Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain Movie Poster Image
Tech documentary uneven but offers exciting, useful info.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 84 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Asserts that people shouldn't be closed-minded to future possibilities. Warns against corporations in power that will stop at nothing to defeat new ideas simply to hang on to their power. It champions the concept of decentralization, but in a very simplistic, black-and-white way that could benefit from further research.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many interviewees seem to be pioneers in the world of technology -- and if the movie is correct, some of them could be on the verge of changing the world in a good way. Lauri Love is probably the most prominent character, a self-professed hacker who purportedly stole information from the U.S. government; he's held up in the movie as an individual and free-thinker who's being unfairly persecuted for his actions. Again, this would ideally lead to further research by viewers.

Violence

Image of building on fire. Mentions of Aaron Swartz dying by suicide.

Sex

Brief examples of porn-related bitcoins. "T-tcoin" is illustrated by a large-breasted woman in a bikini. "F---coin" is illustrated by a brief image from a Ron Jeremy porn movie, with him entering a woman from behind. Each image lasts a couple seconds.

Language

Uses of "s--t" "bulls--t," and "t-t," plus multiple examples of "f---ing" and "c--t" seen on a computer screen.

Consumerism

Mentions of companies like Google, Facebook, Spotify, Amazon, Netflix, etc., though certainly not always in a positive light; the movie is anti-corporation.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain is a documentary about bitcoin and blockchain that attempts to dispel myths about both and clarify their differences. The movie is a little uneven, speculative, and one-sided, but it also offers some fascinating, exciting, and useful information. Brief adult material makes it most appropriate for older teens and adults. Language includes "s--t," "bulls--t," and "t-t," and the words "f---ing" and "c--t" are seen multiple times on a computer screen. Very brief but graphic sexual images are used to demonstrate "alternative" adult-themed bitcoins: A brief male-on-female sex act is shown for a couple of seconds. A burning building is shown, and there's some discussion of the suicide of Aaron Swartz. Many companies are mentioned (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, etc.), but usually in a negative light.

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What's the story?

In TRUST MACHINE: THE STORY OF BLOCKCHAIN, actor-turned-documentary filmmaker Alex Winter attempts to disentangle the concept of blockchain from the concept of bitcoin. Blockchain is a way of decentralizing the internet, putting more control in the hands of individual users and less in the hands of centralized, powerful corporations. Bitcoin is a controversial but popular form of online currency that wouldn't have been possible without the development of blockchain. Narrated by Rosario Dawson, the film is enthusiastic about the future of blockchain and its possible uses for things like keeping power grids on, giving refugees traceable identity papers, and even solving hunger. But it also argues that those in power will stop at nothing to keep the old ways intact, including the attempted prosecution of hacker Lauri Love.

Is it any good?

This documentary is perhaps more speculative than factual, and it's sometimes confusing or contradictory, but it offers useful, even potentially exciting, nuggets of information on blockchain. As directed by Winter (likely still best known as "Bill" from the Bill & Ted movies), Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain attempts to reach viewers who wouldn't consider themselves tech geniuses. And while it doesn't speak down to its audience, it will still likely seem like gibberish to technophobes. Even smart viewers may wish for a few extra moments to process information -- or perhaps a few more charts or graphics to illustrate a point.

The movie does a fine job of separating the concepts of "bitcoin" and "blockchain," a confusion that has plagued many, but it's unable to say whether bitcoin is the future of currency or a bubble that will burst (like the infamous "tulip fever"). It's more enthusiastic about blockchain, citing examples that are hard to oppose. Per the film, blockchain can provide regular folks with energy, food, and other crucial things -- and it will change the currently flawed system by which artists make money from their art. Yet, in the narration, Dawson admits that all this will likely need some kind of regulation. The movie also provides a handy villain: greedy, powerful corporations, which -- it says -- will use all their might to squash any upstarts that threaten their position. Trust Machine does make a compelling argument for blockchain being something that could potentially save the world. We just have to wait to find out.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain's brief depiction of sex and use of language. Do you think they were necessary? Could they have been cut to reach a wider, younger audience?

  • The movie shows several ways in which blockchain can be used to make a better world. What other ways might there be? Did the movie inspire you? How?

  • After seeing this movie, do you believe bitcoin is a viable currency? Or is it doomed to fail?

  • Do you think the movie is objective or trying to argue a specific, subjective point of view? Is it OK for documentaries to be subjective? What responsibility does that place on viewers?

  • Is Lauri Love a hero or a criminal? Could he be both? How?

Movie details

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