This is the last of a series of essays on Adam Curtis’s essay series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, which you can watch for free here. I previously wrote about the series here and here.

One of Curtis’s most distinctive traits as a storyteller is to introduce all his subjects, whether they’re living or dead, as though they were fictional characters. “Our story begins…” he likes to say, a variation on “once upon a time.” Even when he’s talking about Ayn Rand (as he does in part one of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace) or Richard Dawkins (as he does in part three), Curtis makes them sound as though they lived long ago and far away. His voice sounds wry, erudite, detached: I can readily imagine him narrating a series about ancient Rome. As Curtis makes the present seem like a distant era, he raises questions of the present that one might ask of societies of the past. How was this civilization organized? What did its people believe in? What did they aspire to?