“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Dir. Henriette Mantel & Steve Skrovan, 2007, 122 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant
An Unreasonable Man sounds like a passive-aggressive title of an action movie starring a disgruntled British person, but I the moniker certainly matches Ralph Nader. The guy has stuck by his guns for decades, even though that’s made him pretty unpopular amongst almost all of the political establishment. Republicans hate him because they are evil and he is good, while Democrats hate him because they believe he cost them an election. This documentary is all about what it takes to agitate ceaselessly for what you believe in.
It seems that what it takes is an almost monkish devotion to those beliefs. Nader has never married, nor, it seems, had any kind of relationship. He decided that he couldn’t do good work and be a fit partner and parent at the same time. That’s the sort of pragmatic sacrifice that hints to his sincerity. Like him or not, the dude is for real about what he says.
The movie divides itself into two main sections. The first follows Nader’s ascent as the premier consumer advocate in the United States. In many ways, the amount of power he exerted in Washington paralleled how well the political climate at the time fared. The coming of Reagan and a new age of ultra-divisive politics stymied his ability to work with the government, and caused his shift to focusing more on grassroots efforts for change. The second part concentrates on Nader as a politician himself, in particular his many failed campaigns for President.
It’s the second part that lost me a bit, as the movie devotes an awful lot of time to the question of whether or not Nader really cost Al Gore the 2000 election. The answer it leans toward is “no” (because, frankly, the answer is “no”), but it circles the same points a few times, as if the lesson might not sink in at first. I will give the filmmakers props for allowing those who believe Nader was a spoiler to have their full say, even if they do make themselves look like incredibly sour pissers. In fact, the doc lets people of all stripes have their say about Nader – not just friends but enemies as well, and a few who were once the former but are now the latter. This is done not so much to provide “multiple points of view” about the man as it is to illustrate his divisiveness.
Nader does what he does out of a severe dissatisfaction with the political status quo, and the movie makes you feel his pain. It’s a picture of a broken system, and one man trying to work to change it. It’s perhaps a bit too loving and haggy (I can’t judge well, since I really like the guy), but its themes reach pretty far regardless of whom they’ve picked to embody them.