It would appear that since World War II, the rise of production and consumerism in America created a supply and demand paradigm which gave way to degenerative capitalistic tendencies. In short: capitalism gone awry. The need to make a quick buck cultivated a shortsightedness of catastrophic proportions. In fact, the catastrophe has manifested itself in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the drinks we consume…the list goes on.
One day, Ed Brown got to thinking about what exactly we Americans are doing to ourselves that’s causing the astronomical rise in cancer, autism, and various other inexplicable conditions we seem to be suffering from at an alarming rate. He decided to conduct a series of interviews to investigate the would-be causes, and discovered the primary cause of genetic dysfunction and malformation may very well be the overwhelming number of chemicals we have introduced into our system the past seventy years—which has now reached over 80,000! Fluoride, toxic sludge, lead, pesticides, war chemicals, etc, found in our water, food, cleaning products, toys, cosmetics, and so on. How do we get rid of all these chemicals? Basically, we don’t. Many of these are byproducts of inventions made to make life easier, or to make products cheaper to manufacture.
In Unacceptable Levels, Brown uses an everyman angle to generalize his concern with chemicals, keeping his family in focus for many of the transitions, and casually expressing the same curiosity we should all have about this issue. By the half-way point, he’s already created a very persuasive and pertinent piece. The information he uncovers is scarily relevant and wide-ranging in its explanatory implications. There’s an urgency to the information, and a feeling that it may be too late to reverse the negative impact.
Brown consciously didn’t want to do a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock style documentary—he actually states this in the film. As a result, he just dishes out the information, in categorized acts with title cards and bookended with his own thoughts on the matter. He guides the narrative through his own presumptions, concerns, and discoveries of the material, but when he presents the information, he mostly lets it speak for itself, with video accompaniment.
The use of footage, clips, quotes, etc is right up my alley, personally. Louis C.K., George Carlin, Bill Maher, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Dr. Strangelove, Network, etc. More or less the same references I would have used to organize the distribution of the information. These clips keep things fresh, and though his personalized narration can feel a bit like filler, the pacing is well-constructed and perpetually clear enough to justify almost every editing decision. Brown keeps a decidedly affable, unpretentious tone to the whole thing, making the whole viewing experience very approachable.
The documentary as a piece of filmmaking isn’t that impressive, but the information is invaluable. He interviews a wide range of knowledgeable participants, many of which are very passionate about this issue, express a lot of concern, and do a lot of explaining. He lets the interviewees speak for themselves, with little to no manipulation on his part, and what they unload is an eye-opening, staggering amount of horrific facts and stats about what’s been going on right in front of us for decades. The kinds of things that are often covered up with a fancy advertising campaign, a flashy new logo, and other marketing distractions. The information guides the filmmaking, not the other way around.
A central preoccupation to much of the information is that the system is designed to allow the worst things to flourish in the name of capitalistic gain. Taking advantage of a lack of regulation, and using deliberate misinformation and partial truths to push experiments on the unknowing public under the guise of “free market”, but really for the sake of a profitable, monopolistic business model. It all reminded me of the Joker’s plot in Tim Burton’s Batman—I was waiting for a white-faced Jack Nicholson to come on screen and tell us that the unfortunate masses have been “using Brand X” (this would have been one of the best clips for Brown to use). There’s so much lofty legality involved in the contamination process, and Brown exposes more of it than one can really handle in the eighty-minute runtime. For that reason, the film is destined to be revisited, shared, and recommended by many.
The film doesn’t really arrive anywhere specific, but it attempts to round itself off on a positive note. Brown does briefly discuss the silver lining of the Green movement—organic foods and environmentally conscious companies. He also reminds the viewers that we have the power to change things, and that the first step is being informed.
Unacceptable Levels is the kind of movie that throws a monkey wrench into the illusion of the American dream, whilst continuing that dream in a redefined way. It’s an injunction to see beyond the thin veil of wishful thinking that perpetuates a false sense of the world, address the threats directly, and be the change you wish to see. Though Brown didn’t want to make a Michael Moore documentary, that is definitely something their films have in common—they may expose the wizard behind the curtain, but at least they throw some water on the witch.
Unacceptable Levels is now available on DVD through TDC Entertainment