Contemporary Cinema: Blaming the Messengers
By Ryder W. Miller
The Arts and Cinearts do not always know what to do or say about The Environmental Movement. The Press sometimes think of them as special interest. The charge sometimes is about what The Movement cares about. One probably has heard that they, we, should not care so much about the wrong animals, the non-human ones. We should like the medical profession, care about people rather than wildlife and wild places. The Environmentalist has been examined and criticized as a subject, sometimes scorned. Some have speculated about the lack of popularity they sometimes have. In some sense the criticism is supposed to point light on the reasons why they have not been more effective in stopping things like Climate Change.
These critics fail to realize that The Environmental Movement has enemies who have vested interested in seeing that the world does not change in a way that will harm their interests. This criticism, though thought to be constructive, harms the reputation of those trying to motivate people to make the changes necessary to solve these global problems. In some ways, The Environmental Movement has failed in stopping Global Warming, but the problem does not fall squarely on the shoulders of those sending the message. It is unfortunate that they are being blamed and it is to the benefit to some who don’t or won’t care about these things.
The cinema also likes to examine these issues from a human-centric position. Who are these people who care about animals and wild places? One should recognize that they also care about essential things like air and water pollution. The wild areas being destroyed are things we are taking away from our children because certain people don’t want to be stewards.
The cinema does seem to error in blaming the messenger who is not without fault, but who might not be fully understood. Recent films like Night Moves and Snowpiercer have tried to be critical, but they have not helped solve the problem.
Night Moves tells the tale of a few radical environmentalists in Edward Abbey “Monkey Wrench Tradition” who decide to destroy a dam. They are from the Northwest and are part of the Green Agrarian Movement there. They buy a boat and explosives to bomb the dam. Their philosophies are explored and a small group assembles for this covert action. There is some suspense in this film and they are successful in destroying the dam, but the project goes awry when a person camping near the dam dies by accident because of their actions. Rather than being a movie about trying to return the wild to what it once was, the film degenerates into the crime cover up. The small group must struggle to see that they are not caught and tried for the unfortunate crime. There were not supposed to be any fatalities from this action, but things did not work out as planned and the group degenerates.
These folks who defend Nature are sometimes called Eco “terrorists.” It has been a way to lessen them as a threat to polluters. They should instead just be considered people who fell in love with the outdoors and tried to protect it from exploiters. Night Moves does not have any shining characters and is instead a dark indictment of young environmentalists, it just seems to be a cheap shot about a group of people who tried to protect themselves after making a miscalculation. They do not choose to bring themselves to justice instead being afraid of the law. This is not a story about the green hunter who like the cinema acknowledges that the world is dangerous and violent and we should be prepared. Instead it is an attack on those who value wild places to the detriment of the capitalist system. This is more a story by an unintentional crime than “eco-terrorism.” The wild is also something worth defending and here those who do so are attacked on the screen for all sorts of detractors for being human also.
Snowpiercer is a strange science fiction film, which should have taken place on a spaceship rather than on a train traveling north. Rather than having to worry about Global Warming like most of us are doing now, the film suggests that a Global Cooling could take place and we could all suffer from a glaciation of the whole world. These survivors, with a class system, are all on a rushing train. The thing that they can see on the outside is snow and destroyed ice covered cities. The film is gritty and a little violent as the “heroes” run a revolt through the length of the train to seek justice and better living conditions. Those at the back of the train have a harder lot than those at the front of the train who have some beauty in their daily lives. It is a tough fight to the front of the train. The alternative is death off the train. This would have made more sense in space. Along the way there is an environmental rationalization for some actions taken on the train.
Those speaking the arguments are villains in this tale, which from South Korea turns into a mass suicide wish. It was very unsettling to hear discussions about sustainability from the mid level managers who are oppressing those in the back of the train. They have an aquarium car, which they manage in a sustainable way. They only eat as much fish as will not upset the balance in the tank. If only we did the same with the ocean, which is having it’s ecosystem destroyed by over fishing. Too bad this message comes from Tilda Swinton who is duplicitous and venal and fails to be able to control the crowd to her eventual detriment. At the back of the train they only get to eat protein bars made from the bodies of insects. Snowpiercer fails in a lot of ways and is an exotic film conceived from different shores.
Neither film has really anything useful to say about Environmentalism and both are Anti-Green Exploitation film for those who oppose or disagree with The Movement. They don’t really have anything constructive to say and serve questionable ends.
Meanwhile the ocean is risings, more storms are brewing, and there is drought and people starving. Less people are going to step forward to solve the problem if they are going to be attacked in such ways. The cinema here could have been better about this. Not everybody can even afford the popcorn.
Ryder W. Miller is an environmental reporter, independent scholar, critic, and eco-critic who writes about Nature, Astronomy, the Sea, Academic books, Art, American Literature, and Genre Literature. He also writes short stories (usually genre stories) and poems. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He is currently looking for a publisher for a book of Nature Writing/News Columns called An Ocean Beach Diary (published in The West Portal Monthly and Redwood Coast Review), and a collection of genre stories (many already published in Mythic Circle and The Lost Souls website). He has published on the web what could be a book collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy. He is also working on a anthology of Environmental stories called Green Visions. Following the dictum of C.S. Lewis he has come to believe that it is easier to criticize than understand, but not every book is worthwhile or a contribution.