The Inside Job

I saw a preview screening of the documentary, The Inside Job over the weekend, and loved it.

I didn’t love it for being even-handed, because it wasn’t exactly that–it was definitely more an op-ed piece than objective journalism–but it didn’t pretend to be otherwise. And of course, the opinion expressed seemed very reasonable given the events that have occurred.

I love documentaries that manage to incorporate just enough “topic 101” to ensure that I can follow the bigger narrative, and that make me feel more educated after it’s over, and The Inside Job accomplished that. I gained insight into how our financial system works, and learned some fascinating vocabulary words like “leverage” and “CDO.” Now I can maybe understand these terms in the next magazine article I read–or to be honest, so that I can actually read a whole article. It’s a little ironic, since a movie is a visual medium capable of so much more, but I think my favorite images were the power-point type charts, like one that showed the flow from borrowers to lenders, to investment firms to investors, and another that explained how companies could by insurance against CDOs. If I could add one thing to the film’s website, it would be the charts, so I could post them here!

I went to the screening with my friend Benjamin, who noted that while the movie encourages us to not let financial institutions continue in the way they have been, it does not offer much in the way of tangible actions we can take. As an example he noted how the film focuses on incestuous relationship between academia, government and large corporations are (the academics at elite educational institutions are hired as consultants at large corporation, while high-level executives at big corporations are hire by the government), but the film doesn’t offer any options for alternate hiring practices. Ferguson (the filmmaker) seems pretty down on Obama’s picks for various offices, but one can’t help but see that Obama’s position is a difficult one. It seems intuitive, when hiring someone to oversee the economy, to look to people who have been very successful operating within the economy, because that implies a deep understanding. The caveat though, as this film points out, is that if their success is hinged on corrupt and self-serving practices, then we can’t trust them to be honest and put the public interest first. So it might have been nice to hear some thoughts about where we should be looking for economic leadership instead.

However, a film of any kind has limitations of scope–an audience only has a certain attention span, and I think the film does a great job of operating within that, and does so by necessarily narrowing its focus to a kind of enraged reportage of what has happened and where we are now. And I think understanding is a good start. If those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, then those of us who don’t understand history it even as it is being made around us are in the same sinking boat. Opportunities may come up for each us to have opinions and make decisions, either at the ballot box or in our personal lives, and a bit of understanding will be welcome.

The movie opens this week in New York and then has a rolling release–Los Angeles is Oct 15, and it will hit cities like Tallahassee and Indianapolis in November. I highly encourage you to check it out.

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