Film - I Am (Not) a Monster

Part of the Grierson Documentary Competition at London Film Festival, Steve Taylor-Bryant's quest for knowledge leads him to I Am (Not) A Monster...

‘To act is to begin something new’ said Hannah Arendt, one of the greatest thinkers of all time who passed away in 1975 and who coined the concept of the ‘banality of evil’. In this original film, learn about the thinking processes of activism and mechanisms of our risky thoughts. A most urgent film unravelling some of the reasons why Trump, Le Pen and others have captured people’s imaginations by reviving past ideologies. From dangerous plots to dangerous actions, you will hear about our collective fears both past and present but also encounter the contemporary monsters and actors of the future: the humanoids. Your guide in this adventurous journey is the alternative educator Nelly Ben Hayoun, who armed with puppets and dressed as Hannah Arendt, teases the greatest thinkers of our age whilst challenging them to an impossible pursuit; the search of the origins of knowledge.

Nelly Ben Hayoun, a lecturer at the University of the Underground a tuition free college, wants to spend the summer recess travelling the world to bring back to her students in September the origin of knowledge and that is one fascinating concept for a film but even before I started watching I Am (Not) a Monster I knew it wouldn’t be a one question topic, how could it be with a such a simple request? And it wasn’t. From Japan, to New York, to Italy to Ethiopia via the teachings of Hannah Arendt Nelly tries to uncover where knowledge began and whilst I knew I would probably have some questions come the end I didn’t think I would have as many as I did.

Before you think this is a criticism of the film, it is most certainly not as the film became more than a documentary it became my first lesson in what will now become a series of lessons as I myself start to research all the information the film contains. Because the film very quickly became more than the question of knowledge’s origins it became about humanity, our thought processes, our history, our reactions to situations and stimuli, our abilities to evade ideology and our ability to seek out ideology. It became a history that just proved that as fascinating as a species as we are, we are inept in answering the simple question. We grow as people, as societies, we invent technologies, we create economics and globalisation and yet whilst we adapt to an ever-changing landscape of human history, we tend to forget simple things in our past. I don’t mean history; we study the dates of events and why events occurred, but we don’t think about what was happening in certain places at certain times in regard to knowledge and thinking. What were the people of India dreaming about? What were their concepts and ideas long before they ever met somebody from the West? We don’t know because we are the West and we never took the time to ask we just made them adapt to our concepts and philosophies.

Other questions the film raised for me via the interviews with some fascinating people and places of interest included can normal people commit evil acts without actually being monsters? Who owns knowledge and why? I asked this one because the Lascaux Caves that contain early human coding within its art that will never be broken are owned by a private company, do they own the knowledge contained within the caves? Does the original homo sapiens artist? Other questions that burned in my brain as I was watching Nelly go about her journey where is absolute knowledge truth? Are our thoughts our own? Are activists selfish for the cause they are committed to or just selfish? Should education be controlled and financed by anyone let alone the state? Is Lucy, the early fossilised human the origin of knowledge or was knowledge what created Lucy? Is artificial intelligence or virtual reality or merging human beings with technology the way forward? Google had an idea of creating a perfect virtual reality zoo so real zoos could be shut, and the animals sent back to the wild. Whilst the idea initially resonated with me from an animal cruelty standpoint if I let that happen am I then letting Google own animals and the knowledge about animals? What happens to all that knowledge if Google for whatever reason ever goes dark?

Nelly didn’t get her answer, she never found out the definitive origin of knowledge, as Noam Chomsky pointed out in the film ‘Knowledge is not fossilised, but the consequences of knowledge are’ and maybe that’s enough for us. I don’t think Nelly wasted her time seeking an answer to the age-old question, nor do I think it’s a thankless task asking it, it’s a quest and one worth taking. If we all cared that little bit more about the knowledge we have and where it came from, the origins if you like of our own knowledge then maybe as a society we would more accepting of change and new concepts and less evil and reactionary to other ideas that suit our understanding or agenda. I Am (Not) a Monster is a wonderful film and Nelly Ben Hayoun a thoughtful and inquisitive host on the journey. You will not be able to watch the film without learning and wanting to continue your education and that is one of the best things about it.

Follow Steve on Twitter @STBwrites

Images - LFF

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