A film review by Craig J. Koban
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
2006, R, 110 mins.
A documentary featuring Al Gore Directed by Davis Guggenheim
A documentary featuring Al Gore
Directed by Davis Guggenheim
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
- Mark Twain
I am utterly ashamed now to admit that I never really took global warming very seriously. After watching the thoroughly intoxicating new documentary, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, I felt like masochistically slapping some sense into head. If there is one utterly unavoidable lessen that I will take out of this must-see film, then it would simply be this:
Global warming is not a theory. Global warming is a fact. Deal with it.
Is there any doubt in the world? Honestly? Just consider my own geography. Having grown up in some of the more frigid and bitterly cold provinces of Canada, I can attest to the fact that it has been most peculiar seeing a definite warming trend that I have witnessed over the last few winters. I can remember easily wearing parkas and several layers of clothing walking to school in months as early as September and October during my childhood. Now, well into my 30's, I can easily recount many a September and October day where I have gallivanted around outside still in my sandals and shorts in weather close to 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our winters have also seemed shorter. This is very, very odd. I recall suffering through months and months of Antarctic-like wind chills and snow that piled up waist deep for many months. Lately – at least within the last few years – I am at a loss to recount a time where we had more than a month, month and a half tops, of truly awful winter weather. Last year alone we almost had a dry Christmas here in Saskatchewan, which was absolutely unheard of in my childhood.
So, should I be panicking? Well, if AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH has anything of value and substance to say, than…yeah…we all should be very worried. During one of the film’s most deceptively simple and elementary analogies, Al Gore (yes, that same Al Gore who ran for US President a few years back) put my worries about global warming to the forefront. He uses the metaphor that humanity is kind of akin to that of a frog. Place a frog in a pot of boiling hot water and the little green amphibian will instantly jump right out, right? However, place a frog in another pot of water that’s lukewarm, and he won’t jump out. Yet, what if one turns up the temperature very slowly over a long period of time? Well, the frog does not seem to notice because the increments are somewhat imperceptible…perhaps even to the point where it’s too late to notice.
Do you see? The message here is just one of many that this completely transfixing, educational, and somewhat alarming documentary has to offer. Our species just does not give flying fudge about the environment and the world we collectively populate. We have single-handedly caused the global warming trend through own short-sided and selfish needs to the dangerous point that – perhaps within ten years or so – things will get so bad that a ecological point of no return will be reached with no hope or turn around in sight. In a way, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is not so much a documentary as it is a horror film.
More than any other film of 2006, this one made me think long and hard about its message. In essence, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is what great cinema should be – it's compelling, thoughtful, illuminating, and it has a categorically powerful personal impact on its viewers. At face value, the thought of spending 90-plus minutes with a politician lecturing on the dangers of a worldwide environmental crisis may seem like a one-way ticket to slumber-land. Yup, a real snooze-fest. But, make no mistake about it - AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH had me glued to my seat with an attentive and watchful eye. I stared at the screen and absorbed its message, which comes across with a startling clarity, simplicity, and most important of all, with facts as its weapons, not conjecture or hypothesis. I was stunned with how absorbing of a film-going experience it was.
It’s even more amazing to see that the man behind this film’s sermonizing is Al Gore. I think that the real strength of the film – outside of its terrifying message – is the fact that Gore emerges as a convincing, intelligent, well spoken, personable, and deeply passionate man. This is not a movie that has a selfish politician engaging in diatribes of contemptible self-interest. No, the one thing you really gain from AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is that Gore has a seriously personal – not political – agenda. His voice does not speak for others behind him, nor does it callously stand out to curb favor of those around him (like all politicians do). Gore’s words here speak from his heart. This is something he is impassioned about and his vigilance shines through every minute of the film. For the first time in my life I actually got the sense that a politician really cared about what he was speaking about. I guess the most integral thing I will say about the documentary is that it brushes politics and Gore’s past reputation for being a cold, charmless prude to rest. In many ways, Gore – the staunch global warming crusader – just may be the most forceful and disarmingly approachable figures that I’ve seen in a movie this year. When he speaks, it’s hard not to listen.
He comes across with such an undying and persistent conviction throughout the film. "There is no controversy about these facts," he says in the film. "Out of 925 recent articles in peer-review scientific journals about global warming, there was no disagreement. Zero." Even when he is not discussing how the sky could literally be falling down on us, Gore even finds the time to reveal himself as a funny, affable, and warm man that has a decent level of a self-deprecating humor. “You may remember me as the former-next President of the United States,” he says early on in the film. His willingness to lampoon and ridicule his own past political images scores big points. He does this early on during his traveling global warming show. It puts the audience at ease with him and allows a sensation of intimacy.
