I can’t remember the last time a movie put me off the way The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin did. It’s almost inevitable that any topic so deeply steeped in Libertarian ties will feature cavalcades of white men with terrible fashion choices saying cringeworthy things that they think are cool. In a ridiculously affected moment, bitcoin devotee Daniel Mross takes a swig of coffee, belts out an exaggerated “ahh!” and declares that it tastes better when bought with bitcoin. It would be an interesting moment that lays bare his smug self-satisfaction, except that the movie is wholly on his side. Which makes sense, since he’s the brother of director Nicholas Mross.
For those who don’t know, bitcoin is a payment system nestled entirely in the Internet. In exchange for data mining (processing raw information into a usable form) enthusiasts are given bitcoins, which then theoretically continue to circulate around the net. They are unregulated and decentralized, thus making them the new gold standard for many free market devotees. Of course, the currency is also frighteningly vulnerable to bubbles and dips in value (making the title of the doc supremely ironic), was invented by a person or persons who remain anonymous and is ideal for the buying and selling of illegal items.
That last point is best exemplified by the high-profile shutdown of The Silk Road, a black market website used for trading in drugs, weapons and other contraband. The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin spends as little time as it possibly can on this, though. It is a shameless cheerleader for bitcoins, the myriad problems and concerns to be had with it be damned. Most of the criticism of the crypto-currency comes in the form of people who question whether it’s going to succeed. Questions of whether this system is economically or even morally sound are left by the wayside.
Documentaries, of course, are under no obligation to cover both sides. Mross doesn’t have to incorporate anti-bitcoin talking heads. But taking an advocating stance on its subject means that the documentary’s arguments have to withstand some level of scrutiny. And as a basic argument for bitcoins, it fails. I’m hard-pressed to imagine a scenario where someone who knows little about bitcoins will be swayed in their favor by the film. It takes as a given that government regulation is bad while presenting, briefly as it does, numerous scenarios that just beg for regulators. And the one-sidedness means that going into the doc to learn the basics about bitcoins is a dicey proposition.
But all of that might have been bearable or interesting if the cast of The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin were bearable or interesting. But they aren’t. These kinds of ultra-capitalists are almost riveting in how feckless they come across. One of the Winklevoss twins asserts, “It’s the smartest people in the room that are the most excited about this.” They own a 1% stake in every bitcoin that exists. The sheer arrogance is revolting, and it seems to run through even the humblest bitcoiner. One guy congratulates a person exchanging their funds for bitcoins for “trading in [their] worthless paper for real money” demonstrating a blithe lack of understanding of what any currency actually is.
The filmmakers apparently bought the rights to this doc in bitcoins, so even they have a stake in the currency’s value. The movie is not exactly propagandistic, but it is undeniably evangelizing. The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin is the cinematic equivalent of the guy everyone desperately tries to avoid talking to at a party for fear of an uncomfortable rant.
This review was originally published on October 6, 2014.