FilmBuff // 2009 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 25th, 2010
It's happened to every great civilization.
Collapse may be the scariest documentary you'll ever see. It also may be the craziest. Be it truth or truthiness, this is a riveting film from start to finish.
Banks, governments, and industries were devastated by the recent global economic collapse. Who could have predicted it? As it turns out, Michael Ruppert, aformer Los Angeles police department turned rogue reporter, did. His prophetic prediction of the upcoming collapse garnered the attention of millions. Now Ruppert is warning of a new meltdown: the end of oil. Is Ruppert foreshadowing the end of our society, or is he just a crazed paranoid conspiracy theorist?
Shot in a single room with a single interview subject, interjected with stock footage of apocalyptic news footage and set to a brooding orchestral theme, Collapse is an unsettling, even terrifying film. It rivals the most terse and well-plotted narrative thrillers in its levels of complexity and compelling narrative. Even if you don't find yourself drinking the Kool-Aid entirely, it's almost impossible to ignore the prophetic musings of Ruppert, who delivers his ideological observations with passion and well-assembled logical arguments.
As doomsayers go, Michael Ruppert may be the best in the world. Critics deride him as an alarmist, a conspiracy theorist, a crazy person hurling wild accusations, stringing together logical fallacies to justify his bleak world view. If that were true, he'd be a lot easier to dismiss. The terrifying thing about Ruppert, and indeed, about Collapse is that Michael Ruppert speaks the truth -- some of it, anyway. This documentary, simplistic and stylish, creeps down your back like an ice cube. It makes your karma cower in fear. Wild accusations are easy to shrug off; Collapse gets under your skin like a parasite.
If you believe every word Ruppert says, things look bleak indeed. Our society runs on oil, not just for fuel but as a transformational element, solely responsible for rocketing us into the modern age. Forget the cost of a fill-up for your SUV. Think about the rubber tires, the plastic components, the circuit boards, the oil-powered machines responsible for mining the metal and running the electricity that powers the engineering computers that designed the vehicle itself. Every single element of every single product in modern society is inherently and inexorably tied to oil. It seems reasonable to assume then that the decline of a society built on oil will coincide when the oil runs out.
So why is no one listening to Ruppert? In a word, he's crazy, both in the pejorative and laudatory sense of the word. He has enthusiasm and passion for his subject, a deep and profound working knowledge of the inner workings of government. He believes. He gets animated discussing it, desperate to convince others that the world as we know it is coming to an end -- which is where he runs into trouble. The man has managed to assemble a surprisingly detailed and logically sound argument to support his case, true, but at the end of the day, he's one of Those Guys. The ones you see with the placard signs on the street corners in Times Square, shouting about Revelations. He is a well-read, educated, and remarkably persuasive doomsayer, to be certain...but a doomsayer all the same.
Filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men) handles Ruppert the best way possible -- he turns on the camera and lets him talk. Occasionally, we hear a voice (presumably Smith) interject or ask a sobering question, a kind of logical levelheaded challenge to Ruppert's frantic conjecture. If you believe the introduction to the film, it seems Smith discovered Ruppert by accident, interviewing him on a different subject and film. Realizing what an amazing individual they had on their hands, Collapse was born. If true, this is the kind of documentary I adore so much. Like an investigative journalist, Collapse goes where the story is. As stories go, you can't get much bigger than the end of society as we know it.
Collapse has an impressively sharp transfer. The singular shooting location is beautifully lit with deep, mysterious shadows and the constant stream of chain-smoked cigarettes is beautifully shot. For a documentary, there is some serious cinematography at work. Interjected with the expected amount of stock footage and news clips, Collapse varies in quality based on the source material, but the primary material looks great -- sharp, clean, slightly grey-toned black levels and muted colors; very suited to the tone of the film. Audio is a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, which is relatively unremarkable. Dialogue is clear and clean, and the throbbing orchestral score is almost frenzied in its urgency, like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It is always appreciated to have the full surround treatment, but rear channels go relatively unused.
Extras are standard. We get a trailer, deleted scenes and a Collapse update, a newly recorded featurette with Ruppert discussing current world events since the recording of the film in 2009.
Ranging wildly from lunatic desperation to cold persuasiveness, Ruppert himself is an enigma; a confusing jumble of authority and alarmism. Can it be possible that the only person who knows the truth about the state of affairs in the world is an unemployed man behind on his rent? When I mentioned that personal fact, does your skepticism increase or decrease in regard to his prophetic claims?
In the end, the status of the world remains an unknown variable. The only thing in "collapse" that can be validated and measured seems to be Ruppert himself, now a broken and embittered man whose obsession has driven him to personal, financial, and emotional ruin. The root of Collapse is deciding whether this knowledge makes Ruppert's prophetic vision of the future more or less credible -- a frustrating and delightful revelation in of itself.
Staggering in scope, alarmist in tone, Collapse is a must-see film, a magnificent feat of documentary filmmaking. Whether you believe Ruppert's claims or not (and hey, in a few years, it'll be a moot question), Collapse brings more terror, dread, and anxiety to the small screen than a Hollywood blockbuster with a multimillion dollar budget could ever hope to invoke.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Website