The Raft - review
by Daniel Mohr
In 1973, an aspiring Mexican anthropologist, Santiago Genovés, started an ambitious social experiment with the goal to explore and analyse the origins of violence. He gathered 11 volunteers, all from different religious and cultural backgrounds, none of whom knew each other, put them on a small raft called Acali and together they set sail for a several-months-long journey across the Atlantic.
More than forty years after the actual events, The Raft is a documentary unveiling the mysteries surrounding the extraordinary voyage. It reunites the few surviving members of the expedition, who meet for the first time since the experiment on a full-scale replica of Acali, and together they reminisce about the experience. The documentary succeeds in that it gives the audience a good idea of what the experiment was like, however, it fails at presenting us with the whole picture, as the majority of the participants are not present to deliver their own accounts.
For the most part, the film focuses on Santiago’s point of view, which is presented through the narration from his own journals. For him, the experiment represented a total failure, as none of the people on the raft develop aggressive or violent behaviour towards one another, which, for him, was the experiment’s main point. Instead, the rest of the group learns to cooperate and enjoy each other’s company. The only hostile emotions on the raft are the ones aimed at Santiago himself, because of his efforts to turn them against each other.
The documentary tries its hardest, as it offers real testimonies, actual archival footage from the raft and real headlines of the newspapers of the time, which portrayed the whole scientific endeavour as a scandalous ‘Sex Raft’, and which help to put it in its historical context. Unfortunately, however, it fails to evoke a truly authentic atmosphere of the experiment nor does it properly give us an idea about its reception by the general public.
Telling the tale of what came down in history as one of the strangest group experiments of all time, The Raft is an educative and thought-provoking documentary, although also a largely uneventful one, of a voyage that probably would not differ much from your ordinary family vacation.