An Inconvenient Truth: 2006, dir. Davis Guggenheim. Seen on June 30 (Alamo South Lamar).
An Inconvenient Truth reminded me in many ways of Spalding Gray’s one-man film Swimming to Cambodia. The premise sounds totally non-cinematic, but that somehow works: a guy talks to us for nearly two hours. Gray told us entertaining stories, while Al Gore shows us statistics and gives us scientific proof about the effects of global warming.
I read Susie Bright’s review of An Inconvenient Truth, which dismissed the global-warming information in the film as being too obvious — that everyone knows this stuff. She felt the film was meant as Presidential propaganda for Gore. I’ve heard a couple of other people with similar opinions about Gore and the film.
I would disagree on this point. Of course many of us already know that global warming is a problem that we need to solve, that we need to stop ignoring in the hopes that it will go away. But for me, seeing the statistics, the photos of diminishing ice caps, the dire forecasts, right there on a nice big screen did make a difference.
And the fact is that many people don’t believe that global warming is a threat. I am not sure how many of those people would actually watch the film. I tried to persuade my mom to see it, but she was worried the film would be too biased and political. She said she wished she could watch it in tandem with another film that presents “the other side,” which I suppose is the belief that this is just part of the cycle of nature. The impression I got from An Inconvenient Truth is that there is no scientific support for that point of view. Whether or not I believe that, of course, depends on how much I feel that the film is a piece of propaganda.
One reason that makes us wary about propaganda is that Al Gore, a career politician, is the guy telling us about global warming. It turns out that Gore can be a persuasive, charismatic public speaker. It’s a little sad, really — one wonders where this dynamic speaker was during the 2000 Presidential campaign. But the difficulty with the film is that it is being presented by a former presidential candidate, and Gore takes no pains to disguise the fact. In fact, he makes little jokes about it. His politics inevitably enter into the equation here, in a way that they might not if he were simply a professor or scientist.
Personally, if Gore is truly devoted to the cause of global warming, I would hope that he would not consider another run for President. The more he distances himself from the political arena, the more likely people will take him seriously about global warming. If he does run, Bright won’t be the only person to think that this movie is nothing but pre-campaign propaganda, and any chance that people might be convinced of the problems of global warming by this film will vanish.
The documentary filmmakers sought to add some variety and interest to the presentation by interspersing scenes from Gore’s personal life, in which he uses examples from his life to illustrate the seriousness of global warming. He draws a parallel with our changing attitudes on tobacco, a crop that his family used to grow on their farm until his sister died of lung cancer. Some of the personal interludes are more successful than others — the segment about his son doesn’t tie in very well with the overall focus of the film. Some of the personal segments do look like something out of a campaign commercial, which is probably one reason why people are suspicious about the film’s motives.
The lecture segments of An Inconvenient Truth, often accompanied by video or stills of geography affected by global warming, was much more effective and interesting. The film did not need the personal interludes in order to be engaging. Gore’s personal charm (I know, I know … but there it is) and the seriousness of his message was enough to carry the film.
I had some personal trouble with the Hurricane Katrina segment of the film. I am glad it’s in there for other people to see, but I confess I couldn’t watch it at all. I took off my glasses and looked up at the ceiling for a bit, but I still got upset just from what I heard. It’s still a little too soon and too close for me.
An Inconvenient Truth didn’t feel like propaganda to me. After the movie, The Beau said he felt it was what Fahrenheit 9/11 wanted to do, but done more effectively. I hadn’t thought of that movie — I had been comparing it to Nobelity, Turk Pipkin’s movie that questions Nobel Prize winners on the primary issues that we need to address to help others globally. Pipkin is an earnest but less experienced filmmaker, and his focus is much too broad to be engaging. An Inconvenient Truth focused on a single issue — global warming — explained how it can affect each of us, and what can be done to slow down the problem before it becomes dire. The movie is a prettied-up lecture, and it has a cause and a side to embrace. But Gore is obviously devoted to this cause, and is trying very hard to position this issue as one that should be debated without partisan politics interfering. It’s a shame that politics cannot be completely divorced from this movie or from this issue.