Movie Review

Film Review: BOOM BUST BOOM (2015): An Engaging, If Incomplete Examination of Economic Crisis

Terry Jones Boom Bust Boom

Boom Bust Boom (2015) Film Review, a movie directed by Terry Jones, and starring Terry Jones, Dirk Bezemer, Zvi Bodie, Willem Buiter, Philip Bulcock, John Cusack, Tony Hertz, Andrew Jacquemin, and Daniel Kahneman.

Thomas Carlyle’s description of economics as “the dismal science” may still carry weight amongst many, but thanks to documentaries’ like Boom Bust Boom, unprecedented levels of light are being shined on this often confusing but always important field. Helmed and narrated by Monty Python’s very own Terry Jones, the film uses a variety of narrative and visual devices to communicate key concepts to the audience and hold their interest. Music, puppetry, and animation that bears a certain resemblance to the work of fellow Python Terry Gilliam are all used to help viewers understand the significance of the ideas being discussed, almost always with a generous dose of humor to boot.

These creative choices go a long way in bringing the movie and it’s message to life. A puppet of the late Hyman Minsky, a post-Keynesian economist who the film and many of it’s interview subjects credit with indirectly predicting the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, congratulates his son, the real life Alan Minsky, for understanding the financial instability hypothesis he proposed as an explanation for economic crashes before the younger Minsky reminds the puppet that he grew up hearing about it all the time. Shortly afterwards, a stoutly-voiced John Kenneth Galbraith puppet sings about the self-perpetuating cycle in which financial bubbles occur with the framed photos on his desk providing back-up vocals.

One particularly impressive animated scene, meant to represent the starry-eyed view of capitalism the documentary attributes to the mainstream economic establishment, shows a suitcase-carrying financial type making his way through a cosmic wonderland of butterfly-winged dollar bills and levitating coins to the accompaniment of Queen’s “Some Kind Of Magic”. The union of visuals and music is so perfect that one may momentarily forget that it’s part of a larger production, one about economics no less.

Of course, the point of the scene is not to look pretty (although it certainly does), but to illustrate the points made by the individuals interviewed for the documentary. Speaking to a wide variety of economists and academics, the movie ironically demonstrates that far from being the unified neoclassical monolith that it claims the field to be, the sustainability of the current economic system is heatedly debated by the people who study it. We hear Paul Krugman and Stephen Kinsella criticize mainstream economists for their purported delusions of rationality, but little is made of the fact that Krugman and Kinsella are not only economists themselves, but economics instructors at accredited universities. None of this necessarily discredits the film’s main point – that financial crashes are a feature, not a bug of market economies – but it does suggest that the truth is not as black and white as it makes it out to be. Curiously, John Cusack, who to my knowledge does not have any formal training in economics, is interviewed. His contributions to the discussion are unremarkable, to put it politely.

Predictably, much is made of the failures and excesses of contemporary capitalism, but not much is said about alternatives, with the movie offering not so much as a single one. Vague statements are made about increased regulation and reigning in “irresponsible” speculators, but these are courses of action that even many of the established economists the production rails against have called for. Instead, Boom Bust Boom calls for a revolution not in economics itself, but in education, urging viewers to follow the example of students who started studying the topic after the recent financial crisis. These first few will act as the vanguard of a “pluralist” approach to economics, one that will purportedly usher in a new era of discourse over “the dismal science.” Whether this ambitious plan will work or if the results, of which the film is equally vague, are even desirable is a question well beyond the scope of this review.

That being said, the film provides plenty of answers as to what is happening if not answers as to what needs to be done. It asks complex questions with solutions that not even the people interviewed for it would agree on. Perhaps, however, this is all it needs to do. Maybe enough people will be motivated to look into the issues the documentary explores and find these elusive answers. In short, people who worry about the economy but don’t know why will want to see Boom Bust Boom.

Rating: 7/10

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About the author

Reggie Peralta

I am a recent UCLA political science graduate and current Fullerton College Radio and Television/Video Production student.

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