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Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog


The 2003 film ON POWER DISSENT AND RACISM, A DISCUSSION WITH NOAM CHOMSKY, begins with a shot of the earth hanging precariously in space.  The filmmaker, Nicolas Rossier, seems to be telling us something world shaking is about to happen.  When we first glimpse Chomsky, a Professor at MIT, he hardly seems the type to be worthy of the title “Rebel without a pause” bestowed on him by Bono.  His is a decidedly nondescript appearance.  It is the look of an everyman, with the only hint of fire being his modish long hair.  It seems only fair to view the film with an open mind, since Professor Chomsky is often considered by many to be the quintessential radical leftist University hack, a man consumed by hatred for his own country (and strangely enough, Israel). 

At times during the film, it is difficult to digest Chomsky’s words, since Rossier’s approach is so straight forward.  As the title suggests, this is not so much a motion picture as a picture of Chomsky talking.  And talk he does-for nearly 70 minutes, and there is very little to break up the monotony.  The footage of Chomsky being interviewed in his classroom in 2002 is alternated with moments from his 2003 lecture in New York city before the media group Fairness And Accuracy In Reporting.  The topic at both locales is the war on terror conducted by the Bush administration and what the Professor sees as the fascist history of the United States.  He explains that individuals such as Osama Bin Laden hate the U.S. and other western nations  because these powers support corrupt middle eastern regimes that thwart the growth of democracy in that region.  Our support for Israel, Chomsky maintains, is another reason for this unparalleled hatred. 


This potentially heavy subject matter is undercut on at least one occasion during the film when Rossier shows us Chomsky in his classroom discussing Anglo-American military historian Michael Howard’s approach to handling terrorism.  He then cuts to the Professor’s lecture where he says the exact same thing in precisely the same language.  Why show this argument twice?  Though this may be an attempt to emphasize Chomsky’s point, this editing choice only dilutes it. 

It is an interesting moment indeed when Chomsky comments on racism against Arabs, which the Professor claims has always run rampant in America but intensified after 9/11.  Strange, I attended high school with Arab kids in the late 70’s, and so far as I know, they suffered no great torment at the hands of their fellow students.  They seemed to fit in quite nicely.  In fact, when I first encountered them I mistakenly believed they were Sicilian Italians.  Of course, these were Christian Arabs, and it is undeniable that anti-Muslim bigotry has always been with us and has exploded in recent years. 

The final shot of the film is the same as the first: The earth floating quietly (or coldly?) in space.  From the beginning of time until the end of this film, at least, the world has remained constant.  Violent, ugly, the story is the same in every corner of the globe.  Chomsky places special blame on those of us of European ancestry.  Has he forgotten Genghis Khan?  And no one should forget the Cultural Revolution in China, the Sudanese genocide, the Bataan death march and Pol Pot.  Interviewer/director Rossier allows the Professor to do just that.    Perhaps all people are born to be fascists.  With power comes opportunity-to do good or wreak havoc.  The world will usually choose the latter.  It is part of the human condition. 

I watched with an open mind and where did it get me?  I certainly don’t think America is a fascist country, but I am no longer convinced that Chomsky is a loon.  He is ultimately a good and compassionate man who is obviously genuinely concerned about the plight of his fellow human beings.  It is understandable if he occasionally lets his passions get the better of him.  That is part of the human condition as well.


May 19, 2010 Posted by | documentary, film directors, independent film, indieflix, Nicolas Rossier, Noam Chomsky | , , , , , , | 1 Comment