247th Movie Review: Freakonomics

Entertaining, but not freaky

[note: this is my reaction paper to the movie Freakonomics]

Economics is often looked at as a complicated subject. However, if you take a look at its most basic form, it’s simply all about how people choose to use their scarce resources to maximize their utility or overall satisfaction. It may not seem that interesting, but thanks to the creative minds of Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, we are given Freakonomics –  an enticing film which tackles human behaviour from a perspective of incentives and statistics.

The film examines human behaviour with exciting, and oftentimes humorous case studies. Its main point is to get people to believe that incentives matter and that conventional wisdom is often wrong. It supports the premise by presenting four different and intriguing topics.

The first chapter, helmed by Supersize Me’s Morgan Spurlock, talks about baby names, with an emphasis on the disparity between those popular among the African-Americans and Caucasians. In here we learn that no matter what your name is, may it be “Temptress”, “Winner”, or “Loser”, a successful life is not guaranteed. The socio-economic condition, rather than the name itself, is the key.

Part II takes on corruption in the world of sumo wrestling, which went unnoticed for a very long time. This part shows us that although it seemed nonexistent, by taking a closer look at the game’s statistics, we could easily see cheating between competitors with lots to gain and nothing to lose.

The third part, and arguably the most controversial among the four, explains why crime rates suddenly dropped during the 90’s. It reveals how it is possible that legalizing abortion in the United States caused it to happen. This section also analyzes the contribution of different factors to this weird occurrence.

Finally, we are treated with a hilarious story that discusses the idea of offering financial incentives to students. In the end, we learn that giving rewards to excelling students increase their overall performance. However, it failed to post results that they expected when they tested it to 9th graders. And they decided that it would be best if they tried the experiment again on a younger age group.

From the start, the movie goes straight to the point by showing us how incentives work. It shows conviction when it explained different issues, which makes it seem easily believable. The illustrations were simple and fun, especially during the introduction and conclusion.

While everything else I liked, I wasn’t too convinced of the movie’s theory in the third part. It concluded that the legalization of abortion in 1973 was the principal factor of the sharp decline in crime, because unwanted babies may not have been born. As evidence, it pointed to studies of women who had legal abortions; among them 50 percent were likely to be poor and 60 percent likely to be single mothers. Those were predictors of the likelihood that a child may grow up to commit a crime. But as presented in the film, the theory looked purely speculative and not as convincing.

Nevertheless, the movie did its best to explain the four topics as simple as possible. It’s  a way to show others how powerful Economics is in analyzing human behaviour. However, it failed to live up to its title. It gave us unique and interesting subjects, though they aren’t as freaky as what I had expected from a movie entitled “Freakonomics”. In the end, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t totally satisfied.


I Agreed With the MAJORITY

Rotten Tomatoes: 65% Fresh, 6.0/10 Rating

Internet Movie Database: 6.3/10 User Rating

Metacritic: N/A


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