Daniel J Clarke’s documentary Behind th Curve paints a picture of a lovable gang of crackpots who totally, unselfconsciously believe that there is conspiracy to make us all believe the world isn’t flat. It is fascinating and hilarious.
There is something admirable about a group of people who hold a passionate and strong conviction; who build their lives around something they believe in and are willing to make sacrifices like ending important and meaningful relationships in service of that belief. It is even more remarkable when those people are willing to make such a big sacrifice for something so magnificently stupid as the belief that the Earth is flat.
Behind the Curve, directed by Daniel J Clarke (At All Costs: Making an ESports Team) is now streaming on Netflix. This is a remarkable achievement of documentary filmmaking, not because it does anything groundbreaking with the medium per se, but because of the feat of putting together such a brilliant collection of dummies in one film without ever directly mocking them. Although they do a pretty good job of that themselves.
The star man (geddit?) is Mark Sargent, the crown prince of Flat Earthers. He lives with his mum (obviously) and after trying his hand at various other conspiracy theories over the years he eventually finds his home with the Flat Earthers. He is evangelical in the way he spreads the word of the “truth”. Using YouTube as his platform, he reaches a staggeringly large audience of misfits who buy into his world view. Sargent is both earnest and likable and it is easy to see how he has amassed such a following; he is like a beacon for outcasts who feel they do not belong in conventional society but need to feel welcome in a community of like-minded people. We also meet his on again, off again girlfriend and fellow YouTuber Patricia Steere and witness their strange and super charming chemistry on their incredibly odd podcast.
The documentary brings us closer to this bizarre subculture and showcases the first Flat Earther conference, where morons from around the globe (yes, globe!) meet to share their crackpot theories about how the CIA is hiding from us that the world is actually flat. Why? Because fake news, that’s why! We get to see and learn about the many factions jockeying for position who each claim to possess the true “facts”.
Clarke, to his credit, plays a straight bat. He interviews his subjects with compassion and lets them make their case. For the most part, even the most ludicrous statements are made with a straight face and directly to the camera without judgment. There is no gotcha journalism in sight, which shows commendable restraint, even in the face of such gems as “my brain coach said to me one day, ‘Dude you got to check out Flat Earth’” or the revelation that Flat Earthers use a special internet dating site because for non-believers “the paradigm shift is just too much”.
The interviews with the Flat Earthers are juxtaposed with talking heads from actual scientists who both debunk the conspiracy theories but also warn us against the dangers of marginalizing the crazies; they remind us that we risk pushing them further and further into the margins of society with our dismissal of them until they do something totally nuts and damaging (like elect Donald Trump President, or vote for Britain to leave the European Union?).
All told Behind the Curve is a fascinating insight into a bizarre and strange world full of people with absolute conviction in the most indefensible nonsense. Daniel J. Clarke gives this world a personality and brings humanity to it, even if they are completely full of ****.
Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.