Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in Our Times

(aka Chomsky 9.11: Power and Terror, John Junkerman, Japan, 2002)


The Japanese production Power and Terror is hardly a film, and I'm not even certain it would pass muster as a television documentary. Its aim is simple: to provide access to the hard-line wisdom of American political theorist Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky is an outspoken critic of all oppressive regimes. The tragedy of New York on September 11 has given his views a revitalised currency. For him, the terrorist attack on that city is no worse, and in fact quite a lot less substantial, than America's interventionist acts of foreign policy.

When faced with any new event, Chomsky has two standard comments: "It's nothing new", and "You can read all about it in the official documents". He has never been interested in the murky psychoanalytic depths of lived political ideology. Chomsky is a man of facts, and he speaks not to analyse anything, but to merely remind us of the remorseless, implacable logic of the State machine.

This is why Chomsky now sustains a paradoxical reputation. He is deeply uncool for several generations of political thinkers who want to uncover more than the bare facts of capital, power and "fear mongering".

But, in the era of Naomi Klein's book No Logo and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002), Chomsky's simplistic critique and his belief in people-power ("There's an easy way to stop terrorism: stop participating in it") have stirred the burgeoning consciousness of many in this bleak time.

If Power and Terror showed one entire speech by Chomsky, it would do its propaganda job better. Cutting mechanically from stage to office, director John Junkerman reduces Chomsky's ideas to sound bites, and conjures him as an oracle. Periodically, his words issue dramatically from a dark screen.

There is no intellectual probing of Chomsky, and no investigation of his personal life. Only shots of him continuing to pontificate as he absentmindedly autographs books for fans hint at an even slightly critical view.

But those fans don't mind. As one breathlessly comments to camera: "He knows a lot about a lot of things, doesn't he?"

© Adrian Martin February 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search