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Parents' Guide to

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

By Jeffrey Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Chilling documentary about world's economic inequality.

Movie NR 2020 103 minutes
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Based on the bestselling nonfiction book by economist Thomas Piketty, this important documentary uses a playful tone to balance its complex language, but the ultimate outlook is still pretty bleak. Directed by Justin Pemberton, Capital in the Twenty-First Century uses many talking heads, including Piketty himself, to explain its thesis. They're accompanied by lots of atmospheric footage, graphics, clips from movies (The Grapes of Wrath, Wall Street, Pride and Prejudice, Les Miserables, Elysium, etc.), and even animations. It works fairly well, given that the information can sometimes be difficult to grasp in its minutiae -- ultimately, the movie allows viewers to come away with a pretty good gist of complex things.

While much of the material is familiar -- including the ineffective but still popular "trickle down" theory -- some of the concepts are shocking. For example, data shows that 85% of capital simply goes around in a closed circle, untouchable by the general public. The film also argues that the concept of the American Dream -- that the next generation can do better than the one that came before it -- is no longer true. Nonetheless, while Capital in the Twenty-First Century asserts that regulation and rebuilding the middle class are the easy answers to a big problem, the actual solutions are much thornier. One interviewee's disturbing speech about horses winds things up, and, despite a small attempt to leave off on a hopeful note, this documentary is absolutely chilling.

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