Hot Docs 2019: Assholes: A Theory


Originally written for Cinemaaxis.com


A quirky and unique documentary with its tongue firmly in cheek (solidified by the presence of John Cleese), Assholes: A Theory is quite literally a study of the personality trait of being an asshole. Starting with social spaces and workplaces, the film branches out into various areas of life.

One point of discussion is whether having this personality trait can improve business and personal mental health. If someone is an asshole, they probably don’t realise that their behaviour is being perceived in this way. Confidence, often mistaken as a sign of success, is established in the film as a common trait of asshole behaviour. Peer pressure is even touched on as the film (while needlessly using Wolf of Wall Street clips) uses financial companies to highlights how new employees may change their beliefs to align with attitudes of those who run these organisations and who shape the philosophies of their business.

The concept of mental health playing a part in this equation isn’t explored in much, which could be a bad thing or a good thing, depending on the talking heads who offer their opinions. It is an interesting idea thought that this sort of behaviour could be some kind of mental illness, a new addition into the book of mental illnesses, and amusingly the possibility of it literally being diagnosed. Perhaps a loss on the film’s behalf, it nevertheless successfully entertains. 

At approximately the halfway point, the question of what would happen if an asshole is elected to run the country is posited. Given the slightly left leaning nature of the film, it feels inevitable that Trump would be the example of this question. It is impossible for this thought to not bubble up, but the film pivots to talk about Silvio Berlusconi and his impact on Italian politics and media. Trump’s personality isn’t explored, though it is hard to not consider a dedication to him and what he has managed to do within two years in office.

While Assholes: A Theory gives a one-sided argument, with no talking head rebutting the claim, it does convincingly convey its point. There is no doubt: no one likes an asshole.