The Age of Stupid
Directed by Franny Armstrong
Producer John Battsek
Screen 2 – Barbican
Sept 29, 09
A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!
This film, the second in an ecologically themed two film series linked with the Barbican’s current art exhibition, Radical Nature, makes for compulsive and mandatory viewing. Employing an imaginative combination of news and documentary footage of ever-increasing, recent ecological disasters, darkly comic Phythonesque animation bluntly summing up the entire, often shameful history of the human race and scenes from the lives of a cross section of people around the globe, with intermittent commentary enacted by actor Pete Postlethwaite (who was chosen for the role after it was discovered that he was trying to install a wind turbine near his home) as the last man on earth circa 2055, lone inter-active archivist of a huge metallic tower storing all of mankind’s more laudable achievements, drives its points home with a subtly akin to sun poisoning and the all the urgency of a full force hurricane.
‘Where did we go wrong?’ our commentator asks, beginning with the Big Bang, before touching down in 2009, then looking over the years leading up to mankind’s extinction, with the help of the advanced technology in his tower, as he touches the screen in front of him, summoning appropriate illustrative passages, while facing us, viewing him from the other side. It is almost as though we are flicking back and forth through time ourselves, with a remote control.
We see, among other examples, a professional mountaineer who lives near Mont Blanc in France, hail and healthy at 82 going about his business and, from his perspective, he is in an excellent position to access the advancing stages of Global warming upon the dwindling glaciers he is hired to guide hikers along. A retired scientist in New Orleans who spent his working life in the employment of Oil tyrants Shell, confesses that even if he ‘knew then what he knows now’ he’d do no differently, as he was, after all, a young grad in search of work. However, the fact that he remained in N.O. while Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc with the town, destroying much of it and trapping many of his neighbours, 100 of whom he personally rescued in his rowboat, (no National Guard or Coastguard to help) ranging in age from a baby of 2 weeks old to a 95 year old man makes us think he isn’t all bad after all, and it is he who rightfully states that our generation will be the ones known for creating an era of ecological mess, which he terms ‘the age of stupid.’ In Nigeria, we see a young woman struggling to earn a living and maintain herself in an environment where the waters have been so polluted by oil magnates that the fish have to be washed with cleaning fluid before they are eaten and the only available drinking water is as dark and murky as stagnant coffee. As a result, children are frequently dying of cholera there. Conversely, in India, a young man who comes from a wealthy multi-generational family of business barons starts the country’s third low cost airline, claiming it will help the impoverished by offering them a chance to fly as the rich do. But how could he imagine how poor the country’s poor really are? Then there is Piers Guy in Cornwall who persistently lobbies for wind turbines but is consistently shot down by his glib country neighbours because they’d ‘spoil the view.’ Comments by one obviously self-satisfied gentleman that the essential harnessers of wind power would ‘distract him from his driving’ drew jaded laughter from the cinema crowd. The fact that the cinema was not full for this essential screening was in and of itself a matter of some concern, though, much more worryingly, the Nigerian premiere of the film was stopped once it was discovered that the portion of the film relating to that country posed questions on human rights in the aftermath of the ravaging of their land by oil companies.
This is a vital film, definitively put together, with total mindfulness of our short attention spans and need for constant stimulation, which never lags or allows its viewers to lose interest for one moment. It is made all the more chilling by the knowledge that everything we’re watching is factual, right down to the film’s visits with two children from Iraq, who’ve been forced to flee to Jordon after their father has been senselessly murdered by American soldiers, further reminders of our complacency, which many scenes of how politics uneasily rests alongside of corporations serve to heighten. We also visit the oddly intense doubters of Global Warming, who’d probably doubt their own senses, along with their sense if they ever took heed of anything apart from their need to maintain the status quo. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Lynas whose vivid book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, explains exactly why we need to act yesterday if we hope to save our tomorrows. There is humour in the film too, albeit often cryptic, much of it via the animations, which do not seek to jive with the nationalistic, propagandist history lessons of our schooldays, (whatever our country of birth), but on the contrary lampooning them, also inspiring healthy laughter of recognition in the process.
But where does all of this leave us, I hear you ask. That question would be best left up to our commentator/archivist to answer. His crucial question while sweeping his hand out over the great works of art, science and literature around him in the warehouse was, ‘Why, when we created all this, did we kill ourselves?’ Why exactly! As many scientists continually point out, it is not our planet that will perish, but our species - the human race, as the natural habitat which enables our lives is totally destroyed. The question posed is one we all have to acknowledge as surely as we do the ticking of our clocks, and act upon either immediately, or, when we get around to it, the latter of which will be far too late. For as our guide says in conclusion: ‘We could have saved ourselves, but we didn’t. It’s amazing. What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply shrug it off?’
Or, as the film’s creator/director Franny Armstrong puts it, ‘Every generation that came before us did not know about the problem, and for every generation that follows, it will be too late for them to do anything. So it comes down to our generation.’ She added, ‘We have the potential to do it, the only question that remains is whether or not we are going to give it a try.’ As the U.N. conference charged with delivering a ‘make or break’ planet saving climate treaty will be held in December of this year, there’s no time to waste.
Editor’s Note: The DVD of this film, with its 2nd disc, containing 5 hours of extras would make an excellent pre-Christmas gift, and is sure to be one that will get the family talking, and hopefully acting together. Buy it online now at http://www.ageofstupid.net/
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