REVIEW: HUMAN FLOW: Crisis of Hope

  • 2 min to read

Say what you will about those things that make human beings different from one another, but as HUMAN FLOW makes clear, it ought not be those differences that define a person’s worth; it should be those things that are fundamentally human that should the starting point for everything—starting with the idea that human beings are equal and deserving of their human rights.

Ai Weiwei’s Beautiful film opens with very wide shots of the world and of human beings in that world, creating at once both an aesthetic calling card, and also a sense of proportion that helps viewers visualize human beings’ disproportionate control over the earth while at the same time showing human beings as grains of sand from a distance. It reminds one of one of the Eameses’ best known films from the late 1970s, Powers of Ten, which illustrates the relative size of things and scale when seen exponentially by adding or subtracting a zero to the magnification base, the film takes viewers from the vastness of the universe, to the incalculability of the molecular world. In Powers of Ten one gets a sense of continuity and change. By contrast, Ai Weiwei’s film illustrates the flow of human migration and the crisis it creates when the flow is interrupted. HUMAN FLOW compels the hearts and minds of viewers because it is a reflection of the shameful behavior and actions on the part of governments that prevent populations from exercising a most basic human right of movement and migration. The film is strong and compassionate. Ai Weiwei’s lens is set on observation mode, it is finely focused without being preachy or tiresome propaganda, although it does provide plenty of facts and figures along the way, but these are balances with poetry that transcends and reaches individuals, such as:

“I want the right of life,

of the leopard at the spring, of the seed splitting open --

I want the right of the first man.”


-- Nazim Hikmet, Turkish Poet (1902-1963)


HUMAN FLOW brings forth an understanding of the state of refugees in the world – that 1percent of the population on earth that is displaced because of man-made conflicts and climate change. Their state is arbitrary and deliberate but can be remedied through compassion and political will.  When Ai Weiwei brings the camera to the individual level and walks, talks, and observes the men, women, and children, he helps viewers open their eyes and realize that to be in immigrant, to be a refugee, does not make one lesser than anyone else because to be human is to have dignity.


Ai Weiwei worked with a crew of more than 200 people to create a work of art that transcends and avoids the pitfalls of standard documentaries that make them static, and with time irrelevant. HUMAN FLOW will likely stand the test of time because it is a profile of humanity, the film itself is free from a desperation to force change, and it simply flows and speaks to viewers at whichever point in which they may be. The film is very much like AI Weiwei’s life’s work and artistic trajectory. He was born in China during the Cultural Revolution. That history and experience is reflected in the makeup of his character, and he saw it first hand with the oppression of his country and his own father’s persecution. Ai Weiwei himself is considered to be an enemy of the state because of his artistic expression.


HUMAN FLOW is as much about the severed routes that leave human beings stranded in their search for safety and opportunity as it is about Ai Weiwei’s artistic process. Jeanette Winterson said that the function of Art changes depending on the circumstances in history. Sometimes art serves the role of healer, other times it incites action, at other times it celebrates life, and so on; Ai Weiwei’s art has always served the process of dissidence and resistance against injustice. Ai Weiwei’s quiet perspective speaks volumes about the human condition. There is a recognizable honesty in the film. There are scenes in HUMAN FLOW that are simultaneously beautiful and hard to watch, but not because they’re violent or gratuitous, but because they are truthful.  HUMAN FLOW reflects the world as human beings have created it, but when truth is combined with Ai Weiwei’s aesthetic sensibility, the result is an examination of the current crisis of hope.


Bear Tooth Theatrepub

Human Flow

Runtime: 2:20

Monday, November 27, 2017 at 5:30 PM

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