Dana Nachman’s documentary studies the correlation between chemicals in everyday products and the increasing health defects infiltrating America. The film intimately follows three women and their stories of infertility, autism, and painful skin conditions, along with other environmental issues lobbied for lawmakers to change. Although lacking definitive proof of the argument, The Human Experiment is emotional and thought provoking. (BKP: 4.5/5)
The Sean Penn-narrated film opens with a set of alarming statistics: since 1945, the nation’s chemical use has skyrocketed by 2,000 percent; In 1999, one in 500 kids had autism versus one in 88, a decade later; The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tested data on only 200 of the roughly 83,000 chemicals legally used to make products in the U.S. So is this a link to cancer? Is this a link to health concerns and birth defects? Nachman’s film tackles the issue by constantly using statistics and correlations between the amount of chemicals produced and the number of health issues facing the country.
However shocking the graphs and statistics may be, the film finds its heart by telling personal stories of multiple women: an infertile environmental health activist with POS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), a woman with an autistic brother, a breast cancer survivor, and a Latina maid with a painful skin condition advocating for nontoxic cleaning products. Particularly heartbreaking is one woman’s journey of a fertility struggle, choosing to let cameras into her home during some of the toughest moments of her life. Using data and information gives the film its credibility, but by using these women, it packs an emotional punch. Seeing their individual hardships and triumphs brings the argument to life and humanizes the issues that so many people ignore.
The documentary captures these women bravely arguing their viewpoint to lawmakers and lobbying for better regulations regarding synthetic chemicals found in everyday products: shampoos, cleaners, shaving cream, processed foods, etc. It makes the viewers reflect on their own ignorance and naiveties of thinking products are safe merely because they are sold in stores.
When illustrating how companies react after being blamed for selling harmful substances, one researcher uses an attention-grabbing analogy of a dog bite:
- My dog did not bite you (company denies wrongdoing)
- My dog bites, but it did not bite you (the product may be harmful, but average people are not exposed)
- My dog bit you, but it didn’t hurt you (people are exposed but not harmed)
- My dog bit you and it did hurt you, but it wasn’t my fault (company admits it was harmful, but the people decided to use it).
Using analogies and breaking down the issues makes The Human Experiment an interesting watch. Without proving any scientific hypothesis, the film simply supports a studied correlation. If nothing else, the documentary makes viewers think twice about what they buy and consume. It makes them rethink their habits and the chemicals they could potentially — and most likely — be putting in their bodies. If Dana Nachman changes the habits of one person, the making of this documentary will be well worth it.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/18/15)
Photo: Since 1945, the nation’s chemical use has skyrocketed by 2,000 percent.
The entire documentary is focused on women and their different stories, their different backgrounds and their banning together for the greater good.