Biting satire is the norm in contemporary political discourse. So while The Reunited States may not turn many heads, its energetic subjects and earnest message make for a pleasant watch. Elisabetta Pulcini reviews.
Directed by Ben Rekhi, The Reunited States is a documentary that follows individuals who go beyond party lines to reconnect with their fellow Americans. Among these is a white middle-class family, whose father worked with the Republican party to incite hatred towards the Democratic party. They set off on a journey to visit all 50 states in an attempt to rekindle this divide. Another notable protagonist is Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer—a white woman killed in 2017 at a protest against Charlottesville’s white supremacy rallies.
In style, this film does not offer anything particularly revolutionary to the genre. There is a plethora of well-timed cutaways and voice over to fulfill the requirements of a documentary. This can, at times, feel insufficient to supplement the seriousness of the topics being discussed. The best documentaries draw in the viewer not only through the power of its narrative, but also through style. However, in this case, there is nothing distinctive nor recognizable about the tone and the direction. While it could be argued that this way the subjects are allowed to shine, it can lessen the impact of the message being transmitted.
Therefore, a full analysis of this film must instead turn to its subject theme. As strange as it might seem, unity is not free from controversy. Taken on a surface level, it can seem a suggestion to sweep all political opinions under the rug to embrace “the other side.” By posing unity as its prevalent message, the film had this hurdle to overcome.
The people we meet in The Reunited States learn to face up to discordant political issues, understanding that doing so is the only way to truly connect with those whose opinions feel utterly different to their own. The choice to do this through the eyes of a white middle-class family, who are on the path to interrogate their own privilege, feels right. They openly talk about how simplistic their views on unity were at the beginning of their journey, engage with those who question their intentions, and face the harm they have caused to the country: both personally and as a result of their white privilege.
This culminates in their meeting with Susan Bro. Unlike the family, Susan was brutally woken up to the state of the country by the murder of her daughter. She uses her grief to fight against division and hatred, while never losing sight of what is causing these problems in the first place. Susan talks about how her daughter’s race affected the impact of her death: “Heather got all this attention, but too many mothers are going through this all the time.” Her journey is a powerful one, and the most compelling aspect of the film.
While toxicity within political discourse has been at the forefront of other documentaries, this film set itself an ambitious task. For instance, while The Social Dilemma talked about similar issues through the lens of social media, this film did not embrace a similarly focused approach. Because of this, the film suffers at times. It touches on many different issues, from BLM to indigenous visibility, while never investigating any of these in necessary depth. However, the deeply human stories shared by the interviewees are strong enough to carry the message, ensuring thematic coherence is maintained until the climactic end.
Despite its superficial treatment in exploring systemic political issues, The Reunited States is a compelling documentary about the importance of empathy in politics.
The Reunited States is available now on Digital Download via iTunes, Google Play and Xbox
Words By Elisabetta Pulcini
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