More On: The Anarchists
(CNN) — The docuseries has become a breeding ground for strange sects and outlandish personalities, and HBO's "The Anarchists" fits right in.
This six-part project, which has a Fyre Festival vibe to it, is a mostly fascinating trip down a very specific rabbit hole, assuming you can stomach the steady diet of took-one-political-science-class psychobabble that comes with it.
Indeed, the great irony of a show like "The Anarchists" is that it focuses on people who smugly believe their way of life is vastly superior to that of the rubes who conform to societal norms, only to end up feeding a sense of superiority among those watching in the television equivalent of craning one's neck to see an accident.
Todd Schramke's film Anarchapulco, which spans six years, provides a window into an event known as Anarchapulco, a gathering of those who advocate anarchy and achieving a "state of self-rule," one that does not recognize governments and questions laws.
As one might expect, those drawn to such a philosophy tend to be eccentric, pitting many of those who chose to settle in Mexico to pursue this life against one another and turning the event that spawned it into "this haven for crazy people," as member Lisa Freeman puts it.
The byproducts of that acrimony and chaos take the story in various directions, from crypto currency investment – and an entity known as BitClub, which was charged in 2019 with being a Ponzi scheme – to an unexplained murder and fears of a volatile participant who appeared capable of violence.
"Not all anarchists are going to like each other and get along," says Lily Forester, a member whose name demonstrates a gift for understatement given that the entire point is predicated on marching to one's own drummer, making this an inordinately difficult group of cats to herd.
Schramke does a good job of explaining the origins of the anarchist impulse and how all roads lead to author Ayn Rand, whose books and celebration of individualism have resonated over the years. More broadly, it speaks to how colorful hucksters can find useful platforms for their views, as evidenced by snippets of superficial media coverage received by Anarchapulco and its participants.
Perhaps inevitably, the stranger "The Anarchists" becomes, the more compelling it becomes, much like "Q: Into the Storm." At one point, founder Jeff Berwick gives a straight-faced discussion of portals to other dimensions, which sounds suspiciously like a detour into the Marvel Anarchic Universe.
Finally, the film serves as a clear cautionary tale about the allure of nonconformist movements that necessitate cooperation among people who aren't inclined to trust anyone, including themselves.
"We wanted to fight the government at first, but we ended up fighting ourselves," Berwick admits.
While turning that conflict into entertainment may not be admirable, when it comes to the type of train-wreck documentary fare that garners a lot of attention, well, we didn't make the rules.
"The Anarchists" premieres on HBO on July 10 at 10 p.m. ET, which, like CNN, is a division of Warner Bros. Discovery.
Review by Brian Lowry, CNN