Critically approaching films in the global warming genre isn’t easy — the ends are of such grave importance that too often, film writers are uncomfortable criticizing the means. But without proper scrutiny, these movies could suffer the same fate as films in the Holocaust genre: an issue of vital importance growing gradually more dilute, just a backdrop to frame a Hollywood story. In other words, The Day After Tomorrow.
Fanny Armstrong’s critically lauded The Age of Stupid works best when it follows six strangers from around the world, who are united only by sharing the consequences of avaricious oil consumption: an upstart Indian aviator; an octogenarian lamenting the lost days of glacial ice; a UK couple lobbying for wind power. These stories put a truly human face on the issue, where we can see reflections of ourselves and come to terms with “inconvenient truths” such as the link between social and environmental injustices.
Rather than segue these vignettes into a conversation, The Age of Stupid instead ties them together with an outlandish science fiction narrative. Pete Postlethwaite plays the “Archivist,” a hermit who whiles away the apocalypse by sifting through our mistakes, waxing bad poetry, and lamenting upon our generation’s unwillingness to address our impending suicide. By pulling us back to this computer-generated wasteland, the film routinely severs its primary connection to the issue at hand. We are thrust into a story where global warming becomes sensationalized and abstract instead of genuine, and the movie further distances us from an issue from which many of us are still too removed.
Where the documentary An Inconvenient Truth was patient and nuanced, the fictionalized Age of Stupid has all the subtlety of a drilling rig pummeling oil-rich earth. Gore may have called us ignorant or misguided, but Armstrong implies we’re flat out stupid. Perhaps we are. But is that the best way to convert viewers to embrace a global solution? It is my experience that those beaten over the head with their own foolishness will often retreat further into obstinacy.
Maybe Armstrong is trying to insist that we no longer have time for Gore’s slide show diplomacy, or that climate change is so madly out of whack that the only foreseeable option is to smack us with the potential before we’re crushed by the reality. She has a solid case, and the film’s accompanying campaign is truly deserving of praise. Nevertheless, good intentions do not always make for good films.