‘The Institute’ is frustrating fun


Review by Inkoo Kang

Anyone who has visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City will recognize in “The Institute” a similar compendium of arbitrarily cherished objects, the transformation of everyday words into indecipherable jargon, and a heartfelt striving to reach humanity’s full potential. In Spencer McCall’s documentary, the key to unlocking that potential is an algorithm that will eradicate “human conflict, violence and heartbreak.” Easy-peasy.

In 2008, McCall began editing “informative” videos for the Jejune Institute, a Scientology-like self-development program in San Francisco that promised “divine nonchalance,” or very good luck. The filmmaker didn’t know at the time that the now-defunct institute was something else altogether — a unique hybrid of citywide scavenger hunt and public art project that led its participants through an open-ended, semi-organized game.

In one event, a young man is ordered to dance by a mechanized voice over the phone. As his legs start moving to an inaudible beat, two others join him in the revelry: a track-suited dude with a boombox and a man dressed as Sasquatch.

Because “The Institute” is largely framed as if the viewer were a co-player in Jejune’s art game, the film is an experience that’s fun and frustrating in equal measure. Eventually, the documentary’s limited perspective becomes a liability when the screen goes dark and we’re left with more questions than answers. Adventures only take us so far.

“The Institute” is available on Netflix Instant Watch streaming service.


SOURCE: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/10/entertainment/la-et-mn-the-institute-review-20131011