‘Detropia’s’ decline with dark global focus

By Sam Flancher

It’s no secret that the global economy is in shambles. The slow destruction of the middle class illuminates the disparity between the wealthiest and everyone else, calling into question the very economic system responsible for such destruction. “Detropia,” the latest film from directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the filmmakers behind 2006’s “Jesus Camp,” examines the city of Detroit and its decline in relation to the global economic environment. It’s both an affecting humanist portrait of a city struggling to survive and an intellectually frustrating attempt to use Detroit as a cautionary example of capitalism’s

greatest faults.

The film’s strongest segments portray a city ravaged by exploitation. By interviewing a series of residents, the film gives a face to Detroit’s downfall. Focusing on the human toll the recession has taken, “Detropia” instills a sense of urgency. The jobless wander the streets and abandoned homes are burned to the ground. With the population in rapid decline, the few remaining Detroiters are fiercely loyal, staunchly refusing to leave the city they love.

While “Detropia” begins by chronicling the story of Detroit, its eventual focus is global. Numerous interviewees examine the current state of affairs, pointing fingers and assigning blame for the demise of a once-great city. Globalization, it seems, is the key culprit in the minds of Detroit’s unemployed. Corporate greed has moved American jobs overseas, abandoning the industries that previously made Detroit thrive. Few things are manufactured in America anymore, a painful fact Detroiters know all too well. One poignant sequence shows a few unemployed citizens breaking down buildings for scrap metal, aptly noting that scrap metal is now one of the U.S.’s top exports to China.

The film derails when it asserts that Detroit is emblematic of similar decline across the globe. Detroit’s situation is unique in its complete dependence on the automotive industry. Not every city lacks such industrial diversity. Instead of examining the larger systems that have created Detroit’s current state, “Detropia” prefers to make unjustified projections of global revolution. The final third of the film abandons its community-based humanism in favor of far-fetched doomsday predictions about the decline of global capitalism. Detroit may serve as a useful metaphor for the struggle between the haves and the have-nots, but its problems are anything

but metaphorical.

Ewing and Grady shirk a much-needed examination of the larger socioeconomic problems in favor of grand metaphorical posturing. By turning Detroit into a symbolic catalyst for potential revolution, the filmmakers overlook the devastation they’ve thoughtfully chronicled. But as a portrait of a city in depression, “Detropia” is an intelligent, human examination of a community disenfranchised by corporate greed. Too often, though, it strays from its communal mindset and tries too hard to tap into a revolutionary sentiment that

isn’t there.