Freakonomics (2010)

Freakonomics (2010) — Economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner publishes their books Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics to “explore the hidden side of everything.” Now with the aid of five documentarians they have urns that into a movie, finding connections where they aren’t readily apparent. The movie also sets to dunking theories that have mistaken correlation for causation. The first segment is called “A Roshanda By Any Other Name” and is directed by Super Size Me and 30 Days film-maker Morgan Spurlock. It explores the extent to which someone’s given name can affect their chances of success. Spurlock brings his usual charm and sense of humor to the segment. The second segment is “Pure Corruption,” directed by Alex Gibney (Client 9, Gonzo). It’s about organizational cheating in sumo wrestling, which is hard to detect unless you look at the numbers (and is a big deal in Japan, apparently). I admittedly got a bit distracted by other things during this segment and found it the least interesting. The third segment is “It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life,” directed by Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight, The Trials of Henry Kissinger). It is probably the most controversial claim in the movie. In the late 1980s crime was at an all-time high and only expected to rise, but it unexpected dropped significantly in the 90s. Many factors were cited as potential reasons: innovative police strategy, harsher sentencing, the better economy, etc. While Levitt and Dubner admit those reasons do play a role, the much more significant factor was Roe Vs. Wade in 1973. The babies that weren’t born due to abortion’s legalization would have reached adulthood in the early 90s. Since unwanted children are much more likely to enter into lives of crime, the reduction of unwanted children led to a reduction in crime. Levitt and Dubner try to cover their asses by insisting that this is an observation of fact and not a pro-choice argument, but that seems like a cop-out to me. The final segment is “Can You Bribe a Ninth Grader to Succeed?” directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, directors of Jesus Camp (the scariest movie I have ever seen). It is about exactly what it sounds like. I think it completely neglects the underlying problem of the educational system: a uniform approach to a variety of people with different learning styles. The kid who is shown failing all his classes builds a working tattoo needle out of an electric toothbrush, a guitar string, and a pen so clearly he has something going on upstairs. Anyway while it did leave some questions unanswered I felt Freakonomics was interesting and entertaining.

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