Americans generally like to hear good news. They like to believe that a new president will right old wrongs, that clean energy will replace dirty oil and that fresh thinking will set the economy straight. American pundits tend to restrain their pessimism and hope for the best. But is anyone prepared for the worst?
Meet Michael Ruppert, a different kind of American. A former Los Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, he predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter, From the Wilderness, at a time when most Wall Street and Washington analysts were still in denial. Director Chris Smith has shown an affinity for outsiders in films like American Movie and The Yes Men. In Collapse, he departs stylistically from his past documentaries by interviewing Ruppert in a format that recalls the work of Errol Morris and Spalding Gray.
Sitting in a room that looks like a bunker, Ruppert recounts his career as a radical thinker and spells out the crises he sees ahead. He draws upon the same news reports and data available to any Internet user, but he applies a unique interpretation. He is especially passionate about the issue of peak oil, the concern raised by scientists since the seventies that the world will eventually run out of fossil fuel. While other experts debate this issue in measured tones, Ruppert doesn't hold back at sounding an alarm, portraying an apocalyptic future. Listening to his rapid flow of opinions, the viewer is likely to question some of the rhetoric as paranoid or deluded, and to sway back and forth on what to make of the extremism. Smith lets viewers form their own judgments.
Collapse also serves as a portrait of a loner. Over the years, Ruppert has stood up for what he believes in despite fierce opposition. He candidly describes the sacrifices and motivators in his life. While other observers analyze details of the economic crisis, Ruppert views it as symptomatic of nothing less than the collapse of industrial civilization itself.