The feel-bad movie of the year

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The 11th Hour is an earnest film about environmental problems

Endangered this and sustainable that and catastrophic the other thing: the environmental documentary has become a strange hybrid of hectoring and hope, a sort of good-for-you genre of movie that people go to see because they want to do something about global warming and overpopulation and pollution and the many other problems of our fragile Earth, and seeing a movie thats going to depress the heck out of them seems like a good first step.

The feel-bad movie of the year

Endangered this and sustainable that and catastrophic the other thing: the environmental documentary has become a strange hybrid of hectoring and hope, a sort of good-for-you genre of movie that people go to see because they want to do something about global warming and overpopulation and pollution and the many other problems of our fragile Earth, and seeing a movie that's going to depress the heck out of them seems like a good first step.

So it is with The 11th Hour, an earnest, well-meaning compilation of horrors - wild storms, disappearing forests, encroaching deserts, soaring populations, filthy oceans, endangered species, toxic air, corporate greed - followed by a sliver of optimism, a light at the end of the tunnel that is, you can be sure, compact, fluorescent and energy-efficient.

Graduates of An Inconvenient Truth should be ready for The 11th Hour, which expands global warming into global everything and replaces Al Gore with Leonardo DiCaprio, which strangely doesn't gain much in the way of dramatic reading, but does add whatever benefits one of those scruffy beards can have on box office allure. DiCaprio also co-produced the film, and it's to his credit that he is using his celebrity in such a noble cause.

The movie was written and directed by Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, sisters who have previously made short environmental movies and have now created a documentary that feels like it should come with a test at the end, and maybe a school credit. It makes its points - "the biosphere is sick," someone says at the beginning, and there's plenty of evidence that it is true - with a relentless series of facts and figures, most of them explained by a series of talking heads. We hear from 54 scientists and environmentalists and politicians and other experts from this or that organization - everyone from David Suzuki to Mikhail Gorbachev to a woman from something called The Endocrine Disruption Exchange - delineating the problems in a number of areas and then giving possible solutions if we act quickly.

These monologues are interspersed with film clips of troubled wildlife, strangled cities, disastrous flooding and all the other horrors of a collapsing world, and eventually The 11th Hour - which is where we now find ourselves in this trip to oblivion, and it's not a Happy New Year that's waiting at the end - becomes an emotional journey that captivates almost in spite of itself. The movie stands as a state-of-the-world address on the problems that beset us.

It's probably nothing you haven't heard before, but there's always a new way to explain how mankind is using the natural world as a combination of cesspool and bottomless piggy bank, and always new figures to shock us: that Americans spend more money on maintaining their lawns than India collects in taxes; that the world's population has doubled since 1960, to over six billion.

The reasons all have something to do with human greed. "You can never get enough of what you don't really want," says James Hillman, a psychologist, and so the answer has something to do with changing what people do want. The 11th Hour sees the solution as essentially a design problem, and the signs of hope are all along that line: hybrid vehicles and green office buildings and windmills and so on.

If there's optimism at the end, it's mostly because we know we've heard the worst. This is everything that is wrong, in one 90-minute package. Now it's time to start to repair it.

jstone@canwest.com

Geographic location: India

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