Hot Docs 2014: The Theory of Happiness Review

The Theory of Happiness

The Theory of Happiness

Canadian Spectrum

Gregory Gan’s The Theory of Happiness is a magnetic, upsetting, consistently good looking and compelling documentary about a Ukrainian math cult.

A journal of his time spent as a newbie in P.O.R.T.O.S. – a collective based on a spiritual math equation for happiness – this documentary starts off as a presentation of a new religious organization and evolves into a touching manifesto on what it means to be an outsider.

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Though the subject matter itself would be enough to elevate any documentary be at least interesting (a film about an existing cult is always going to have at least some sort of lasting cultural currency as an oddity), Gan deftly and effectively immerses viewers into this world.

The best parts juxtapose familiar images associated with paranoia and madness with confident voice-over from interviews with various P.O.R.T.O.S. members. It is amazing how Gan can use aspects of the collective’s daily operations to build a consistent visual language to conjure feelings of dread and unease.

Though some of the more diary-like scenes about Gan’s experience feel necessarily manufactured (entering the cult alone, he can’t film a private moment without framing it himself, giving his own ark a sometimes performative aspect), the film turns a potential freak-show topic into a compelling personal story of freedom and belonging. (Peter Counter)

Screens

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Saturday, April 26th, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3, 7:30pm

Monday, April 28th, Scotiabank 7, 1:30pm

Saturday, May 3rd, Scotiabank 4, 2:00pm

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