Pearl & Dean’s 5 best movies to watch for Earth Day
With Earth Day nearly upon us, I want to turn to environmentalist cinema and consider what we can learn from some of the genre’s best examples.
While many of these films present dystopias, worlds in which the climate catastrophe is imminent or past us, they still offer practical steps that can be taken in tackling the crisis.
They provide lines of thinking of which to be vigilant, and motivation to renew our relationship with nature.
Chinatown very tangibly explores the mechanisms of land ownership and resource monopoly that created the climate crisis in the first place.
The film was inspired by the real-life California water wars, charting how, at the expense of citizens, the Los Angeles Water Department gained control of the region’s most valuable asset.
If that sounds horrifically dull, I can assure you the effect is chilling. Chinatown plays to existential terror, following a flawed protagonist fighting viciously against insurmountable odds, with horrors unfolding endlessly.
There is always deeper exploitation, always a more profound greed.
There are many possible readings of The Matrix – simulation and simulacra, fate vs free-will, trans coming-out story, but the most relevant reading here is that of climate denialism.
To take the red pill is to accept the evidence of climate change, to accept the imminent existential danger and see the world as it is, an industrial hellscape run by machines that devour organic life.
Note particularly that the machines enslaved humans after their access to solar power was cut off.
Neo joins a group of climate activists, an underground rebellion who fight the mechanisms of mass pollution.
Cypher, vile rat that he is, knows well of the climate crisis, but betrays the rebellion because he wants to live a comfortable life. Who are you in all this? You’re not Cypher, are you?
Princess Mononoke is damning indictment of deforestation, part cautionary tale and part tragedy, as we see beautiful creatures contorted into terrifying beasts.
It’s unique in this list because it centres the destruction of animal life and makes the threat immediate and poignant in a way few others have.
It’s rare to see a movie that’s willing to go this far in depicting man’s callous attitude to nature.
The decapitation of the tree spirit is especially horrifying and a stark reminder that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
That’s not to say the film reflects climate defeatism, quite the opposite, it ultimately shows that no matter how dire things seem, there’s still a chance to repent and mend our relationship with nature.
If Princess Mononoke radically centres the experience of animals, then WALL-E radically centres the experience of machines.
WALL-E opens on a post-human dystopia, exploring an abandoned world in which Earth has become an enormous landfill.
In this world, the great irony is that machines are having the most human experiences – going on adventures, falling in love, fighting for the future. By contrast, humans live their life on rails, responding mindlessly to digital stimulus, their lives and desires dictated by corporations.
WALL-E is a rather compelling counter to the Planet B argument, the belief that we can abandon the planet and engineer our way out of the climate crisis.
In WALL-E, humanity did this successfully, yet never developed the discipline needed to live in harmony with nature, developing instead a grim and pointless life of complacency.
The message is clear, to respect the planet is to respect ourselves.
Mad Max: Fury Road
While Fury Road is loved by many, I fear some of its more cutting satire has gone overlooked. Characters have learned no lessons in the world of Fury Road.
Instead, there is only a great doubling-down on their worst impulses.
The obsession with industry has become completely cult-like, with the War Boys quite literally worshipping vehicles and building shrines to them.
Resource division has only grown more aggressive.
Immortan Joe’s advice “Do not, my friends, become addicted to water” is not only funny but grotesque, and proof that even the basic components of human life can be monopolised and rationed.
Furiosa clings blindly to a utopia known as the “Green Place,” which is tragically revealed to have become a polluted swamp.
The only solution as presented, is to seize vital resources, in this case water, and redistribute them equally, building a fairer and less industrious society in the process.