If there is one thing he does absolutely correct then it's presentation. Being a man who knows the value of technology, Gore presents his case using gigantic, panoramic projector screens hooked up to a computer where he is able to glide through his presentation like a slide show. He stands on stage, often in front of the large screen, and riffles through screen after screen of significant and fascinating statistics, graphs, images, and diagrams. His technique and presentation are crucial to giving an effective message that resonates deeply. At one point he shows a graph that spans what seems like 40 feet of the rising earth temperatures over the last few hundred years. He then asks his audience what they think the expected temperature will be like in the next 50 years or so. To hammer home his point, he gets on a forklift so that it is able to raise himself high enough to actually point to how far north the graph will spike.
The film chronicles Gore’s heartfelt speeches and demos that he has planned for six years. He’s a man that has obviously done his homework and his juxtaposition of text and images is startling. At one point he shows a famous first photo of the Earth taken by an early Apollo mission. Later, he shows a series of later space images where it is explicitly obvious and clear that the glaciers are shrinking, snow is melting, and that shorelines are retreating. In one of the film’s most alarming demonstrations, he gives us a simulation of what Manhattan Island would look like if Greenland and Antarctica were to melt. In his mind, there is not point to spending time energy on a 9/11 memorial at ground zero…especially when it could conceivably be under ocean water.
Is this science or science fiction? There seems to be truth to what he says. Consider:
It does not end with these environmental facts. Gore also tries to debunk critics out there that try to label global warming as a dumb and pointless conspiracy theory. At one point he rightfully points out that there seems to be “100 per cent agreement” by scientist on global warming, but that our media is making the issue that much more murky when big business launched a disinformation campaign in the early 1990’s to try to convince the population that global warming is a hoax to scare people. Gore's response to this is simple. He wisely reveals that tobacco companies did the same thing decades earlier in order to combat concerns that smoking was bad for one’s health. He shows a cigarette advertisement from the 50’s where a doctor prescribes and endorses smoking. Times have changed for our attitudes about the adverse effects of smoking, so why should global warming be any different? I have to agree. He even makes a bolder and more powerful statement soon after where he shows a graphic of a scale. On one side is a bag of money and on the other is the earth. Sure, money is great, but is big business interest worth it to destroy the earth in the process?
This film is endlessly enthralling, like a terrifically crafted novel that is a real page-turner. The genius behind the film is in the manner in which Gore presents the facts in simple, plain, easily digestible terms. Beyond words are the pictures themselves, which speak almost more effectively that any of his cautious speeches. Arguably, the film’s most haunting and chilling moments occur when Gore shows several before and after photos of several key mountain ranges that span the earth. One thing is common among all of them – within about 20-30 years, the ice and snow that once nearly covered them all is virtually gone. How? We burn fossil fuels, more than we should. This, in turn, has a negative side effect in the manner the sun and its energy affects the planet. With more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere this acts as a buffer to keep solar energy in. The more solar energy that remains, the hotter it gets, thus…well…it does not take a rocket scientist to figure the rest out. Again, these are not the subjective rants of a desperate man; these are scientific facts, and hard ones to bare.
After watching this film I think it’s next to impossible to be bipartisan on this issue. You can’t be balanced or neutral, nor can you equally believe in global warming and have doubts about it. There is one inescapable truth – global arming is very real. It is not a vast conspiracy perpetrated by the world scientists or - as Senator James Inhofe once inanely said - "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." To say such comments displays the height of hyperbole and nauseating ignorance. Those that dismiss the trend of the earth’s rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels owe it to themselves to shake themselves out of unawareness and flock to this film. The dreadful thing is that many will not. When asked recently whether or not he plans to screen AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, President Bush dryly responded, “Doubt it.” That sums up Gore’s frustrations in a nutshell. At least in his eyes, “We can turn this around just as we reversed the hole in the ozone layer. But it takes action right now, and politicians in every nation must have the courage to do what is necessary. It is not a political issue. It is a moral issue."
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is one of those rare film-going experiences that daringly crosses over the lines of entertainment and into the realm of a work that has the potential to propel people into action. As a piece of doomsday lecturing, Al Gore does an amazingly assured and effortless job of convincing viewers that global warming is not the myth as many people would like to take comfort in believing. Its stats are incredibly scary, its images vivid and irrefutable, and its conclusions dire and conclusive. There is an unyielding aura of moral responsibility that permeates this documentary. Gore feels it to be morally responsible to be a champion for this cause that has the potential to destroy the future. More importantly, we have a moral responsibility to rush out and see this film and then – hopefully – tell dozens of our loved ones to see it. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH is one of the rare breeds of documentaries where clarity, persistence of truth, and fact outweighs speculation. It’s truly a mind-boggling and discomforting film that preaches a message that you have to hear, whether you want to believe it or not. Films are rarely as cogent, stirring, and deeply cautionary as this one, especially when it tries to highlight that, deep down, mankind is the cause of a potential cataclysm that could wipe us out for good if we are not careful.
Just think on that.