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    Doc Talk

    Environmental solutions, eugenics fallacies, domestic violence

    A still image from the film “Living in the Future’s Past.”
    A still image from the film “Living in the Future’s Past.”

    Despite a title reminiscent of that of a Moody Blues album and the presence of Jeff Bridges, a.k.a. The Dude from “The Big Lebowski,” Susan Kucera’s “Living in the Future’s Past” does not wallow in post-hippie mellowness but takes a hard-headed look at the prospects of environmental disaster. It combines the talking-head input of various experts with a kaleidoscopic, sometimes random montage of images as it analyzes the crisis and ponders what can be the extent and causes of it and what can be done. 

    Guided by Bridges’s lofty but genial voice-over (“We’re physical and biological beings living in an ocean of cosmic energy. If that sounds pretty trippy, it is”) the film does not take aim at the usual culprits — oil corporations and the like — but probes the fundamentals of human nature for clues. 

    The experts who weigh in on the topic include scientist and astronaut Piers Sellers; “Being Ecological” author Timothy Morton; physicist and author of “Elastic: Flexible Thinking in a Time of Change” Leonard Mlodinow; former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark; and the author of “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman. They trace the problem back to pre-history, when agricultural society supplanted hunter-gatherers. That led to an economy of surplus, the rise of private property, social stratification, and over-consumption, traits hard to overcome because they are hardwired into our DNA. In other words, the fault lies not in our tsars, but in our genes.

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    These insights are subliminally supported by Kucera’s flurries of seemingly random images: an eagle; the Grand Canyon; whales; sunrise; skulls. Lots of skulls. Two of the interviewees even have skulls on their T-shirts. It makes me uneasy.   

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    Nonetheless, the film’s conclusion is upbeat, if vague, suggesting that individual efforts can make a difference. “Ask yourself, what are you willing to contribute that comes natural to me?” says Bridges. “Something that fits into my life?” He might get into specifics. Following the film proper is an onscreen discussion and commentary with Bridges and others.

    “Living in the Future’s Past” screens on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Kendall Square Theatre.

    Inherently wrong

    But is human destiny determined by genes, as “Living in the Future’s Past” claims? Do genes even exist? Stephanie Welch’s documentary “A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and the American Dream” argues that such deterministic biological and social theorizing, based on discredited hypotheses, plays into the interests of those who benefit most from the inequality inherent in our civilization. This “junk science” asserts that poor people, especially people of color, are not victims of an unfair, exploitative system but of inherited traits passed down through generations. Moreover, women are also innately inferior, unfit for positions of power and suited only for reproduction and domestic servitude. 

    This socioeconomic survival of the fittest not only justifies the status quo but encourages genocide. Welch makes the chilling point that Hitler was inspired by the eugenics policies adopted across the United States and validated by a Supreme Court decision in 1927. Laws in various states resulted in the compulsory sterilization of tens of thousands. Virginia, the last state to repeal its law, didn’t do so until 1974.

    To make its case, the film draws on archival footage (a BBC clip in which Francis Crick, winner of the Nobel Prize for being a co-discoverer of DNA, asks whether some people have the right to reproduce, is especially chilling), as well as interviews with such experts in their fields as former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich and the late Ruth Hubbard, the first woman to be awarded a tenured biology professorship at Harvard University. It traces the history of this insidious fallacy from its roots in misapplied Darwinian theory to the present day, when racists and misogynists still cite it to support their prejudices and policies. 

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    “A Dangerous Idea: Eugenics, Genetics and The American Dream” is available on Oct. 2 on DVD and VOD.

    Go to adangerousideafilm.com.

    Without restraint 

    Domestic violence is a plague in this country, and poorly enforced restraining orders only make it worse. Emmy-nominated director Katia Maguire and April Hayes have made “Home Truth.” Their documentary investigates an especially heinous and infuriating example of this and profiles a woman who persevered in her pursuit of justice.

    In the 1990s Jessica Gonzales of Castle Rock, Colo., grew troubled by the erratic, abusive, and controlling behavior of her husband, Simon. After she divorced him, and he continued to stalk her, she obtained a restraining order. One night in 1999, her three young daughters went out and did not return home. 

    Gonzales repeatedly called the local police begging them to follow up on her suspicions that they had been kidnapped by her ex-husband. They ignored her, even telling her that as their father he had a right to their custody. Then Simon engaged in a shoot-out with the police and was killed. The three girls were found murdered in his car.

    Devastated but furious, Gonzales filed a lawsuit against the Castle Rock police department, charging them with not adequately enforcing her restraining order. It wasn’t the settlement money that mattered, but she hoped that this litigation could prevent such crimes from happening again. Her case reached the Supreme Court, and a tasteless quip made by Justice Antonin Scalia as the decision against her was announced (“I thought Castle Rock was a 1920s dance”) revealed the dismissive attitude of some of those on the court.

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    But Gonzales still didn’t give up, and Maguire’s account of her struggle, filmed over nine years, inspires as much as it stirs outrage. Her use of Gonzales’s home videos of her children (some shot by Simon, which have a creepy “Peeping Tom” quality), add to the pathos. At a time when domestic violence shows no signs of abating, and a nominee for the Supreme Court is being considered, this is essential viewing.

    “Home Truth” can be seen on the PBS World Channel on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and on other PBS stations throughout October (check local listings) in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The film will also be available for free streaming on Oct. 3 on pbs.org.  

    Go to www.pbs.org/program/home-truth. 

    Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.