A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Behind the Curve is a 2019 documentary about "Flat Earthers" and the psychology behind the belief in conspiracy theories. While the documentary gives plenty of time to those who believe that the Earth is disc shaped, it takes a much broader view. Rather than simply dumping on those who believe that our understanding of the Earth as a sphere orbiting the Sun is part of a vast conspiracy involving the government, education, and scientists, the documentary takes a look at a very human tendency to construct our own realities despite what common sense, logic, and Occam's Razor might have to say about it, and why, especially with the rise of the Internet, people who are susceptible to conspiracy theories are more likely to find them and believe in them, even at the expense of losing friends and loved ones. One use of the word "s--t."
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What's the story?
BEHIND THE CURVE takes a look at "Flat Earthers," or those who believe that the Earth is a flat disc surrounded by a wall of ice. Thanks to the Internet, the Flat Earth Movement, led by a handful of adherents armed with podcasts, YouTube channels, and a propensity for ranting, has seen an increase in membership in recent years. This documentary takes a look at these leaders and followers, and the schisms within the movement as the members meet at the Flat Earth International Conference. The documentary also interviews astrophysicists, astronaut Mark Kelly, a science writer, and a high school physics teacher, all of whom discuss broader issues of the tendency of humans to not want to let go of a belief system even in the face of overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary, what happens when critical thinking is underdeveloped, and what happens when people are unable to discern the differences between credible and vetted sources of information and opinion-based or untrustworthy sources.
Is it any good?
This film is a relevant and necessary documentary for these precarious times. As the Internet has given us unprecedented access to so much information (credible or otherwise) at our fingertips, it's hard to tell if this is leading us to another Renaissance or a return to the Dark Ages. This documentary uses the Flat Earth Society as a springboard to discuss not just science versus conspiracy, but also the challenges in getting those who have gotten wrapped up in questionable worldviews out of their belief bubbles, and to what extent each of us constructs our own reality, even as it contradicts facts and logic.
This challenge to the viewer is what makes Behind the Curve so important. The easiest thing to do for a documentary such as this would have been to make fun of those who believe that not only is the Earth is a disc, but that those who believe that the Earth is a globe are part of a vast conspiracy of NASA, the makers of Tang, and your sixth grade science teacher. Instead, the filmmakers let their interviewees talk, and talk, and talk, and what emerges is this sense that many of the "Flat Earthers" -- if not struggling with mental illness -- are lonely and disconnected people looking for a sense of belonging and acceptance in a larger community, even as their attempts at experiments to prove their conception of the world don't work. Some of the scientists themselves acknowledge this, and see these conspiracy theorists not as the proverbial tin-foil hat wearing kooks, but rather, as "scientist(s) who might have been...that fell through the cracks." The biggest and greatest takeaway from this documentary is that all of us need to do a better job at discerning what's real and not just shrieking "Fake news!" at credible sources of information that tell us what we may not want to hear.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about science. How are scientists -- celebrity and otherwise -- shown reacting to the viewpoints of the Flat Earth Society? Do you agree with the speaker who argued that scientists need to do a better job of reaching those who wind up subscribing to viewpoints that contradict science (and common sense), because they are "a reminder of scientists who could have been, scientists who fell through the cracks?"
Rather than focusing exclusively on the Flat Earth Society, Behind the Curve takes a broader view, particularly when one of the interviewees from the science camp asks, "Where are you creating your own reality?" To what extent do you, those around you, and humanity as a whole view some aspect of the world from within a limited bubble?
Should documentaries and media in general give time and space to conspiracy theorists to present their views? Do they, deliberately or not, encourage those who don't think critically or know the difference between credible and untrustworthy sources of information to believe in conspiracy theories?
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