Few years back, a book called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better came out and it divided people into one of two camps. The first camp were those that believed a balanced, egalitarian society would lead to a better, more improved world. The second camp, however, touch themselves while thinking about Atlas Shrugged, all the while a dead eyed poster of Ronald Regan looks down on them, judging them favourably. The Divide (2016) is an adaption of The Spirit Level though maybe inspired is a better word since neither of the authors were involved in the making, only appearing as commentators in between the fly on the wall parts. And it is an impressive list of commentators, market insiders and academics such as Noam Chomsky, Ha-Joon Chang and a list of other people you don’t know but pretend you do when your friend points them out so not to feel like the plebeians we all secretly are. The rest of the documentary contains interviews with people on opposite sides of the wealth divide, such as the widow, working in KFC while struggling to provide for her family in the inner city ghetto, the home care worker in Tyneside, and the rich psychologist working in Wall St with the incredibly punchable face.
Now, I wouldn’t call myself a leftist as such, it’s just I want to eat the rich in the ashes of the Houses of Parliament. Despite this world view I decided to go into The Divide as neutral as possible. Having finished watching it I am now wondering whether I should have ketchup or BBQ sauce with my investment banker.
What The Divide does better than anything I have seen is to perform a side by side autopsy on the problems and lives of people on both ends of the spectrum. It becomes incredibly hard, incredibly quickly to feel sympathy for the Wall St psychologist when he complains about not getting to see his children because he’s working all day on sessions to earn $1500 from each of his clients when held up to the mother of two working for minim wage who is on the go from six in the morning to nine at night. The plight of the mother living in a gated community, upset at the coldness of her neighbours who deem her common for working her own garden pales into nothingness when compared to the man serving a 25 year sentence for having a gram of weed due to the Three Strikes rule.
So is The Divide perfect? No of course not, don’t be stupid. One of the main, glaring issues is that despite being billed as a UK/US movie, it spends most of its time tramping around the States in what feels like the most depressing episode of Wish you were here? . After a while I forgot who the Tyneside care worker was, had to stop and go back to remember her. The story of the unemployed recovering alcoholic in Calton, were male life expectancy sits at 54 years of age is a story that needs to be told. Government policy is not directly singled out, the implications are there, in news reel footage but it is only taken head on once, when Alan Budd apologised for the trickledown economics of the 1980’s, nor are the payday loan companies taken head on.
The Divide is a good documentary, great even. It provides a human face to the wealth gap and inequality, it provides information to arm ourselves with. It makes the blood boil and the viewer rage at the injustice of the Western Dream. It should be watched by as many people as possible. Sad fact is, unless you watch shows such as The Corporation (2003), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2004) or Too Big to Fail (2011) then you’re probably going to give it a miss. If you want an entry film into the social/political documentary genre then you’ve got a good starting point.
Dir: Katharine Round
Prd: Katharine Round & Christopher Hird
DOP: Woody James
Music: Andrew Hewitt
Run Time: 78 minutes
The Divide will be released on 22 April. For more information please visit www.thedividedocumentary.com