The Age of Stupid is Upon Us

One of the films I show in my Nature and Popular Culture class is McLibel. It’s the story of Helen Steel and Dave Morris, two British activists who refused to back down when McDonalds SLAPPed them for libel in 1990. Defending themselves, they went to court against McDonalds in what turned out to be the longest trial in British history. In the process, it spawned McSpotlight, one of the most prominent and innovative early activist web sites (now apprently not being updated anymore). It’s an inspiring story and the film is really great. McLibel was directed by Franny Armstrong, so when I heard that she has a new film out about the climate crisis, I was excited.

That film, The Age of Stupid, has been out in the UK for a few months, but it has just landed in the U.S. The premise of this “documentary-drama-animation hybrid” is that an “Archvist” in 2055 is looking back at recent human history to try to understand how we could be so stupid as to let civilization collapse by not dealing with the climate crisis . Here is part of the synopsis of the film:

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off, The Usual Suspects) stars as an old man living in the devastated world of 2055. He watches ‘archive’ footage from 2008 and asks: Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

Runaway climate change has ravaged the planet by 2055. Pete plays the founder of The Global Archive, a storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic, preserving all of humanity’s achievements in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again. Or that intelligent life may arrive and make use of all that we’ve achieved. He pulls together clips of “archive” news and documentary from 1950-2008 to build a message showing what went wrong and why.

Pete Postlethwaite plays The Archivist in The Age of Stupid

Pete Postlethwaite plays The Archivist in The Age of Stupid (Spanner Films)

The film interweaves the stories of six people whose lives are connected with the causes and effects of the climate crisis. Armstrong’s video commentaries suggest that one of her inspirations was Steven Soderbergh’s film Traffic (2000) which combines the personal narratives of several characters to create an understanding of the overall issue. This can be a very effective device. Incidentally, it was also used (in my view not always effectively) by Daniel Gold and Judith Helfand in their 2007 supposed-comedy about the climate crisis communicators (can you tell that I didn’t find it that funny?) Everything’s Cool.

Since I haven’t seen The Age of Stupid yet, I’m not in a position to review or evaluate it, so that will have to wait until I can get the DVD this fall. If you are in New York or Los Angeles you may be able to catch it, but I’m not sure it is still playing just now. They are having an international premiere in New York on September 21 which is going to be “beamed to 45 countries.” The film’s web site is not all that clear about where it’s showing in the US.

Gary Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times calls it an “absorbing” film with a “crucial cautionary message.” Stephen Holden of the New York Times describes the film as “a frightening jeremiad.” And given the premise of someone looking back on the collapse of civilization, an apocalyptic narrative is pretty much a given. But are fear appeals what we need now? Are people willing to be scared into action? An Inconvenient Truth stirred things up quite a bit. And this film is being billed as a more forceful warning than Gore’s, so perhaps it will scare more people into action. Or into despair. It’s my view that we needed more stories about the terrible consequences of unchecked global warming in the 1990s. But now, post-9-11, after eight years of Bush/Cheney’s trumped-up fear mongering, they seem all too common.

I really hope this film is more than this. Have any of you seen it? Please tell us what you think.

Anyway, here is the trailer. Enjoy.

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About Mark S. Meisner

Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I also research, teach, write about, and speak on environmental and sustainability communication, media, culture, and policy. Facts are usually facts, but opinions and sense of humour are always my own.
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