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Review: Invisible Hand

2 min read
This (visible) hand does not appear in the film.

The following contains spoilers.  

Invisible Hand is a film about capitalism, or at least it seemed to be at first. Intercutting between old clips of Milton Friedman and scenes from the 2008 Financial Crisis, I assumed I was going to be in for a critique of the totalizing power of capital, the “invisible hand of the market.” In some ways, it was, just not in the way I thought.

The film follows Grant Township, Pennsylvania, whose citizens were fighting against the construction of an injection well used for fracking, the Seneca Nation’s battle against the construction of a fracking water treatment plant on the Allegheny River, also in Pennsylvania, Standing Rock Protestors, and Toledo-based activists pushing The Lake Eerie Bill of Rights, a recently struck down law which was intended to protect the lake from polluters. 

Grant Township’s story carries the film, and the similarities between their struggle and the struggle of the Seneca against the fracking industry complement one another from a narrative perspective, given the obvious similarities. The attempt to establish a Lake Eerie Bill of Rights helps drive home what seems to be the film’s overarching thesis: That if corporations have legal personhood, nature should too. However, the Lake Eerie Bill’s defeat in court raises questions about how viable such a legal strategy might be in the United States, despite the film’s attempt to end on a hopeful note.  It is also worth noting that the “if Exxon is a person, a river should be too,” sort of argument implicitly legitimizes corporate personhood. 

The film’s entire narrative is interrupted by a ten-minute overview of the Standing Rock Protests, which felt forced. Of course, the protests were pivotal in the environmental movement, and the underlying themes of government-backed corporate greed are there. Still, the brief attention paid to the protestors does them little justice. It seems to distract from the overarching narrative and is unlikely to teach viewers anything about the protests they didn’t already know. 

Overall, the documentary, executive produced by Mark Ruffalo and directed by Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Trout, is good. Although it occasionally deviates from its original point, and I was left not quite convinced of the strategic efficacy of giving legal rights to nature per se, at the very least, I was left questioning my preconceptions about it. Invisible Hand does not shirk away from critiquing capitalism or the complicity of the regulatory state, and it doesn’t let Democrats off the hook either. It highlights the shared struggle of Native Americans and white, self-described “rednecks” in Pennsylvania by portraying both honestly, amidst an environmental movement that too often fetishes the former and demonizes the later. You should watch it 

4/5 Stars. 

Invisible Hand is available to rent or stream now from

Tags: environment, movie, review

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