Illuminated is a snooze-fest claiming to be a documentary. It’s a bait-and-switch masquerading as an exposé of a controversial secret society that winds up being an intricate primer on the hierarchy and rituals of the defunct Bavarian secret society known as the Illuminati. This is more heraldry than like anything Dan Brown would bring you. This Illuminati, the actual group, was over and done with by 1785 and had little influence on the world at large.
“…an exposé of a controversial secret society…known as the Illuminati.”
It qualifies as a documentary, despite adding nothing new to the conversation, because the people interviewed are sure they aren’t wrong about anything. Also, the facts represented might well be exactly correct, but they are also incredibly boring. This is a textbook example of following an idea to a logical absurd extreme. You want to know about the Illuminati? Well, here you go chapter and verse in excruciating context-free detail. This is the movie equivalent of being asked if you know what time it is and answering jauntily “why, yes I do!”
Let’s face it. We want to see the train wreck. What you really want to know about a shadowy thing you’ve always called The Illuminati is whether there is some secret society of Skulls or some damn thing sitting in a Star Chamber somewhere manipulating the world’s governments, cultures, and economics to some mysterious, veiled, undoubtedly nefarious purpose of their own (spoiler: no, there isn’t). Illuminated touches on this vein of delightful, unexplored weirdness in the last five minutes with a cursory shrug. They even tossed in a slide of Hillary Clinton to suggest she was an artifact of the Illuminati. If so, they are not very good at what they do. Rosicrucians! Illuminati! Church of the Sub-Genius! Show us something tawdry and sensational, something that might have been in a smudged up ad in the back of a tacky old skin mag.
“…touches on this vein of delightful, unexplored weirdness…”
The film claims to offer “the truth behind the controversial group… reveals the origins, documents, rituals, and degree ceremonies…” yadda yadda. It delivers on all those things with the breathlessly reverent ceremonial intonations of the narrator (also, writer and director) Johnny Royal. The overall style is cribbed from the endless sewer of credulous internet conspiracy theory and UFO videos claiming secret knowledge or secret access.
As a culture in the chaos of uncertain times, we are desperate to believe that someone, somewhere, knows what the hell is going on and has a plan. The sad fact is that things are pretty much what they appear to be, sorry to say, and there’s no evidence that anyone, even a shadowy secret society, has their hands on the wheel.