American Movie director Chris Smith affects an Errol Morris pose with Collapse, the problem being that unlike Morris’s fascinating, multi-layered interviewees, Smith’s subject Michael Ruppert never registers as much more than an eloquent but largely untrustworthy quack. The child of American intelligence agents and himself an LAPD vet and outspoken critic of current global paradigms, Ruppert believes that—because of dwindling finite natural resources and the fact that our society is predicated on infinite growth and expansion—we’re teetering on the edge of disaster, an opinion he says is proven by our current economic troubles (which he supposedly predicted) and international social unrest. Like all persuasive conspiracy theorists (a term he dismisses, claiming instead to be someone offering “conspiracy facts”), Ruppert not only is armed with copious points to support his claims, but has a habit of blending truth and conjecture with an abandon that calls into question large swaths of his conclusions. According to him, we’re destined to undergo an imminent social breakdown that will lead to circumstances (food shortages, violence, revolution, etc.) reminiscent of those found in The Road, thereby resulting in a new, purer paradigm in which local farming and community togetherness will dominate.
Despite his personal dislike of the term, Ruppert is an alarmist, one who actually bursts into tears when discussing how, for the past few decades, people ignored his warning cries. Collapse, however, does the opposite of dismiss him, spending considerable time legitimizing its subject—whom Smith stumbled upon while doing research for a screenplay about C.I.A. involvement in ‘80s drug smuggling—by skirting his backstory, refusing to include contrary voices, and filming him with stately cinematographic pans and close-ups that are interrupted only by archival news clip montages. Toward the end, Smith does manage to throw in a few questions that challenge Ruppert’s claims, and cracks in the man’s self-righteous know-it-all façade appear. Yet those gestures—as well as a textual coda that further reinforces the impression that Ruppert is a resentful, paranoid loner—are too-little-too-late for the film itself, which mistakenly lavishes attention on a random individual whom it fails to first prove is worthy of its, or our, time.