Unchecked narcissism has the power to break society. Who knew?

Film | by  Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Assholes: A Theory
Opens Friday 15

Roxy Theatre
3 out of 5

Assholes. They’re everywhere. They’re in your home, at your workplace, at your gym and in your pub. Perhaps you’re one of them.

Now, are they worth a documentary? Turns out, they are. Assholes have become a public menace.

In this unassuming little ditty by Montreal’s John Walker (inspired by the book by Aaron James), the veteran documentarian shows how assholes have gone from mild annoyance to a worldwide threat. Their sense of entitlement and lack of self-awareness is oddly appealing to a segment of the population, willing to put them in positions they’re painfully unqualified for.

According to Assholes: A Theory, modern phenomena like social media makes brash voices even louder. Even more disturbing, assholes’ (apparent) success has turned them into attractive figures to be followed and imitated. Worse, empathy is seen as a weakness.

Problematic individual behaviour has led to institutional assholery. The financial and tech world encourage it, the political realm celebrates it. To his credit, Walker doesn’t go for the obvious example — the orange blob in Pennsylvania Ave — and instead uses Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi as the example of an asshole who turned bullying and sexism into qualities worth electing.

Walker documents two cases in which assholes were defeated by those willing to call them out: a female RCMP officer who denounced the organization’s rampant sexism and a transgender Italian politician who endured the most reprehensible attacks. Both came out triumphant, but at a personal cost.

Easily the most depressing element of the film is watching teens argue that assholes are winners, whose “edginess” makes them attractive. They fail to realize such attitude makes communication impossible: the asshole is entrenched in his/her beliefs and there is no reasoning with that. Multiply that by thousands and you have a fractured society.

For a documentary that barely cracks the 80-minute length, Assholes: A Theory covers a lot of ground and even dares to provide a solution: don’t enable assholery. Denounce it, don’t celebrate it. Seems like sound advice.