The Minimalists: Less is Now — A review
A well-known message, enjoyable nonetheless from a film-making perspective.
When speaking about minimalism, there is one name that is hard to miss: Matt D’Avella. The documentary Minimalism — A Documentary about the Important Things was his great breakthrough in 2015. I watched it a while back, around 2017. Around that time I also discovered his YouTube channel. Some of his videos are highly recommendable.
Fast forward to today, in fact I wasn’t the only one to find his content highly enjoyable and valuable. With more than 3 million subscribers, he has become one of the most popular figures in the minimalism movement. Now, nearly coincided with reaching the mark of 3 million, a new documentary premiered on Netflix, his second. It’s called: The Minimalists: Less is Now.
And so, one starts to think, is it worth watching? Let’s find out.
Beginning with the message: The documentary isn’t a fully new and different take on the idea of minimalism. 53 minutes long, does it mention many subjects related to minimalism and consumerism, yet barely gets below the surface.
In the first quarter, the documentary focuses strongly on e-commerce and how it fundamentally changes our way of buying and consuming products. Companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon are mentioned specifically. Their methods to convince us of the need to buy more products are showcased.
Through our electronic devices there are more advertisement placements than ever before in history. It has become a huge market. Next to the detailed profiles their AI creates about every consumer, to make the right advertisement, just when and where you ‘need’ it. Or so they tell their customers.
Yet, while this information is certainly important to consider in the backdrop of minimalism, and the opposite concept, consumerism, there was not much to be discovered that fundamentally changed one’s point of view. In fact, Netflix offers an alternative in that specific niche, that is much more eye-opening, informative and well-researched, called The Social Dilemma (2020) that gives much greater insights into the methods by which the brain is tricked by software enterprises to influence your behavior.
Moving on, the documentary introduces two close friends, Joshua Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. They started to write a quite successful blog in 2009, called The Minimalists, giving the documentary its name.
There they write: ‘Nearly a decade ago, while approaching age 30, we had achieved everything that was supposed to make us happy: six-figure careers, luxury cars, […] and all the stuff to clutter every corner of our consumer-driven lives.’ Yet ‘they weren’t satisfied’. ‘So, in 2009, we took back control using the principles of minimalism.’
Now, this is basically what the documentary is all about. Throughout the around 50 minutes, we hear their story, their childhood, how they got in touch with the idea, and how it changed their lives.
Of course there are a lot of other things going on. The documentary has a great rhythm, more to that later, where we only see small segments of a bigger narrative. This way we discover ideas and get to know the people bit by bit. It makes the documentary less boring, as the setting and speakers change regularly.
Yet, when looking at the segments alone, I feel a certain void. It feels empty. The documentary hasn’t succeeded in terms of knowledge and facts it could communicate to the viewer. There is a wide variety of speakers, from leading roles of NGO’s, to founders of financial education programs, to authors writing about the subject, all giving their insights into the matter.
But, I couldn’t overlook how specific and individual most of those opinions and stories were. The personal stories of Josh and Ryan were heavily prioritised, to the point where there was not much understanding of the industry and psychological effect of minimalism to gain.
Now, of course there were statistics and attempts to give a scientific background behind the problems at hand and structure of the industry. But they were relatively scarce. And beyond that, somewhat superficial, even not directly linked to the matter.
Minimalism is a lifestyle that’s right. It’s probably not the right place for scientific studies about what minimalism and consumerism does to the brain. It’s more of an idea and philosophy and therefore much more ambiguous.
That’s right (even though I still hoped to see psychological studies in that matter). But even then, there was not much new to be discovered about the concept. The ideas and messages delivered by the narrators were first exciting and interesting, yet, after some point began to feel somewhat repetitive and unisom. It certainly made the idea of minimalism more attractive, but added few original point of views to it.
Let’s speak about how the director realized his vision.
The documentary, created by Madd D’Avella, while not very new in its ideas, has got some nice imagery and great execution. I loved the diversity of segments that existed, as mentioned before.
Speaking about interviews, there were digital calls with experts, large groups of people sharing their thoughts, quite like a poll, non-digital interviews and then of course staged interviews with Josh and Ryan that felt like mini-TED talks.
Then there was a great diversity of film-making techniques, like handwritten texts, 2D-animation, 3D-animation, non-narrative parts and, of course, narrative. The music was continuously calm and uplifting, making the content extremely pleasant and easy to take in, even if some parts weren’t that beautiful to hear.
And at last, the documentary had a great rhythm of showing an interview, to stock footage, to animation, to on-the-go documentary, to staged parts. It all fell together, the transitions were fluid and made sense in the bigger picture, to the point where it was still extremely enjoyable to watch, even if the content wasn’t that life-changing and revolutionary.
The last 20 minutes were specifically dedicated to how minimalism can be applied to everyday life and offered some great methods, even depending on the kind of person you are. Which was, at last, a great final act and made me feel extremely proactive and motivated. It was the most valuable point of all, as I have never heard of The Minimalists. The documentary finally made the leap away from their story to the viewers’ story. I finally learned about how I can change mine.
With this in mind, I’d give the documentary a 7 out of 10.
This documentary is ideal for newcomers to the minimalistic lifestyle and for those who haven’t seen the previous documentary from 2015.