"Detropia" is poetic documentary piece about Detroit's devolution from a flourishing urban center flush in auto industry wealth to a dystopian wasteland devoid of jobs and joy. The hollowed-out structures and building ruins recall post-war landscapes and the countless shuttered, foreclosed homes serve as sinister symbols of a corrosive economy. Children play in ominously empty streets lined with crumbling, boarded-up houses. The somber scenery resembles a ghost-town, but we are always vigilant of the fact that the beings stalking Detroit are not wraiths, but indeed all too real: they seek reinvigorated purpose, if only someone would help show them the way.
In many ways "Detropia" hits the mark in terms of enlightening its audience about the tragic regression of Detroit. But unfortunately it misses in two key areas: It does not sufficiently develop the storyline about the mayor's proposal to transform Detroit into an urban gardening mecca (how and why did it fail? We never learn the outcome), and it says NOTHING about Detroit being the birthplace of Motown. How does a documentary about Detroit not touch on its legacy as the Mother of Motown?
It is heartening to see that Detroit may be realizing a renaissance of sorts through young artists setting up shop, and the arts such as opera and theatre receiving more attention and acclaim, not to mention corporate funding. Of course, if the auto corporations can afford arts funding, why can’t they afford to put people back to work?
But what really begs the question is: will Detroit merely become gentrified and only profit an educated elite, or will the arts renaissance truly benefit all, and uplift even the most impoverished?
"Detropia" is visually arresting and its themes are tantalizing, but by the end we are still searching for signs that this dystopia can metamorphose back into the utopia it once was.