“Money often costs too much.” So said the mid-19th century poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who quite clearly had just finished travelling through time and watching Generation Wealth, an engrossing documentary about modern society’s strange fascination with greed, gain, fame and fortune. OK, so maybe Emerson wasn’t a time-travelling academic with a penchant for indie documentaries, but his aforementioned quote certainly hits the nail on the head when it comes to Generation Wealth‘s overall message.
Within the film, director and photographer Lauren Greenfield revisits a number of subjects from her previous documentaries and exhibits, exploring the need and greed that prevails so much in modern society, and how our everyday values have been warped by the never-ending quest to better ones self and live a life of luxurious glamour. Throughout, we are introduced to a cavalcade of Hedge Fund Managers, Stockbrokers, top-level executives, former porn-stars, plastic-surgery patients and even a wannabe child beauty pageant starlet – each obsessed by the enticing lure of decadence and dollar. Expect a lot of flaunting and flashing of cash…
Fear not though if you’re dreading a mere collection of interviews with over-privileged snobs – Generation Wealth is far from the billion dollar peepshow the title suggests. Greenfield‘s interviewees are insightful, frank and honest, whilst the film portrays moments of real hubris and growth through a number of follow-up conversations. The film also looks at the wider context of material gain, exploring the artificiality of wealth, beauty and status in the social media age, whilst simultaneously examining the psychology behind the gradual pornification and commercialisation of modern life. Over the course of the film, Greenfield highlights the destructive and obsessive side-effects of this pursuit for financial betterment, providing a thorough examination of how society has ended up at this point. It’s a fascinating watch.
Sadly, the film is by no means perfect – the film occasionally feels overloaded and meanders for long periods. The many autobiographical elements that focus on Greenfield and her family border slightly on the self-indulgent scale, and ultimately fail to serve the film the way the director intends – the focus on her own children and her family life feels like it’s been cut from an entirely different narrative altogether and spliced in for the sake of running time, and merely distracts from what is an otherwise engaging documentary.
But that wobble aside, Generation Wealth remains an interesting study on the nature of wealth in the modern age, presenting a sobering glimpse into the empty, self-destructive side of fame and fortune. Stirring up the full range of emotions within the audience throughout the 2 hours, Generation Wealth will, at the very least, leave you left satisfied and thankful with what you already have.