The Lottery of Birth Is Like a Thought-Provoking Dinner Party


Displaying incandescent theorizing yet lurching storytelling, The Lottery of Birth parses modern societies in a profound, haphazard manner. Watching it is like attending an erudite dinner—the conversation isn’t preordained, but it’s insightful nevertheless. A docu-essay, the film’s mission is to reveal biases we unknowingly adopt due to our having been raised in a society. The film’s argument is presented via narration and talking-head interviews with intellectuals from the realms of politics and cognitive science (notably, Daniel Dennett and Howard Zinn), which are often accompanied with generic stock footage or, curiously, bizarre shots of subway escalators. While the visuals are mostly insignificant—someone just reading the script wouldn’t miss much—the film’s theories deserve consideration. It postulates how, through institutions such as the education system and the media, biased nationalistic and ideological beliefs are passed down to citizens. The tricky thing about these beliefs, the film argues, is that they’re unconscious, assumptions we take for granted. (Columbus is a prime target, as his cruelties against Native Americans make a nice contrast against his mythic status; via the famous Milgram experiment, the case is made that our assumption of the merit of obedience is wrong-headed.) The filmmakers’ real targets are the socioeconomic structures we live within, which go unquestioned because citizens are taught to assume there’s no viable alternative. A paean to radical idealism in the shape of a multifaceted intellectual investigation, this picture may not have the structure of a more practiced documentary, but what it lacks in delivery it compensates for with fervency.