Movie Review: The Age of Stupid - A Lot of Stick And Not Much Carrot
Image via: guardian.co.uk
"The question I've been asking is, why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?" This is Pete Postlethwaite speaking to us from the future, the year 2055 to be exact, where he is marooned alone, high in a tower above the melted arctic, quite possibly the only man left on earth. We learn he is living in the 'Global Archive' which captured all records of human life before we were wiped off the face of the earth. This stark introduction leaves us in no doubt that Franny Armstrong's new environmental movie is designed to scare us into action, but the question I'm asking is: will it in fact just scare us all rigid?Carrot or Stick?
As April wrote in her recent preview of the film, "it appears Armstrong will be using the stick, rather than the carrot, approach." Your reaction to the film when you see it, as you definitely should, will depend on your preference for being motivated by the carrot or the stick.
Cruel to be Kind
Personally I'm a carrot person, part of why I love writing for TreeHugger is that we take the view that offering people options and solutions is the most positive way to encourage behaviour change. However there are others, and I'm guessing The Age of Stupid director Franny Armstrong is one of them, who take the cruel to be kind route and believe we need to be beaten about the head a bit in order that we wake up to the urgent problem of climate change.
Image via: guardian.co.uk
Greater than An Inconvenient Truth?
The Age of Stupid is being hailed by many as a brilliant piece of environmental film making that will have an even greater impact than Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. George Monbiot calls it, "the first successful dramatisation of climate change to reach the big screen". Mark Lynas says, "The most powerful piece of cultural discourse on climate change ever produced." and The Ecologist wrote, ""Fantastic. Knocks spots off An Inconvenient Truth".
The Freedom of Crowd-Funding
There is no doubt that The Age of Stupid is an extraordinary achievement on many levels. The success of Armstrong's 'crowd-funding' model means that the production team were completely independent and didn't have to contend with pressure from film studios or special interest groups. This inspired and brave approach is reflected in the amazing footage they gathered on their travels over the last six years and the searingly honest opinions they captured from five real people living very different lives in various places across the globe.
We're all Connected by Oil
The documentary element of the film, which Postlethwaite serves up to us from his high-tech archive, is without doubt the most powerful content. By following real people in contemporary society, all linked by our rapacious oil consumption in some way or other, the film allows us to connect personally with their stories, and compare and contrast the way we live our own lives. It is when the film returns back to the future that I feel it leaves this dramatic reality and enters the realm of almost ridiculous science fiction. My concern is that by placing the narrative in the wastelands of 2055 the film distances itself from what we understand as life today and therefore reinforces our current problem that people feel removed from the imminent threat of climate change.
"It is not a film to make you happy"
After seeing a press screening of The Age of Stupid on Monday night in London I'm wondering if it's possible to use too much stick? I left the theatre feeling pretty negative, as one couldn't help to after seeing human kind wiped out with only poor Pete Postlethwaite left, stuck on his own talking to a computer screen. But as Ashok Sinha, Director of Stop Climate Chaos coalition, said after seeing the film, "It is not a film to make you happy. It's a film to make you sit back and think 'What is my role on this planet?'"
Crude or Stupid?
I feel that having the documentary elements on their own, as was the original plan under the working title 'Crude', would have been dramatic enough, but it's understandable that Armstrong and her team brought in Postlethwaite in a last minute reedit to attach a 'big name' to the picture. This decision raises the film from standard documentary to movie dramatisation and will no doubt help bring in many non green movie goers, which is vital. But in the end the real proof of the film's success will not be whether people think it's a good drama, but whether they find its message motivating.
When you and all your friends have been to see it we'd love to hear your reactions.
The Age of Stupid
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