I honestly don’t know what to make of this film. It has good points but it seems to only convey the general atmosphere of self-hate for seeking our desires through looking at different societal functions. There was some very forceful juxtapositions earlier on when de Botton compared the American pastor to the English pastor; the American pastor seemed to convey greed and Christ’s message being reinterpreted for capitalist exploit in the US but the English pastor seemed to be more about giving and not taking more than what people have.
de Botton’s point about inequality feeling worse for those who don’t live in aristocratic societies where such expectations exist to give them a limited worldview is an interesting one. People don’t expect more from life so they’re content in their small community; but people who believe the sky is the limit and who see depictions of fame thrusted onto them in newspapers and social media are more likely to feel like they aren’t measuring up to their potential. It actually made me think of farmers in India who don’t expect more and live contently in squalor. But it is nowhere near a positive lifestyle, for them and their children. de Botton’s attempts at using the Native Americans feels shallow because he doesn’t mention the genocides but rather depicts an idea of Natives wanting what the European explorers had. It simply doesn’t feel like a credible argument. Later on, when he uses death as a go-to example for why people shouldn’t feel status anxiety, it just seems like putting death as an anchor for humility and – as a result – a worship of death itself. I’m disinclined to take these arguments seriously due to my own beliefs.
I do think he has a few valid points, and that this film is worth viewing whenever people are bored with nothing important to do, but I’m already predisposed to rejecting his main arguments. The example of the restaurant manager who wanted to be a Radio host was enlightening. That man really cannot see himself as not being a radio show host and seems to be in a desperate and depressing cycle as a result. The poor woman with bad teeth is pretty sad, but – apart from the loss of her husband which is truly horrible – I think her going out in the street to beg for money to feed her kids shows her inability to adapt to changing circumstances. She could be getting more money for her kids through charity drives on the internet, which she should be utilizing. de Botton’s questions, although important, seemed particularly cruel for this woman. I hope she got money from this interview and that she knew beforehand the type of questions that she would encounter because it did seem rather heartless. The most interesting part about this section of the film, for me, was the woman commenting how other women were vastly more likely to give her money than men and that Hispanic and White women, of all age groups apparently, were the most likely to give her money to feed her family.
To conclude, despite the interviewees seemingly not prepped for interview and how jumpy the film seems to be about its arguments, I think this film is worth the watch when people have little to do and wish to waste some time. It may appeal to people who are more ascetic in their ideals; I felt like it generalized too much though. Meritocracy, in my view, is a double-edged sword and I do think it depends on what you do to empower yourself in the end.