My American Uncle is a real cinematic oddity combining documentary and drama to fashion something wholly unique. The film attempts to discuss the behaviourist survival theories of Henri Laborit – who takes on the role of the narrator – and achieves this with a uniquely academic approach.
The movie is structured almost as a series of lectures, each starting with an experiment and concluding with a discussion of the results. The experiments, however, are all fictional, telling the interlinked stories of three different people.
The Main Characters
Jean Le Gall (Roger Pierre) was born on a small island off the coast of Brittany. Academically gifted, and with a passion for reading, he leaves home to work in public radio and quickly climbs the career ladder while attempting to pursue his political and literary ambitions.
Janine Garnier (Nicole Garcia) was born to a very politically active father who is dismayed at her aspiration to be an actress. Thwarted by her parents, she too leaves home and – following a lucky break – lands the lead role in a play that turns out to be much more successful than anticipated. As the play’s run comes to an end, she meets Jean and his wife and the two of them embark on an affair…
René Ragueneau (Gerard Depardieu) grew up on a family farm which is hopelessly out of date in its methods and struggling to stay afloat. Frustrated at his father’s unwillingness to change, René also leaves home and moves to the city where he lands an office job in a textile firm. Conscientious and hard-working, his career progresses steadily until a merger looms…
Given my initial remarks about the structure and ambition of the film, it is worth pointing out that this is a narrative film and, if the intellectual analysis was removed, we would still have a very solid drama. The characters are all wholly believable and largely sympathetic and, as the plot progresses, they react in a manner that is both consistent and familiar to all of us.
What makes watching My American Uncle online free really fascinating, though, is the way in which Laborit demonstrates that the behaviour of the characters is also clearly reflected in the fight or flight responses of rats in a cage.
This brings us to the theme of the full movie, which is that our conscious behaviour only makes up a small part of our actions. Most of what we do is governed, subconsciously, by the more primitive parts of our brain which function almost identically as the same parts of the brain in animals.
But this is no piece of grim determinism. As Laborit points out, in order to travel to the moon we must first understand gravity. Understanding gravity doesn’t free us from it, but it does allow us to utilize it.
Heavily narrated, especially at the start, My American Uncle takes a while to get going. But its unique combination of a human script, solid performances and some fascinating insights into human behaviour make this a very good watch indeed.