Main content

System Error

If you are not affiliated with a college or university, and are interested in watching this film, please register as an individual and login to rent this film. Already registered? Login to rent this film. This film is also available on our home streaming platform,

“For a period of time, everybody wins. That’s the thing.” – Stewart Cowley, former Wall Street fund manager

“There is no limit. The limit is the sky,” says a cattle breeder working on a massive feed lot carved out of cleared Brazilian rainforest.

“Growth is a law of nature and we can’t go against it,” says Audi’s head of production strategy, as robots perform complex, seemingly choreographed movements behind him in an automated assembly plant.

Sitting at his desk, the head of Germany’s most powerful industrial lobby group says, “Growth will continue no matter what… For me, that’s as immutable as gravity.”

Endless growth is a tenet of capitalism—larger markets, more products, new services. But can it really go on forever? Or are we about to ram up against its limits? And if we are, what happens then?

Shot in the US, Brazil, China, Germany, and the UK, SYSTEM ERROR explores the notion of endless growth in conversations with advocates such as a Brazilian soybean magnate, an algorithmic trader, finance journalists, and multinational executives—often letting the cameras roll while the interviewees themselves offer seemingly contradictory or incoherent arguments. (SYSTEM ERROR also features a brief appearance by financier and former Trump communications officer Anthony Scaramucci, who calls himself an “artist of capital,” and expounds on the inconceivability of an end to growth.)

The film is divided into chapters on subjects including the amorality of GDP, destructive agriculture, financialization, the decoupling of finance from the real-world economy, and automation. Each chapter opens with a relevant quote from Karl Marx and also features insightful commentary from ecological economist and sustainable development advocate Tim Jackson—who serves as a guide, offering clear explanations of sometimes complex concepts.

Award-winning director, Florian Optiz (SPEED, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME and THE BIG SELLOUT) uses gorgeous shots of earth from the International Space Station to subtly comment on the finite nature of the planet. Also, cinematographer Andy Lehmann delivers brilliantly framed and filmed scenes: a massive Airbus assembly plant; the interior of a packed barn in a poultry operation that turns over 15 million birds a year; a Beijing traffic jam with haze-covered high-rises in the distance. 

SYSTEM ERROR takes us from to the roots of the expectation of unlimited growth, particularly in the post-World War II years, to the financial crash of 2008 and beyond. Does the subsequent decade of simultaneous inequality, austerity, and soaring markets indicate that the system has become disconnected from reality? And by focusing on growth at all costs, have we created a system that is escaping our control and may destroy us?

Related Films


An ambitious six-part series examining the history of ideas and the social…

Marx Reloaded

A new exploration into the relevance of Karl Marx's ideas for understanding…

Chicago Boys

After the coup in 1973, Chile was turned into a laboratory for the world's…