Review: ‘The Institute’ is frustrating fun


Anyone who has visited the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City will recognize in “The Institute” a similar compendium of arbitrarily cherished objects, the transformation of everyday words into indecipherable jargon, and a heartfelt striving to reach humanity’s full potential. In Spencer McCall’s documentary, the key to unlocking that potential is an algorithm that will eradicate “human conflict, violence and heartbreak.” Easy-peasy.

In 2008, McCall began editing “informative” videos for the Jejune Institute, a Scientology-like self-development program in San Francisco that promised “divine nonchalance,” or very good luck. The filmmaker didn’t know at the time that the now-defunct institute was something else altogether — a unique hybrid of citywide scavenger hunt and public art project that led its participants through an open-ended, semi-organized game.

In one event, a young man is ordered to dance by a mechanized voice over the phone. As his legs start moving to an inaudible beat, two others join him in the revelry: a track-suited dude with a boombox and a man dressed as Sasquatch.


Because “The Institute” is largely framed as if the viewer were a co-player in Jejune’s game, the film is an experience that’s fun and frustrating in equal measure. Eventually, the documentary’s limited perspective becomes a liability when the screen goes dark and we’re left with more questions than answers. Adventures only take us so far.


“The Institute”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: At ArcLight Hollywood, Hollywood; ArcLight Beach Cities, El Segundo.