“Which side dominates in us? The good or the bad? A vast question that the German documentary filmmaker Luise Donschen sums up brilliantly in twenty-five minutes: how have philosophy, science and even literature tried over the centuries to find out which side our nature leans on?
A central subject of philosophy, studied successively by Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas or even Kant, who will each seek to explain what guides our good and our bad actions. Contemporary culture and social science seem to portray humanity as profoundly evil when the “force of the situation” does not contain its inclination to betrayal and violence.
The effectiveness of Arte’s program lies in its balance and nuance: these chilling illustrations are superimposed on the story of much more brilliant true stories and reassuring historical facts. The insights of prehistory specialist Silviane Scharl, in particular, shed light on the debate. She reminds us that if we consider that human beings have lived on Earth for one hour, they have only been sedentary for ninety seconds; and that for the first fifty-eight minutes of his life, a hunter-gatherer by trade, he would rather have tended to avoid conflict.
The subject is nuanced, detailed, captivating. The alternation between interviews and film sequences, documentary archives and illustrations, allows the smooth unfolding of complex theories. As for the commentary, it popularizes them without diminishing their scope. From the excellent scientific documentary series 42, the answer to almost everything (1), Luise Donschen’s documentary shines with a richly documented optimism.