Made a couple of years after The End of Suburbia this film also deals with Peak Oil and has the benefit of a reasonably strong portrayal of the evidence on which this is based although the metaphoric image of a rocky mountain top is misleading in the extreme.
Like End of Suburbia it is also an alarmist film but one that goes further to create a shock effect. Interviews with the directors suggest that this is deliberate but it is a high risk tactic. Psychologists have a considerable amount of evidence that many people will take these warnings with a ‘I can’t do anything about it so I might as well enjoy it while I can’ attitude.
Cars, planes, suburbs and tower blocks are all shown as examples of things that depend on cheap oil with the images of a Hummer showroom, the vehicle proudly described by the salesman as doing 10 miles to the gallon, looking particularly anachronistic to a European audience.
The film has a tendency to mix its messages portraying oil as the world’s most valuable resource, highlighting the environmental degradation left after its exploitation and of course the warnings around peak oil. It suggests the need to rebuild US cities from scratch and quickly but fails to explore what a viable alternative might be if that objective proves undeliverable.
The use of very old archive footage gives an air of unreality to the proposition that we are facing a 1973 or Great Depression style dislocation that will inevitably lead US society back to a rural lifestyle.
Overall the audience reaction seemed flat and depressed rather than galvanised into action and the director’s objective to shock didn’t seem to be achieved. We were left with the impression of an Irish and a Swiss director shouting an American audience. Given the chauvinism of many of those audiences this may not be the most productive narrative approach.
This goes to the heart of Green Film making. In most English speaking countries we have got to the point where there is widespread awareness of the issue, helped no doubt partly by films such as these despite their generally relatively small audiences. We need to keep educating particularly the younger generation while being wary of encouraging the climate change deniers. But the proportion of the population that is prepared to act to significantly adjust its lifestyle in response is an order of magnitude smaller.
Perhaps film needs to be more focussed on seeking to achieve effective action. Films that succeed in both entertaining large numbers of people and creating a social consensus that creates the space for politicians and businesses to act on their behalf seems to be what is needed this decade.