Review: Human experiment sets sail in 'The Raft'

Documentary explores 1970s social experiment that aimed to uncover the nature of human conflict

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Eleven strangers, selected at least in part because of their physical attributes, are chosen to board a raft and sail across the Atlantic Ocean to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.   

Today, it would be a pitch for a reality show. In 1973, it was a grand social experiment, and it's the subject of "The Raft," an enlightening documentary that shows how one man was driven mad by his quest for answers to the mysteries of human behavior. 

A still from"The Raft."

Santiago Genovés was an anthropologist looking to study the nature of human conflict. His idea was to gather a group of humans, each from different backgrounds (but most, in their own way, hot), and set sail across the ocean to study their interactions with one another. 

His goal was to find a way to achieve peace on earth. What he got was a lot of people having sex at sea. 

Media at the time took to calling the experiment "The Sex Raft," but writer-director Marcus Lindeen finds there was much more happening on board that vessel, little of which Genovés intended. 

Genovés toyed with his subjects, having them fill out questionnaires in private and releasing their answers to the group. Whenever he felt he wasn't getting the results he wanted, he'd introduce a new element into the mix. (In a way, he was the original reality show producer.) 

Lindeen recreates the raft on a soundstage and invites surviving participants to talk about their experiences. While Genovés' manipulation of the situation he created led to him ultimately walling himself off and withdrawing from the experiment, his subjects wound up achieving a greater understanding of their fellow travelers, and thereby the world around them. It wasn't the result Genovés was anticipating, but his legacy lives on as the spiritual godfather of reality TV. 

'The Raft'


Not rated: Nudity, adult themes

Running time: 98 minutes