We live in a crazy time. Donald Trump is powerful, Brexit is happening, far-right views are becoming mainstream, the refugee crisis is spiraling, terrorism is a real threat and politics seems to be completely stuck in a rut. Things are fucked, for sure. But Adam Curtis is here to show you that isn't actually the real world.
The prolific filmmaker is back with HyperNormalization, an epic and ambitious three-hour masterpiece outlining why you and I and everyone around us are living in a fake world where propaganda is more common than authenticity. It's the conspiracy film to end all conspiracy films.
Tracing the last 40 years of politics, wars and lies, HyperNormalization details how we aren't actually free and independent, despite how it seems – societal management and control has, in fact, resulted in the opposite.
The film – visualized with stylistic archive footage, chaptered with killer titles and narrated by Curtis, of course – explains how we made it to this strange place of faux-facts, a seemingly normal reality controlled by governments that deceive us to remain in power and avoid having to deal with life's complications.
As Curtis explains, everybody's intertwined in this world in which we're active participants, feeding back into it like the most bittersweet echo chamber.
Curtis's beautiful and relaxing voice explains:
“…politicians, financiers and technological utopians, rather than face up to the real complexities of the world, retreated. Instead, they constructed a simpler version of the world, in order to hang on to power.”
It's a lot to take in – it is Adam Curtis, known for equally jarring documentaries Bitter Lake and Century of the Self, after all – but the conversations HyperNormalization opens up are vital if we're to sort out this fucked-up world.
Other than the most surprising fact of the documentary – President Bashar al-Assad's favorite band is Electric Light Orchestra – there's a lot to learn from and to discuss in HyperNormalization.
Collective ideals have been replaced with individualism
One of HyperNormalization's most important narratives is that, since the 70s, activism has been transformed from powerful social movements into individualism.
Visualized with some stunning clips of a young and disillusioned Patti Smith, Curtis shows how protest now comes in the form of art, music and self-expression rather than revolutionary political movements.
While self-reliance seems like something positive, beneath the surface, it has actually resulted in a generation of anti-activist consumers. Happy days.
Social media is an echo chamber
Although it seems like cyberspace is the only place we can be 100% free, it is not. While we already know we're all narcissists in this modern world, a paramount idea outlined in HyperNormalization is that social media is nothing more than an echo chamber that aims to control how we think and experience the world.
Complex algorithms feed us stuff we already like and information we already believe, resulting in nothing more than ourselves reflected back to us.
The war in Syria isn't what you think
Watching the film and realizing Colonel Gaddafi (the former leader of Libya and a stud when he was young) maybe isn't quite as bad as you thought, is an odd feeling, but a real one after watching this documentary.
Using what Curtis calls "perception management" – and pertaining to the view that the West has more in common with the Middle East than it lets on – the film outlines how Gaddafi was essentially used as a scapegoat for the aims of U.S. and UK politicians, namely George Bush and Tony Blair, who helped Gaddafi become the Middle East revolutionary he always dreamed of becoming.
Politics isn't working anymore
Exploring whether politicians – a bunch of old men in suits – even have the capacity to understand how to best carry the world forward, Curtis questions the effectiveness of politics in the modern world altogether. He argues that everything is in such chaos, even politicians have no clue what's going on.
UFOs and aliens were created by America
Tracing the secret history of political lies, HyperNormalization details how, in order to maintain their agenda, governments have been feeding us lies in various forms. Curtis explains how alien sightings were fabricated by the U.S. to hide the testing of hyper-developed American weapons – people weren't seeing UFOs at all. According to Curtis: "They had created a fake conspiracy to mislead."
Nothing is real or true
Following the former points and the overall theme of HyperNormalization, the most important conclusion of the documentary is that we are living in a fabricated world. As nihilistic as it sounds, everything around us has been created by the powerful forces at large around us. Now that you can see it, what are you going to do about it?
You can watch Adam Curtis's HyperNormalization on BBC iPlayer now.