On Netflix Now is a new series, which reviews dramatic feature films and documentaries currently on Netflix.
Scientific progress has wrenched us from our shackles to nature. Though human beings are of the earth, we are not entirely subject to it. In fact, we make every effort possible to transcend it.
Over the course of the last one hundred years we have advanced ever further from the pastoral lives of our agrarian forebears, whose simplicity appears quaint and remote to the urbanized mind of today’s homo urbanus. Mechanised systems and structures govern his thought processes and moral landscape. Thomas Hobbes’s brutal state of nature, where “all battle all”, has been carefully concreted over with rational systems of law, commerce, politics, transport and medicine.
However, as stubborn green weeds occasionally force their way through the cracks in the pavement, so the antediluvian aspects of the human psyche resist all attempts to subdue such.
Mankind may have replaced galloping hooves with faster forms of transport powered by combustion engines, but he can never fully outpace himself. He is forever pursued by his own animal lust, the desire to compete, to kill and to exercise dominion over the weak.
Two films on Netflix now explore this frustrated tussle with nature.
Both set in the early twentieth century, Days of Heaven (1978) and Henry Ford: American Experience (2012) examine the origins of our displacement from a pastoral existence to a metropolitan one.
It was men like the entrepreneur Henry Ford who directed humanity along this inexorable course of action.
PBS’s documentary of his illustrious life is both extensive and informative. An honest analysis of a brilliant but complicated man whose creative abilities were matched only by his tyrannical tendencies.
The two hour film follows a traditional biographical format, comprising archival footage and voice over narration; beginning with his early life and career to his later successes and failures.
Ford’s death at eighty-four makes this a long, complex story, which requires a significant time commitment from the viewer, but it is deftly told and doesn’t drag at all, with surprising bits of information that keep your attention.
Though forward thinking in many ways, Ford was primitive in his dealings with others. He thought little of draconian displays of pure bestial force.
Implacably convinced of his moral superiority, he attempted to impose his puritanical ideas on society. He published and distributed anti-Semitic material, devised real life sociological experiments with poor Brazilian villagers in the jungle and cruelly berated his son Edsel Ford, President of the Ford Motor Company, whose drinking and smoking habits Ford abhorred.
As a business owner, he created a steep pyramid structure at the Ford Motor Company with himself in sole position at the top. He answered to nobody and everybody was answerable to him. During times of labour unrest at the factory he condoned violent putdowns of strikes and refused to negotiate with unions or employees.
He also believed his iconic Ford Model T to be the pinnacle of automotive innovation and viciously blocked attempts by his son to modernize the company.
This tension between the two Fords: futurist inventor and primal subjugator is the most fascinating theme explored in the documentary.
It ends with a thoughtful pause in the Brazilian jungle, the camera poring over dense thickets of wild vegetation, the inscrutable natural world that Ford did so much to tame, but was unable to conquer in himself.
Terence Malick’s critically acclaimed drama Days of Heaven (1978) covers roughly the same period of history, but is located at the other end of the economic spectrum: the uncertain world of American labour in 1916… (read more)
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