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An Unreasonable Man
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary comes from a clearly leftist perspective in its discussion of citizenship, activism, and electoral politics. This is not an unbiased portrait of Nader or politics and people who disagree with Nader's politics may become angry watching this film. There are fleeting images of injured people being carted off in an ambulance after a car accident. There's also a lot of discussion of corporate corruption and of our government and our economy being corrupt, which may be too complex a topic for some teens. Other teens may take it as gospel, and have a hard time thinking critically about the documentary. So families interested in the subject matter will want to watch and discuss this movie together.
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What's the story?
RALPH NADER: AN UNREASONABLE MAN is about more than a young first-generation American who reveres the American system so much that he does battle with some of its largest companies and federal agencies. It does trace Nader's youth in New England to Harvard Law School and then to a small boarding house in Washington, D.C., where he lived as he investigated safety in American cars. And Nader is shown at the peak of his popularity winning a suit against GM, the birth of Nader's Raiders, and finally to his ill-fated but boisterous run for the presidency in 2000. But mostly, this documentary is about what it means to be an American citizen and asks viewers to question whether their elected officials really represent them.
Is it any good?
To do a compelling profile of a public figure, that person must be dynamic, charismatic, and flawed; viewers will find all three in this somewhat loving portrait of Ralph Nader. This is a man who started as a national champion and exists now as something between a pariah, a national joke, and a saint. In numerous scenes, it's clear what Nader's appeal is: He's like the best teachers who encourage their students to believe in themselves and hope for more than they thought capable of achieving. In this instance, the achievement Nader has in mind is a truly representative government, one that puts human needs above business needs. It's clear from seeing the footage of Madison Square Garden and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder singing "The Times are A-Changing," that they aren't really. For Nader, it's always the 1960s, and the world is always on the edge of becoming the one he's always imagined.
If Nader's enthusiasm is infectious, then his coldness and his sanctimoniousness is its opposite. The more Nader and his allies insist that he's the biggest threat to big business -- true or not -- the more he seems like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. His paranoia -- again, justified or not -- is unattractive, and his lack of loyalty to anything but his own convictions is a little repugnant. But mostly, this is a film that deifies Nader. It's telling that Nader did the press on this documentary when it was first released. One imagines that Nader tolerated the insults against him by some lefties because his ideas and his platform are the most important things to him. Even his own ego falls to his self-righteousness.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what their definition of a citizen is. Do you agree with Nader's father that the obligation of a school is not just to teach children to learn but also to think critically? This film is also a great opportunity to have a real discussion about electoral politics and third parties. Where do you stand on Nader's belief that the Republicans and Democrats are both corporate shills?
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