Film Review: The Human Experiment
The Human Experiment
Directed by Don Hardy and Dana Nachman
The “experiment” referred to in the title of this documentary is the inadvertent one we’re all living in, thanks to the thousands of untested chemicals that have made it into our everyday lives. Narrated by Sean Penn, the film explores how the rise in any number of ailments—from cancer to infertility to developmental disorders—has coincided with the increase in different, potentially toxic chemicals in everything from furniture to flatware to clothing. It also weaves together the stories of numerous people—scientists, activists, ordinary folks—trying to fight back against the corporations and moneyed interests that often derail regulation efforts.
This is scary stuff, and the film effectively lays out the cold hard numbers—the alarming rise in breast cancer among women and men, for example, or the shocking rise in autism over the past two decades. It also captures real human moments, such as a young, childless couple finding out that yet another fertilization procedure has failed. But sometimes The Human Experiment’s attempt at a comprehensive portrait keeps it from being as effective as it could be: There are so many figures to cover, so many nooks and crannies, so many different chemicals and so many different ailments. This is part of the film’s point, of course—all these things are connected—but it’s also hard not to feel at times like we’re being whipsawed through names, talking heads, data points, acronyms. It’s an effective movie for those of us in the choir. But the film’s stylistic limitations might keep it from breaking out more widely.