsky, Peter Drucker, Samuel Epstein, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore and more...
PRODUCER: Mark Achbar, Bart Simpson
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar
SCRIPT: Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mark Achbar, Rolf Cutts, Jeff Koffman, Kirk Tougas
EDITOR: Jennifer Abbott
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art Direction: Henry Faber
RUNNING TIME: 145 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Gil Scrine Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 2, 2004