VOD film review: Behind the Curve
James R | On 11, Jun 2019
Director: Daniel J. Clark
Cast: Mark K Sargent, Patricia Steere
“If you don’t laugh at this the first time you see it, there’s something wrong with you,” says Mark Sargent. He’s a Flat-Earther, someone who believes that the Earth is actually just one flat sheet, and that the idea of it being a sphere is just one massive conspiracy. It’s a daft idea, one that stands up to zero scrutiny and makes no practical sense. So why are a growing number of people joining the Flat-Earth club? That’s the question raised by this fascinating, hysterical, deceptively important documentary.
Sargent is our window into this fanatical group of believers, and he’s a fantastic choice; he started out trying to debunk the whole concept of a flat Earth, only to wind up one of the leading proponents of the movement. As a conspiracy fan, he’s predisposed, perhaps, to be won over by the illogical arguments of the group, and it’s not hard to see why he wins others over too; he’s earnest and honest in his beliefs, admitting how absurd it must seem to outsiders, while giving over his whole life to the cause. He has a relationship with Patricia Steere, another Flat-Earther, hosts a podcast, gives a speech at the first Flat-Earther convention and releases online videos to spread the news.
YouTube algorithms have a lot to do with the rise of conspiracy theories such as this, as videos recommended based on things we’ve already watched can easily lead to a string of videos all reinforcing the same idea. But director Daniel J. Clark doesn’t go into the mechanics of conspiracies spreading, instead treating his subjects with inspiring empathy. He creates a safe space of no judgement in which he gleans all kinds of information, from Flat-Earther dating groups on Facebook to the painstaking way that Sargent and others construct their own models to illustrate the ‘truth’.
The film itself, though, is balanced enough to allow for scientists to debunk the outlandish claims, ensuring that this doesn’t turn into an irresponsible free-for-all. From why we can’t feel the Earth moving through space to why the horizon can be seen, the questions are exposed as largely nonsensical, but Behind the Curve resists the kind of dismissive approach that Flat-Earthers thinks proves the rest of the world “doesn’t know how to address” their arguments. Clark, rather, gives them screentime and lets them undermine themselves. He unearths a community not of fools, by any means, but of people who find reassurance in the acceptance of others, and in the shared sense of belonging to something special nobody else understands. The system is the problem, they reason, although nobody ever explains why tricking the global populace into thinking the Earth is round would benefit anyone.
The result is a vital piece of humanising cinema, one that reminds us that Flat-Earthers are normal people with normal whims and desires, despite their radical views. It’s a call to engage with these people rather than mock them – and, at a time when fake news makes it easier than ever for people to buy into political causes that carry no logic or substance, a pertinent demonstration of how pockets of irrational thought can form in an ordinary society. It’s telling that the biggest argument that does occur on screen is between two Flat-Earthers, after one becomes more popular than the other, prompting them to accuse their rival of being part of the supposed curved-Earth conspiracy. When that happens, the accused starts to wonder whether all their other cries of lies and propaganda are nonsense too. But it’s the moment when the penny actually drops, during one failed experiment designed to prove the Earth is flat, that Behind the Curve really soars. Amusing, educational and always entertaining, this is essential viewing for a post-truth age.