Occasionally a movie comes along, based on a book, that inspires people to run out and pick up a copy and actually read. It doesn't happen often and in today's world where more people are in tune with a visual experience as opposed to a reading one, when it does happen it's wonderful. Such is the case with FREAKONOMICS.
Based on the best seller of the same name, the book was written by economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner. It focused on Levitt's research into the causality of numerous topics as explained via economics and tabulated information. The interesting thing, as he states, is that in seeking reasons for various topics people think things are connected to something else but it turns out not being the case. Trust me, its less complicated than you think and easier to understand than you would expect but more so after watching this film.
To make a movie out of the book, they chose 4 different notable documentary directors and went to work. Each one has their own look and feel, but all incorporate into the general picture at hand. The first is one of the most well known, Morgan Spurlock who did SUPER SIZE ME. Here he takes on the question of what is in a name.
The question here is is a person judged and their life set up early on by what their parents name them? Beginning with the example of a young girl named after Tempest Bledsoe of COSBY fame whose mother couldn't spell resulting in the name Temptress, we find that it wasn't her name so much as her environment that formed her life. But there's more to it than that. The choice of names and how they affect everything from your job acceptance to your place in society is discussed with results different than one might expect.
But back to the original premise of the film, where one would think that a person's name might be the reason for the life that the end up with, the truth is that it is more their surroundings. Thus the expectations of people are proved wrong when the facts are sought out.
A section on cheating focuses on sumo wrestlers in Japan. Sure, you might not be interested in two big men in diapers fighting one another, but that's not the point. The discussion forms around sumo being a traditional sport surrounded in religion and honor that was corrupted. So much so that the results of matches could be predicted. What brought about this change from honor to corruptibility?
One segment deals with incentives and what we expect once more versus the outcome. Here, a group of students are given the incentive to do well in school by being promised $50 each time their grade cards come out if they show improvement and a few other items like attendance. Those that do well qualify for a $500 check at year's end as well as a stretch limo ride. Does this incentive help increase school activity? Watch and see.
The fourth section discusses the reported drop in crime rates during the 80s. Politicians spoke endlessly about how they had achieved this, citing the increase in policemen on the streets as the biggest reason. In researching the date, Levitt and crew discovered that police were only a small portion of the reason crime decreased. The main reason, nearly 49% worth, was...well again, watch and see.
The movie is well made and follows an interesting path. It starts out simple, discussing selling your home and real estate agents (trust me it's interesting) just to set up the film's/book's idea and then presenting the different theories focused on in an intelligent and still entertaining way.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it will make you look at the world from a different standpoint. You won't tend to accept things at face value and will look deeper into why things happen. You might even choose to pick up a copy of the book and see how they applied themselves to discover the real answers to some different questions.
All in all, the film is a treat, making it enjoyable as well as informative. That's a rare combination to find in films these days. Rare still is the fact that you have a documentary that doesn't preach one political side or another, it just informs. And to me that makes it a great documentary.