Calgary

Ever feel like narcissist jerks are taking over the world? This CIFF film's for you

In a time when social media trolls, egomaniacal sports athletes and loud-mouthed politicians seem to dominate our world, a Calgary International Film Festival documentary offers some insight, hope and humour for humanity.

Warning: this story contains profanity

The author and director of Assholes: A Theory, Aaron James with John Walker in the Wall Street district of New York City. (Photo by Danielle Noble)

If you've ever had to deal with a jerk, or sometimes act like a jerk yourself, Assholes: A Theory could teach you a thing or two.

The amusing and poignant documentary is inspired by the New York Times bestseller books of the same name by Aaron James.

It screens this Saturday and Sunday at the Eau Claire Market Cinemas. It's part of the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF).

The film focuses on a topic we can all relate to: Jerks, whether they appear as social media trolls, egomaniacal sports athletes, loud-mouthed politicians or stars in our own lives.

Vladimir Luxuria, a writer, LGBTQ activist, artist and politician, is interviewed in the documentary. (Photo by JWP)

Exploring testimonies from various industries that deal with the "move-fast-and-break-things mantra," the film's director John Walker let's people in the trenches tell their own stories.

Walker says the author's definition of the term asshole is multilayered, and a result of serious study.

"[James] defined it as actually a moral character and as somebody who has a deep sense of entitlement, an entrenched sense of entitlement, and because of this they feel that they can take special advantages over others in a collective society."

With cheeky voices from the likes of comedian John Cleese, banker Paul Purcell, Italian LGBTQ activist Vladimir Luxuria, former RCMP officer Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk and the book's author, who is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, the film offers a wide take on our culture's fascination and sometimes celebration of strong characters.

Walker, in a conversation on the Calgary Eyeopener, says the book and movie made him take a long look at his own life.

"When you read the book, the first thing you have to ask yourself is, you know, have I ever been an asshole? Have I ever acted this way? And the answer is yes," said Walker.

An example Walker points to is birthdays, a day many people expect different and better treatment.

Former RCMP officer Sherry Lee Benson-Podolchuk with director John Walker in Gimli, Man. (Photo by JWP)

"We all have a sense of entitlement, you know, we want to have our cake and eat it, too. And everybody, our friends and family, buys into this because we will also have our day in the sun. For the asshole, it's his birthday every day."

One of his favourite scenes in the movie shows two toddlers fighting over who can ride a bike. The scene gets pretty vicious, until the mother comes and intervenes.

"It's sort of inherent as a toddler," said Walker. "If we're good parents, you know, you try to teach your children to share, to be co-operative, not to be an individual, nasty, self-interested little, you know, assholes."

Walker says the film follows the moral development of people from childhood to teenagers, into the culture of fraternities and then on into workplaces.

"Where this kind of male superiority, and some people call it toxic masculinity, is encouraged and supported," said Walker.

Beyond amusing and sometimes troubling anecdotes, the film seeks to understand the root cause of certain problematic behaviours, and beyond that how to combat those behaviours in our own lives.

Actor, comedian and screenwriter John Cleese throws in his two cents on the topic of assholes in the film. (Photo by JWP)

"It's a very good guidebook. And it names the behaviours," said Walker.

"It's like it's OK to name this behaviour and say this is not right if I'm working with an asshole, if I'm living with an asshole … it's not right. Let's name it and push back and get out of the situation or try to do something about it."

Assholes: A Theory is 81 minutes long. Information and tickets for the film can be found on the CIFF website.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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