The release of any low-budget film to a limited viewership, especially if it’s based on a polarizing and emotive subject, is bound to attract debate and certain degree of conflict. The Age of Stupid (2009) is no exception.
Straight off the bat, I can tell you that this is a film that could be seen as largely preaching to the converted. It was born of a different project, one to spread the message about the evils of the oil industry, and became a warning of the dangers facing the environment in the not-too-distant future. The oil theme still runs very strongly in the overall narrative, and I can only assume that the Shell corporation was the target of the original film, as they feature – in a very poor light, it has to be said – throughout.
I don’t doubt there are people who would whole-heartedly agree with the strong anti-capitalist theme of this attack on the petroleum giant, but for me it weakens the film slightly, as it could easily be seen as a rant, and is perhaps even a touch incongruous.
It’s directed by Franny Armstrong, who collaborated with Ken Loach in the making of the rather surprisingly good McLibel (2005), a story of two breakaway Greenpeace activists who were taken to court by the McDonald’s corporation for allegedly spreading lies about the nutritional quality and manufacturing and employment methods of Ronald McDonald et al. From such a stable, it would be churlish to suggest that the film would present a balanced and fair argument on all its points – but this is exactly the point they are trying to make. The facts are not there for you to analyze and draw a conclusion from, but are rather more in-your-face. ‘The time for cajoling people is through, and this is a wake-up call for those who doubt the effects of global warming,’ is what the filmmakers appear to be saying.
The film itself is well presented, but the editing is a little untidy in places. It’s pretty much a straightforward documentary, but with all the threads knitted together by the narrator, the only fictitious character in it. Some hard-hitting footage, plus several segues into cartoons explaining the situation in layman’s terms makes for more interesting viewing and appears to be aimed squarely at the MTV generation, allowing those with even the shortest attention span a chance to grasp the message. Also for the MTV generation, a kicking soundtrack. Diverse and well-fitted music pervades throughout, with my only citicism being the frankly ultra-boring end credit music. This has been cited by some as “moving” and “beautiful” by some, so I could be wrong, but for me it was dreary.
As previously mentioned, the only actor proper in the movie is Pete Postlethwaite. He plays The Archivist, a character who has created a repository for all the world’s art and historical treasures, set safely above the rising waters of a post-ice-cap-meltdown 2055. He looks back at the archive footage he has collected to the year 2008 and wonders “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?”. His character provides the glue for the various set pieces to come together, and he makes a reasonable job of it, as you might expect. His performance is no Oscar-winner, but I’d like to think he did it for more altruistic reasons than simply turning a quick euro or two.
A friend of the Picturenose team has said that she felt it “compounded the view that climate change is an issue for the rich”. I’m not sure I agree with her on this. Certainly, the film sets out to criticize, and even demonize whole industry sectors. On the one hand we have Shell, Jeh Wadia (CEO of India’s GoAir economy carrier) and the governments of the western world in general, but on the other, there are very real (and often very poor) people like Jamila Bayyoud, Layefa Malemi and Fernand Pareau – all trying in their own way to make a small difference. Smack in the middle of these is a paleontologist and ex-employee of Shell (retired), Alvin DuVernay, who is the pivot between the two obviously different viewpoints.
I really think this is a film you should see if you get the chance, whether you agree with the points and sentiments or not. There is little doubt now that climate change will affect all of us in the near future, and works like this, which stimulate debate and conversation, cannot be a bad thing.