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Movie Review: Freakonomics March 2, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Politics, Society.
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Netflix Synopsis: Several documentary directors each film a segment representing one chapter of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s best-seller Freakonomics, which explains different elements of popular culture through economic theory and statistics. Issues include everything from cheating sumo wrestlers to whether Roe v. Wade produced a drop in crime. Filmmakers include Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing.

I reviewed this book nearly a year and half ago. A year later, they made the book into a movie. As they point out in the book, it is hard to describe what this book is about. It is about nothing and everything at the same time. It is like a real-world Seinfeld episode.

They use economic principles to explain everyday things. Economics is a social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services (merriam-webster.com). In their case, they evaluate the motivations and incentives that move people to make the decisions they make in consuming certain goods and services. They turn data and numbers into information.

The most popular, controversial, and explainable example of this is their take on the relationship between crime rate decreases and abortions. They pour through the numbers in countries around the world and recognized that reductions in the birth of unwanted children often (if not always) correlated to decreases in the crime rate in those same countries precisely 16 to 20 years later. The book discusses this and many other topics. The movie only covers five topics like this, include cheating in Sumo wrestling, correlation between people’s names and success, others from the book.

If you have ever read the book, you will appreciate this movie’s content, presented in a visual form. Each topic is directed by a different filmmaker and has a distinct feel. Some bring the same information forward from the book, but the Sumo wrestling topic covered additional information and details like additional interviews and related stories. But for me, I am glad I did not see this in the theater. The value of this movie was in the DVD. In the Special Features, the authors sat down for an additional 45 minutes and help explain their methods and theories.

I have heard the often repeated, but ever wrong expression that “the numbers don’t lie.” But these authors really dig into the difference between correlation and causation. This is an important documentary to help people understand and keep their minds open. If you are open to this, you should see it.

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